Karen Brackett was invited to participate in an educational conference in South Africa, October 12-26,1996, as a result of a previous trip to the People's Republic of China in 1994 and her involvement in work with Dr. Michael Kalinowski at the University of New Hampshire. The conference in South Africa involved meeting with teachers, administrators, the Department of Education members, and government officials to share and discuss ideas on educational practice, program possibilities and funding,. The group consisted of educational leaders from around the world representing many different specialty areas. As part of this conference, each delegate spent several days with one school. There was time to observe in classrooms, meet with faculty, meet with the administrators, and meet with the children. Karen chose the Edendale School for her site and immediately made a strong connection with the principal and two teachers who were part of the conference sessions.
Upon returning to Skidmore, Karen wrote an article for the Council of Child Development Laboratory Administrators newsletter sharing her experiences and findings. She also began to incorporate these experiences into her ED 222 class where students were already learning about early education in China, Japan and Italy. Every semester in ED200 she also offers a lecture sharing her experiences abroad. Continued communication with the principal at Edendale led to a sharing of family stories from the Early Childhood Center at Skidmore and Edendale. During this time, much discussion centered on ways we could develop more of an exchange between the two schools. Professional presentations occurred for the National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference, the Association for Childhood Education International, and the Council of Child Development Laboratory Administrators.
Karen then coordinated and participated in a teacher/principal exchange with the Edendale School January 1-17, 1998 with colleague Rosie Manley. This trip provided invaluable knowledge as both experienced the culture first hand through staying with a teacher of the school. They traveled from Pretoria to Cape Town visiting several historical sites and schools along the journey. They were able to observe the children and staff on the first few days of school in private and government settings. Additionally, they spent time at an SOS site where abandoned children live.
These experiences led to Rina Prenzler, principal, and Delilah Britz, teacher of the Edendale School spending September 26-October 10, 1998 with us at Skidmore. A professional presentation on the educational system in South Africa was offered in the Pohndorff Room, October 8,1998. Both Rina and Delilah met with ED 200 students, ED231A students, and ED 222 students in individual classes. Additionally they spent time with teachers and administrators at Schuylerville Central, Lake George Elementary, and Luzerne High School. A dinner at the Surrey one evening included Education Department faculty and staff, the Dean of Faculty and a select group of college students.
Our exchange with Edendale continues as two African teachers, Anna and Anastasia, visit Skidmore for three weeks during the fall 1999 semester. This experience was life changing for Anna as it was her first time in the U.S. and the first time she left her township. We shared many discussions about life during apartheid for black families and how their families coped. These conversations were a bit difficult at first, but then we became very comfortable with each other and the conversations flowed.
Later in the fall 1999 semester, Lani, Rina's daughter came to stay with Karen's family for a four-week period. Lani spent several days working in the Early Childhood Center and met with our college students to discuss her experiences growing up in South Africa.
All of these experiences have enriched our offerings for families in the Early Childhood Center and for our college students as they learn about another country in our world. We have learned through the process that there are many similarities across our programs and that the differences allow us to think about our practice more reflectively. We also learned that there are ways we can help each other. There is a great need for continued contact and exchange in many forms so that we can all continue to learn from each other. Many of our children and students will have opportunities to travel abroad to other areas of the world. Discussing our world from a global perspective will be essential so there will be a respect for other cultures and openness to experiencing different ways of life. We really are being successful at what Delilah did in her classroom in South Africa. Just as she looked to make a difference in one child's life that will have a ripple effect, we are doing the same with our families, faculty and our college students through these exchanges.
These exchanges were all funded either in full or partially through the President's Office, the Dean of Faculty Office, the Schimper Foundation and through regular travel funding in the Early Childhood Center and Education Department.
During spring 2000, Karen initiated discussions with Phyllis Roth, Dean of Faculty and Susan Lehr about the possibility of an educational journey to South Africa for our college students as the next step to further our exchange with Edendale. The administrative staff and teachers at Edendale especially enjoyed meeting with Susan during past exchanges and expressed a real need to expand language arts in the schools in South Africa. Susan graciously agreed to work with Karen on the project. Phyllis suggested a meeting with Kara Sheldon, Jon Ramsey, and Jim Chansky to explore the possibilities. All parties seemed interested. A survey was conducted with students taking education classes and many students were interested in taking the journey.
With such a positive response, the planning process began. The program became a reality with invaluable assistance from the Office of Special Programs at Skidmore College and the enthusiastic support of Jim Chansky and Darcy Bourassa.
For additional information about the journey, contact:
Karen Brackett, Educational Tour to South Africa Director
Education Department-Palamountain Hall
Phone: (518) 580-5140 Fax (518) 580-5146
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