Just a few years ago, it might have been unusual for a third-grade classroom in the small town of Fortville, Indiana to include students from another country. Today it’s not unusual at all—in fact, families from a variety of cultures, speaking 226 different native languages, are now an important and growing part of Indiana schools.
In KDP’s continuing interview with Caterina Cregor Blitzer, Director of International Education for the Indiana Department of Education, said that international education isn’t just something “out there” that needs to be considered eventually; rather, “it’s in our backyard and on our main street and in our schools.” What used to be an unusual experience—meeting face to face with someone from another culture—is now an everyday event. That’s why a compelling aspect of the International Education message is that “international education starts at home.” Parents, grandparents, schools, churches, communities, businesses, and civic groups all have a share in creating a sense of welcome, an aura of hospitality, for international families.
Indiana attracts many international families because of the reasonable cost of living, the variety of industry, and the quality of life, and this creates new considerations for teachers in the classroom. In order to provide a quality education for each child, educators must be able to understand, relate, teach, and assess the learning of international students. Creating an atmosphere of international learning in the classroom requires educators to expand their own horizons beyond just learning the simple basics of day-to-day communication. When teachers and administrations travel, experiencing for themselves what it means to be “global citizens,” they return with changed perspectives and rich experiences that bring the world--naturally and organically--into the classroom as they teach.
Part of Ms. Blitzer’s role as Director of International Education in Indiana involves developing partnerships to help facilitate these kinds of international experiences for educators. Because educating for a global economy is a vital part of creating a vibrant, highly skilled workforce, the best businesses in the state share a passion for International Education and want to hire employees with true 21st century skills that include knowledge of world regions, skill in communicating using world languages, and experience in working respectfully with people from other cultures. Through multiple collaborative projects, International Education helps educators take advantage of opportunities to travel abroad, studying and teaching in different cultures.
Many Indiana schools are already participating in international school-to-school partnerships with schools in China, France, Germany, Spain, and Taiwan. These partnerships provide great opportunities for schools in different cultures to develop real relationships that build over time. The relationships might begin with simple e-mail correspondence between students and teachers and then move to shared classroom projects and videoconferences. As the relationship develops, opportunities for hosting and traveling—for students, teachers, and administrators—can develop between the partnering schools.
To find out more about International Education on a national level, visit the U.S. Department of Education International Affairs Office site. For more about International Education, International Exchange and School-to-school Partnership opportunities available to Indiana school communities, see the DOE international education site: http://www.doe.in.gov/internationaleducation/. The Indiana Education Goes Global: 2009 Guide to International Education and Exchange for Indiana Schools will be available online upon publication.
Next segment: The Future of International Education