July 8th was a perfect morning. The air was crisp; the sky was crystal blue, and the birds were singing. My husband and I raced around the house finishing last minute preparations. He mowed the lawn; I set the brunch table. Summer had shown up – just in time for the Chilean teachers’ arrival.
For the past three summers, it has been my honor to work with groups of teachers from Societe Educacion du Chile (SEDUC) Schools located in Santiago, Chile. The SEDUC consortium has seven schools and employs close to 700 teachers who teach boys and girls from Pre-K through secondary school. Since 2016, the corporation has sent teams of teachers to our campus for professional development. The teams are led, and inspired, by Isabel Quiroz, SEDUC’s Director of Innovative Programs.
The partnership was an unexpected outcome of a trip taken by Salve Regina University President, Sister Jane Gerety and Erin FitzGerald, Director of International Programs. Sister Jane and Erin had been invited to Chile by James Tencher, a businessman who splits his time between Santiago and Newport. Mr. Tencher squired Sister Jane and Erin all around Santiago, introducing them to counterparts at the four main universities of Santiago and Valparaiso, as well as ten significant public and private K-12 schools in both cities, including several schools belonging to the private Catholic school consortium called SEDUC. It was the last- minute stop at SEDUC which sparked a connection. The administrators at SEDUC wondered if Salve might provide professional development for their teachers.
Erin FitzGerald, Isabel Quiroz, Dr. John Quinn of Salve’s History Department, and I collaborated on the development of the program. In its initial year, the SEDUC team received lessons in History from John, and lessons in pedagogy from me. Other members of the Salve community also contributed to the effort. Peter Davis organized musicians from the faculty and staff to present a concert to the visitors. Sarah Littlefield and Mary Beth Klee presented lectures and socialized with the guests.
As the program has grown, so too has the number of people who contribute to its success. Salve professors Tim Neary, John Rok, and Bill Leeman deliver lectures; Tracy Pelkowski and James Mitchell lead discussions about teaching and learning. In addition to teaching, John Quinn leads the group on tours and excursions that support the content being delivered. From the “Servants Tour” at the Elms to the Irish ‘session’ at the Fastnet Pub, John reinforces the value of experiential learning.
In terms of professional development, that first year’s group (called the “Pioneers”) set the tone for our work together. They were, and are, dedicated teachers who wanted to know more about how children learn, effective strategies, and planning. We worked on those areas together, developing such great rapport that we could not bear to see the program’s end. That must have been why Isabel, on behalf of SEDUC, invited me and my husband to Chile for ten days in March, 2017. I continued my work there with many more teachers, and the professional partnership blossomed into friendship.
The second group (the “Pilgrims”) arrived during the summer of 2017. By then, Isabel and I, and several SEDUC teachers, had been in consistent contact via Skype and email. We agreed that learning about good teaching was interesting, but practicing good teaching was our goal, and thus began our efforts to partner with Newport Community School (NCS).
NCS, led by the dynamic Tracy Shea (a Salve grad!) is an agency dedicated to offering ‘out of school learning’ to local children and adults. NCS is independent of but works closely with Newport Public Schools. We approached Tracy and told her about our colleagues from Chile; we asked if there was a way our visitors might teach the students enrolled at NCS during their summer school hours. Tracy Shea is known for two qualities – she tries very hard to say, “Yes!”, and she makes things happen. That summer, the Pilgrims each taught a lesson to the middle schoolers attending Newport Community School summer program – which is held on Salve’s campus.
The experience was extraordinary. The Pilgrims tried out their newly acquired teaching skills; the NCS students benefited from the exposure to international teachers, and the dedicated NCS faculty graciously supported the efforts. It was so successful that we all felt that we might do more!
And, that brings us to this summer, and the arrival of the “Partners”. This year’s cohort of Chilean teachers will be concentrating on learning how to differentiate instruction and plan interdisciplinary lessons. For the first goal, they will receive instruction, practice their new skills, and once again, work with the NCS students and teachers. Their understanding of interdisciplinarity will be enhanced by the history lectures, events, and excursions. And, this year, our guests will teach us by presenting a show of Chilean music and dance. The students and faculty from NCS will be there – and you’re invited, too. It will be held in McAuley Hall on Thursday, July 19, 2:00 – 3:00 pm. As always, Erin FitzGerald, with the help of her student assistant, Jill Wynsen, will manage all the details behind the scenes.
As for the perfect Sunday? The Partners were expected at our home for the kickoff brunch – now one of our favorite summer events. The SRU van (Thanks to the driver, Joe Silveria!) pulled up – and out poured our friends, old and new. Newporters with Chilean connections popped in to welcome their countrymen. My grandchildren darted among the crowd – trying out their few Spanish words – hoping for applause. It was a boisterous, joyful opening day. And, now we have work to do.
As we continue our work, we feel God’s presence, and together we will work for a world that is harmonious, just, and merciful.
For more information on the presentation by the Chilean teachers, please contact Erin FitzGerald at [email protected].