Marvin Elementary goes global

British instructor helps school in its first steps along the global network path

by Virginia Franco

When Union County Public Schools’ leaders first brought up the idea of participation in the Visiting International Faculty Program, Marvin Elementary Principal Jay Jones was intrigued. The idea of adding an instructor from another country was appealing, and fit in quite well with countywide efforts to integrate globalization into curriculum.

Getting buy-in from the school’s improvement team made up of teachers and parents was easy, as the group enthusiastically supported the idea. Flash forward a few months and Jones was able to welcome the United Kingdom native Tracy Chambers to his staff as part of its fifth grade team.

A teaching assistant almost a decade ago for a brief period in Florida, Chambers said she always wanted to live and work in the U.S.

“So far so good,” Jones announced, when asked about Chambers arrival. “Last year when I informed parents about having a visiting faculty member the response was overwhelming.”

“In fact,” he recalled, “I can count on one hand the folks who didn’t want kids in there, but I got the opposite response in terms of those parents wanting this opportunity for their child.”

About VIF

VIF began hosting K-12 teachers in 1989 in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, according to the organization’s website. VIF is the operating partner of the Global Schools Network, and today is the country’s largest teacher exchange sponsor and provider of language immersion and global literacy programs. Over the past 20 years, more than 200 school districts across the country and state have partnered with VIF.

The program goal is to focus on international education for 21st century student preparation – by providing U.S. students with learning opportunities that include becoming proficient in other languages, gaining global awareness and cultural understanding, learning from visiting international teachers and engaging in collaborative learning projects with students in other countries.

The VIF selection process is thorough and arduous.

“The program’s candidate selection process was very selective – in terms of educational background and references,” Jones said. “They provide a list of suitable candidates, in addition to video clips and bios for each.”

As a principal, Jones said he was particularly interested in the makeup and chemistry of his team, who ultimately interviewed five teachers via Skype. When it came to Skyping with Chambers, “We were blown away,” he said.

The sentiment was apparently mutual. “The principal and some staff at Marvin interviewed me and e-mailed straight away saying they would like me to join their team,” Chambers recalled. “I accepted their offer immediately.”

Just a few months later, Chambers found herself packed up and making the long flight from Manchester, England to Marvin.

Settling in

Today, Chambers said she’s enjoying both living and working in Union County, where she describes the people as being “very welcoming, friendly and supportive.”

“The staff at Marvin has also been very helpful,” Chambers said, “which has made for an easy adjustment.”

“They’ve been really creative,” Jones said, citing as an example a fellow teacher merging two classes together – working hand-in-hand with fellow students to help Chambers administer a U.S. reading assessment. Jones was pleased to discover the students were all very engaged, focused and on task.

The parent response appears to be equally favorable, with Jones receiving the recent feedback that “My daughter is smitten with her international teacher.” Chambers appears equally delighted. “The children have been very receptive to my teachings,” she said. “They are constantly asking me questions about England and what it is like to live there. They ask me about English words and phrases that are different than their own.”

Jones has no doubt Chambers’ impression will be long lasting – offering the fifth grade and her class a flavor of European as well as British culture. An integral part of the school’s globalization team, the group is planning a Globalization day for later this year.

Jones is hopeful that the VIF experience will lead to travel farther down the Global Network path. “We are in the ‘Global Gateway’ stage of this initiative,” he explained, “which allots us just one teacher.” If this year’s program is successful, Marvin Elementary may be able to take the next step to become part of the select ‘Global Passport’ program and receive up to one VIF instructor per grade level.

“If we see a great deal of success,” Jones said, “I really feel like the Global Passport program may be something we see in our school system going forward.” With any luck, the program will include Chambers. “There is a possibility my Visa can be extended to five years,” she explained, “which I am happy
about!”

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