A tale of three principals

WAXHAW – Students and staff at Kensington Elementary School are getting a triple dose of foreign flavor.

The school recently partnered with the American Councils for International Education and the United States State Department to play host to three Brazilian principals for two weeks as part of the Education Seminars 2013-14 Brazil Administrators Exchange Program.

Principals Luciana Souza, Neusa Silva Mendonça and Sibeli Lopes arrived in Union County on Oct. 16 and will depart for their home in Brazil on Tuesday, Oct. 29. The three administrators are working with Kensington Elementary Principal Dr. Rachel Clarke to bring a global perspective to the school.

“I don’t have the means to take these kids (at Kensington) to different countries, but I have the means to bring different countries to them,” Clarke said.

Souza, Mendonça and Lopes visited first-grade teacher Trevor Althof’s class Wednesday morning, Oct. 23, where students had the chance to ask the three principals questions about life in Brazil. Topics included everything from how schools in Brazil operate to what kind of foods the principals like to eat.

The first-graders learned students in Brazil attend school five days a week, in four-hour shifts – from 7 to 11 a.m. or from noon to 4 p.m. – and have a short, 15-minute window for lunch and recess. They also discovered high school students attend school every other Saturday and the Brazilian school year is slightly longer than that of the United States.

“(Our) school year is 200 days per year, a little bit more than (in America), but also remembering (we) only go to school four hours a day,” Lopes told the first-graders, with the help of interpreter Sheila Ortman.

The principals also told the students how excited they were to see all of the Halloween decorations when they arrived, as Halloween isn’t as widely celebrated in Brazil.

“In Brazil we know what Halloween (is), but we don’t commemorate it like you guys commemorate here,” Souza told the students, with Ortman’s help. “I thought the decorations were very nice in every single house. We don’t have these in Brazil.”

Souza, Mendonça and Lopes also are learning more about education in Union County and the U.S. They’ve met Union County education leaders, visited Wingate University and attended a recent Union County Board of Commissioners meeting, where commissioners, Union County Public Schools officials and community members discussed the financial future of UCPS.

“Not only are they learning everything about the school system, but they’re also learning about the politics of it all,” Clarke said.

But despite their busy itinerary, Clarke and the Brazilian principals also are making time for some leisure activities. They visited Charleston, S.C., last weekend and will take a trip to Asheville later this week. They also had a chance to shop at a number of stores – Target was one of their favorites – and eat at some local restaurants.

Reflecting on their experience in Union County, Souza, Mendonça and Lopes agreed things they enjoyed about the school system – and hope to help implement in their own Brazilian cities – are “how organized” the system is, the level of access schools have to technology and literature and the way area principals work together to achieve a common goal.

Clarke will have a chance to travel to Brazil in August 2014 for two weeks to visit Brazilian schools and gain her own firsthand international experience, as part of the principal exchange program. She hopes her own trip, along with the three principals’ visit, can open doors to a partnership between Kensington and a school in Brazil. In the meantime, she’s excited to instill a love of global learning among the students at Kensington, which was recently recognized as one of three UCPS International Schools for the third year in a row.

“It makes me feel better as a principal of a school to see my kids so open to learning about something different,” she said. “Kids, they always want to learn. It’s as we get older, we get a little bit more close minded about it, so if I have an opportunity to change that or prevent that by giving kids opportunities now, then we’re jumping on it.”

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