International collaboration

Educators from Brazil, Argentina tour area schools


Gazette photo by Avery Cropp
Chuck Ochocki and Maria Alejandra Porte Laborde are participating in an international administrator exchange program. They intend to use the program as a place to start creating international connections for their students.

Education collaboration has gone international in the St. Croix Valley area over the past couple of weeks.

School principals from Brazil and Argentina are visiting metro area schools in an international school administrator exchange funded by the U.S. government designed to help teachers learn new methods and gather new ideas for their respective country’s schools.

A couple of hosts from the St. Croix Valley are Chuck Ochocki from Stillwater Junior High School, and Mary Pat Cumming from Lake Elmo, an associate principal at the FAIR school in Minneapolis. Ochocki and Cumming will visit South America next summer.

The visitor’s reaction to the program — Kellin Karina Kreusch Kraul from Santa Estoriana, Brazil; Sandra Eliete Maffacioli Reckziegel from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; Vanda Rossi Luchesi from Muato Grosso do Sul, Brazil; and Maria Alejandra Porte Laborde, from Cordoba, Argentina — has been positive.

The four women arrived in the Twin Cities last week and are in the area until around Nov. 1. They’ve visited a variety of schools spanning all grade levels including universities. They mentioned that they’ve learned a lot and gained inspiration from the schools they’ve seen and teachers they’ve met.

“Across mainstream education here, there are distinct educational systems and one is not like the other,” Porte Laborde said in her native Spanish. “In Argentina, most of our schools are the same. I like that about the (U.S.) system but I know that people can be nervous in the face of differences.”

The women were inspired by various things during their school tours. Porte Laborde would like to create an overall plan for the year going forward in the form of learning points, which is not customary in Argentina.

Kreusch Kraul would like to implement more partnerships in her schools because she saw how beneficial those were for the schools she visited. Rossi Luchesi wants to find a way to implement literacy programs used in the area because she believes that if literacy in a school is strong everything else flows easier.

Maffacioli Reckzeigel believes that art programs are something she’d like to expand on.

“When she says art, she’s not only talking about painting or drawing, she’s talking about theater, and all the programs Brazil doesn’t have as part of school that we do have here,” Maffacioli Reckzeigel said through interpreter Anna Dusek. “She loved the partnership with the FAIR school and the U of M downtown and she’d like to team up with a small group or organization to do this. If she can’t do it inside of school she’d like to do it outside of school and she’ll continue searching for ideas. She feels it creates a faster development of skills if you can compliment curriculum studies with art.”

Other differences the women observed here included the size of the buildings, how staff doesn’t circulate through the classrooms, the quietness of classrooms and the diverse methods that teachers used in their classrooms left an impression. They believe that their hosts will notice many differences when they visit South America next summer.

“My favorite part of the experience was going to the FAIR school,” Rossi Luchesi said. “Their idea of a global world that everyone talks about is really a reality there.”

And that is the essence of the program. Ochocki and Porte Laborde hope to create a global connection for their students going forward.

“We’re talking about not only helping students use their Spanish and English but also have them learn what comprises their lives, help them understand things of concern in Minnesota and Cordoba and realize, that they are more similar than they think,” Porte Laborde said in Spanish. “I think it would be an enriching experience.”

In addition to seeing the schools and educational systems, the women have had some fun too: sightseeing in Washington, D.C., a trip to the North Shore, a presentation from Maya Angelou in Minneapolis, and one of them got to go to a Minnesota Vikings game.

“It’s been fun,” Kreusch Kraul said through Dusek. “Being away from family has been difficult, but I’m happy to be here. The experience has been intense but I’m looking forward to having Mary Pat come visit.”

Ochocki and Cumming’s take away from the experience so far is that though there are differences between them and their visitors, they are all principals. For them, students are always number one and they need to do whatever they can to carry out that charge.