2013-09-06 / Community

Neighbors

Cape teacher visits Uruguay
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Students in Solís, Uruguay decorated their classrooms with welcome messages for Susan Dana. Dana, a world language teacher at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, visited Uruguay for three weeks this summer as part of a federal teacher exchange program. (Courtesy photo) Students in Solís, Uruguay decorated their classrooms with welcome messages for Susan Dana. Dana, a world language teacher at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, visited Uruguay for three weeks this summer as part of a federal teacher exchange program. (Courtesy photo) When a student walks into a classroom in Cape Elizabeth – or anywhere else in the United States – he or she will likely greet the teacher with a polite hello, sling a book bag onto a desk, set up needed supplies, then maybe enjoy a minute or two of quiet chatter with a friend before the rest of the students arrive and the lesson begins.

In Uruguay, on the other hand, each student greets the teacher with a customary hug and kiss before continuing to their desk. The same goes for the end of the class –students will not file out before giving a hug and kiss to the teacher. If the teacher forgets, a student is likely to protest they did not receive a goodbye – “No me despidiste!”


Cape Elizabeth Middle School teacher Susan Dana, right, teaches a numberspracticing game to students in Solís, Uruguay with the help of Ana Rodriguez, a principal in Uruguay who visited Cape Elizabeth in February. (Courtesy photo) Cape Elizabeth Middle School teacher Susan Dana, right, teaches a numberspracticing game to students in Solís, Uruguay with the help of Ana Rodriguez, a principal in Uruguay who visited Cape Elizabeth in February. (Courtesy photo) The cultural difference is one of dozens Cape Elizabeth Middle School world languages teacher Susan Dana witnessed on her three-week trip to Uruguay from July 14 to Aug. 4. Dana was one of 10 U.S. teachers to travel to Uruguay this summer and to host a Uruguayan teacher in February as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Educational Seminars Program through the Fulbright Commission.

The 2013-2014 exchange was, at least for now, the final year of the program. According to the program website, it has been discontinued due to U.S. State Department budget cuts.

Dana hosted Ana Rodriguez, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher in Pan de Azucar this February. Rodriguez’s hometown is in the coastal state of Maldonado, and has a population similar to Cape Elizabeth’s. In between Rodriguez’s visit to Maine in February and Dana’s completion of the exchange this summer, Rodriguez moved on to a new job as principal at a school in the nearby town of Solis, about 10 miles away.

That meant Dana was able to see not only the role of teachers in the classroom, but the role of the principal as well. Rodriguez ran everything at the school in Solis. She was in charge of not only teachers and testing, but also responsible for making trips to the bank to pay employees and keeping the daily log in a composition book that state officials would check periodically.

The Uruguayan classroom environment, according to Dana, was a balance of both cuttingedge technology and traditionalism. Many of the country’s schools are low on resources – teachers have to pay out of pocket for extra materials and outlets are limited to one per classroom because of the price of electricity. However, the Uruguayan government provides a free laptop computer to every public school student in the country through the country’s “Plan Ceibal,” which is modeled after the One Laptop Per Child Program developed by Nicholas Negroponte at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dana said the balance creates an interesting environment in which students are picking up on technological advances faster than their teachers and parents are able to. However, like U.S. students, without supervision many Uruguayan students are easily distracted by sites such as Facebook.

“Children are universal. That’s one thing I realized. Whether they’re in Pan de Azucar or Solis or Cape Elizabeth, they’re kids, and to them this is a great entertainment device. I also saw children really engaged,” Dana said.

Dana was warmly welcomed with bulletin board artwork in the classroom and even an interview on the Maldonado state television news station when she arrived in the area after a day at a conference in the capital, Montevideo. She said unlike some countries she has traveled to, the people in Uruguay were thrilled to see a U.S. citizen.

“They have a really good impression of the United States and they really respect the United States. No matter who I talked to, they were really positive.”

That excitement also came with a surprising knowledge of U.S. geography. While her students in Cape Elizabeth knew little else about Uruguay except that it was located in South America, Uruguayans immediately knew where Dana was from when she mentioned her home state.

“I could mention that I’m from Maine to almost anybody, it could be a cab driver, it could be a bus driver, it could be someone in a restaurant and they would say, ‘Oh yeah, Maine, isn’t that near Boston?’”

School began for Dana’s fifth- through eighth-grade students at Cape Elizabeth Middle School Tuesday, Sept. 3. She plans to share photos and stories from her trip with the students, and to complete an exchange project started this summer. Dana brought a list from her students of places they would like to see – the doctor’s office, movie theater and grocery store for example – and Uruguayan students posed in front of those locations holding artwork Dana brought from home. Now, the Cape Elizabeth students will take the list made by children in Solis to return the favor.

To see those pictures and more from Dana’s trip, visit her blog at http:// cetouruguay.blogspot.com/

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