Teaching summer school 7,800 miles away

Debbie Cox houses the world in her small, windowless classroom in the center of Lafayette High School.

There are images plastered on the walls of life in Cuba, Mexico, Peru and Guatemala — a few of the nations her students hail from. As an English as a Second Language teacher, Cox is knows many parts of the world via her students.

This summer, she'll be seeing part of it first-hand.

Inspired by a few Nepalese students, Cox will spend July in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, a South Asian country high in the Himalayas, working on professional development with the area's teachers.

"I'm hoping to see what the culture is like in Nepal, I really want to see what my students might be coming from," Cox said. "I want to see exactly what education is like there and what the differences are between the United States and a third world country."

She's not new to international travel; Cox is half-Nicaraguan and her family lived in Germany while her husband was stationed there.

She's going to Nepal as a fellow with Limited Resource Teacher Training, a British organization that sends teachers to one of nine nations to improve education in areas with few resources. According to its website, fellows help tackle problems including large classes, teacher shortages, poor attendance and a lack of training.

W-JCC's senior director for school performance Valerie DiPaola said the division encourages teachers to travel and take part in foreign volunteer experiences like the LRTT program.

"Overall I think any experience where a teacher goes beyond the classroom really benefits the students," DiPaola said. "It broadens experiences for their own students, makes them more globally aware and models global citizenship, as the 21st century learners, is really important for our kids these days."

But it isn't as often they have two teachers going in the same summer with the same program.

Maria Slavin, a first-grade teacher at D.J. Montague Elementary School will fly out of New York City July 2 on a plane headed to Uganda, an eastern Africa nation.

Instead of teaching summer school again, Slavin said an ad for the teacher training fellowship repeatedly popped up on her Facebook page as she thought about her summer plans — often enough that she decided to apply.

And while the goal is to help Ugandan teachers, Slavin said she will learn just as much.

"I know I'm going to learn from them, I'm going there to teach teachers, but I always have something to learn," Slavin said. "I really want to go over there and teach them how to be better teachers, but also strengthen my leadership skill, become more resilient — being in a third-world country will help me be more resilient — become more confident as a teacher leader."

Cox and Slavin said they see the program as a way to give back and make a difference.

While student-teacher ratios in the U.S. are often capped at a few dozen, Cox said in Nepal there could be as many as 70 students for one teacher, especially in rural areas.

"Also there are areas where maybe little girls aren't as encouraged to be educated, so I'm hoping to make a difference," Cox said. "I'm hoping to go with this group and help these teachers in these small little areas outside Kathmandu and in Kathmandu, to improve their teaching styles and their overall school outlook."

Both women said they see the month-long excursion as a way to give back, but they agree travel isn't cheap.

They've each set up online fund-raising campaigns to offset costs of plane tickets, visas, insurance and vaccines. Both have goals around $3,000.

"This is above and beyond," DiPaola said. "It's on their own time, during their vacation, on their own dime."

Health concerns are prevalent for both — from malaria to rabies to avian flu and even biting monkeys. Cox listed a slew of vaccines required before she goes.

Slavin said she flits between excitement and nervousness.

"There's just moments I think I'm crazy for doing this," Cox said as she laughed softly. "But I know it's going to be awesome. (I have) some trepidations — the shots and the monkeys — but I'm excited about it, and I'm excited about seeing what this group does. I'm hoping that I feel I was effective, I hope that I can contribute in some way because that's what we're here for. We're here to help others if we can."

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Want to give?

Visit Debbie Cox's GoFundMe at gofundme.com/reaching-out-to-nepal-w-lrtt

Visit Maria Slavin's GoFundMe at gofundme.com/maria-uganda

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