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Sources: Jacqueline Spears, 785-532-5530, jdspears@k-state.edu;
and Laurie Curtis, 785-532-7623, ljcurtis@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Jennifer Torline, 785-532-0847, jtorline@k-state.edu

Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

PROGRAM HELPS TEACHERS BRING ETHIOPIAN CULTURE TO CLASSROOMS

MANHATTAN -- After embarking on a monthlong trip to Ethiopia as part of a Kansas State University program, a group of 12 teachers recently returned to the United States with a fresh perspective on teaching cultural diversity.

The K-State program -- developed by Jacqueline Spears, professor of curriculum and instruction and director of K-State's Center for Science Education, and Laurie Curtis, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction -- was designed to introduce teachers to Ethiopian history, language and culture. This helps the teachers incorporate elements of African culture in their classrooms.

An $81,566 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program covered 74 percent of the project costs. The remainder was funded by the participants, and by K-State through funds from the office of the provost, the office of international programs and the College of Education.

From July 1 to Aug. 1, Spears, Curtis and the participants traveled throughout nearly one-third of Ethiopia. They spent time in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, and visited both the northern and southern parts of the country. Now the teachers are creating materials and lesson plans from their trip and disseminating the information through other sources.

The program is a partnership with Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit organization that is working to increase literacy by providing books for Ethiopian children. LeAnn Clark, an alumni fellow of the College of Education, is heavily involved with the organization and also accompanied the group on the trip.

During their month in Ethiopia, the teachers visited schools, monasteries, churches and water projects while exploring the geography of the country. They also met with education specialists, religious experts, artists and musicians.

"Someone once said that just about the time you thought there wouldn't be any more eye-opening experiences, something eye-opening would happen," Spears said.

At one school in the southern part of the country, the teachers brought a suitcase full of books, which more than doubled the size of the school's library.

"What stood out in our minds when we came back was the recognition of how fortunate we are," Spears said. "Particularly in terms of books, we are a very wealthy culture and it's not clear that young people realize that. We have so much information at our fingertips. In contrast, we visited libraries in Ethiopia where at best they had six or eight books."

But perhaps most valuable, Spears said, are the cultural experiences the teachers were able to bring back to their students. Since returning, the teachers have been integrating their knowledge of Ethiopia into classroom lessons and sharing strategies for helping children learn about diversity. Some teachers have been incorporating Ethiopian realia -- including musical instruments, clothing and cultural objects -- into classroom activities. The trip has enabled other teachers to connect with Ethiopian immigrant students who attend their schools.

"A lot of our participants took pictures of the children and what they were doing so they could bring back that connection to their students. It lets them see what children in Ethiopia do and understand connections with them," Curtis said.

The 12 participating teachers came from Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, New York and Virginia. The teachers from Kansas included Alica Thomas, fourth/fifth-grade teacher at Vinland Elementary School, Baldwin City; Carol Settgast library media specialist, first- through fifth-grades, at Sheridan Elementary School, Junction City; and Amy Brownlee, a K-12 library media specialist at Sterling Grade School, Sterling.

The teachers will submit final reports to the Fulbright-Hays project office at the end of December. Lesson plans and classroom tools will be disseminated through appropriate K-12 and area studies websites.

The project ends formally May 31, 2011, but the experiences and contacts made while the teachers were in Ethiopia will continue to enrich their schools, according to Spears.

The teachers' experiences will also be shared with College of Education undergraduate and graduate students to inform them of global literacy initiatives and help them develop ways to meet the needs of diverse learners they will serve in classrooms.