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Greenfield/Mexico teacher exchange has linguistic value

Jan. 15, 2013

Greenfield - Greenfield Middle School has one of only two Fulbright Exchange teachers in Wisconsin.

Yunuen Valencia, who teaches English in her native Mexico, this year is teaching Spanish locally while the middle school's usual Spanish teacher, Susan Swaer, is at Valencia's school in Mexico.

The Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program is a direct one-to-one exchange of teachers from primary and secondary schools. The program operates between the United States and six countries. The eight-month application process involves interviews and peer evaluations so that the right matches can be made.

Cultural lessons

The benefits are apparent, local educators say.

"Her presence is broadening the horizons of GMS students," said Brad Iding, the middle school's principal. "Yunuen is able to give first-hand knowledge of Mexican culture to her GMS students."

And only last week, Spanish students learned about the Mexican celebration of the Reyes Magos, or Three Kings, a holiday during which children set out their shoes in hopes they will be filled with small gifts.

The cultural lesson became real when the Greenfield Middle School students took off their shoes and placed them in the hall. The students, who during class that day discussed the differences between Mexican and American schools and cultures with Valencia, were delighted after the class ended to find their shoes filled with candy.

The Reyes Magos must have come with a little help from Middle School teachers, Iding said.

Language tool

Additionally, Valencia and Swaer have initiated a pen pal project between their Mexican and Greenfield students, in the process giving the students an authentic and meaningful way to practice the languages they are learning, Iding said. The Mexican students write in English while the Greenfield students respond in Spanish.

Fellow middle school Spanish teacher Tammy Mihalyi said she is enjoying the opportunity to learn more about colloquial languages of Mexico.

The Greenfield staff has embraced Valencia, who actively participates in discussions regarding best educational practices, bringing her personal experience and insight, Idining said.

- Jane Ford-Stewart

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