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Rural Applicants Sought For Global Teacher Fellowship Program

Rural teachers who want to travel internationally and create a personalized summer learning experience might want to look into the The Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship program.

The program awards a maximum of 25 fellowships a year to rural teachers, and they're worth up to $5,000 for individual teachers and $10,000 for a team of two or more.

Teachers design and propose summer learning experiences that involve international travel, and they participate in a place-based learning institute in the fall. Any teacher who spends at least 60 percent of his or her time in a rural community can apply, and applications are due Jan. 15.

The Rural School and Community Trust, which administers the program, is hosting a Webinar on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 5 p.m. Eastern time, to explain the program further, and you can register for that here. The Rural Trust also has published a lengthy article in the October issue of Rural Policy Matters, which includes interviews with a variety of teachers about their experiences. It has some great, specific examples about how their travels affected their teaching and rural students.

We asked Elizabeth Daigle of Lewisburg, West Va., one of the teachers who completed her fellowship this past summer but wasn't quoted in the article, to tell us about her experience. Here is some of what she had to say.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your job and your community.

I teach French I through AP at the high school in the "2011 Coolest Small Town in America". (No joke, the whole community rallied around the cause and submitted the most votes.) Greenbrier East High School has about 1,100 students who commute to historic Lewisburg from multiple small communities. Lewisburg is building a reputation as a quaint, touristy arts town, although when I moved there, the hardware stores downtown still sold farming supplies.

I moved to West Virginia 25 years ago. I had been teaching in a high school in New Hampshire when I met my husband-to-be who had a sheep farm here in Greenbrier County. I taught French informally in the community and at various private schools for 20 years before the French position at the high school opened up for me. I started part-time in 2005, and last year was my third to teach full-time. I've seen the program grow, and it is important for me to breach the international isolation of this small town and open up the world to my students.

Why did you apply for the fellowship program?

I applied because I loved the concept of a foundation that believed enough in teachers to support their professional development by offering them the opportunity to create a meaningful experience of their own personal choosing. It seemed that if my dream could be convincing enough, then maybe I would be chosen as a fellow to bring my dream to reality.

What was your self-designed international travel learning experience?

I met a Beninese teacher in spring 2009 through an online contest in which we were partnered to create a quilt. The West African school where he teaches, Lycée de Jeunes Filles Toffa 1er, in Porto Novo, Benin, asked us afterward to be a sister school. My principal agreed, but the project didn't go anywhere because I didn't know enough about the school to implement the partnership. The fellowship grant allowed me to visit the school for two weeks to determine how our two high schools could create a sister-school relationship.

How has that experience, and the place-based training, helped you in your classroom?

I would never in my life have believed that I would travel to West Africa. One of the biggest results from this trip is that my students' eyes have been opened up to a new part of the world. As they touch the handmade Beninese crafts and look at the Beninese school newspaper, they see that French is not just in Europe. They see that even in a poor, developing world country, teenagers are interested in similar things—family, music, clothes, how to get a good education, how to accomplish your goals in the face of economic challenge.

What would you want people to know about why this fellowship is something they should apply for?

Rural students may spend their entire lives surrounded by people who are just like them. There are many families who are unable or unwilling to travel beyond the county or the state. Isolation can make travel seem hard, undesirable.

This kind of self-protectionism is problematical in our global society. We, as Americans, must be comfortable with many different types of people. We must be proficient in different languages. Our students need to see models in their teachers of people who have taken a risk to travel, to have experiences outside the norm. Students need to travel outside their comfort zone to experience different cultures for themselves to be able to function optimally in the interconnectedness of our 21st Century.

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