First graders get yearlong international experience in Reed Elementary classroom
By Laura Colvin
Kuna Melba News editor
It’s late in the day, and—like first graders everywhere—the students in Lee Buchanan’s classroom at Reed Elementary are ready to go home. Some are tired, others are a little antsy and, in the lull after a rousing game of bingo, most are chatty.
“One, two, eyes on you.”
Buchanan’s attention-getting ditty rises above the children in a sing-song way, and the room is transformed.
The kids return their part of the rhyme and move to their places on the carpet for one last activity before gathering backpacks and water bottles.
Buchanan is new to Reed Elementary and new to the Kuna School District; she arrived in the U.S. shortly before summer break ended and classes got underway in Kuna Aug. 22.
Across the Atlantic in Bathgate, Scotland, Christy Hall—a Kuna teacher who’s spent the last 14 years teaching kindergarten, first grade and second grade in the district’s elementary schools—is teaching Primary 1 in Buchanan’s classroom at Boghall Primary School.
Hall and Buchanan were paired through the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program after an extensive application and matching process, and will spend the school year not only in teaching in the other’s classroom, but also living in her home, driving her car and spending time with her friends and family.
“Lee and I will exchange all aspects of our lives this year,” said Hall shortly before boarding a flight to the UK. “I’m looking forward to a year from now, when I can bring back what I have learned and experienced in Scotland to my home school in Kuna. I hope the staff, students and families will learn even half as much as I expect to about Scotland.”
At Reed, in addition to the regular curriculum, Buchanan’s 24 first graders are indeed learning some interesting lessons. For example, there’s often more than one “correct” way of doing things.
“The concepts for teaching children are the same worldwide,” said Buchanan, her words heavy with the evidence of her Scottish heritage. “Definitely, when you change countries and change the curriculum, that can be a challenge. The concepts are the same; the approach is different.”
The words, in many cases, are different, too.
In Scotland, Buchanan teaches her students to end each sentence with a “full stop.” In the states, that same small dot is called “a period.”
In Scotland, boards get “rubbed,” while boards in Kuna are “erased.”
If Reed Elementary Principal Chuck Silzly had the same job in Scotland, he’d be known as the “head teacher,” and he’d never send the kids out for recess. Instead, the kids would go to “playtime.”
While this is Buchanan’s first time teaching outside the UK, she’s no stranger to international travel, or international education.
Since travel has always been a passion, Buchanan decided a trip around the world was in order after she finished college.
She spent about nine months in Australia and finished the year with stops in New Zealand, Singapore, and Fiji, and hit some U.S. hotspots—Los Angeles, Hawaii, Las Vegas and New York—as well.
These days, in addition to her regular classroom responsibilities at Boghall Primary School, Buchanan also serves as the school’s international education coordinator and maintains links with three schools—one in Texas, one in France and one in Malawi, a landlocked, underdeveloped, but improving, country in southeast Africa.
In 2007, Buchanan was part of a team whose members spent five weeks in Malawi.
“We helped develop a program for the teachers to implement more effective education strategies,” she said. “The school has hundreds of kids in each class, in a building with stone walls, a stone floor and a blackboard. That’s it. That’s all they have.”
Exactly the opposite in her classroom at Reed.
“I couldn’t believe it when the parents started coming in with all these things,” she said, pointing toward a closet stacked high with fresh boxes of crayons and markers, bottles and tubes of glue, piles of paper, and any other supplies a child in pursuit of a quality first grade education could hope for.
“Back home the kids are supplied with everything; they don’t bring even paper or pencil. All of this is new to me.”
With around 600 currently enrolled, Reed’s size and student population are something else new in her experience.
While classroom sizes are about the same at Boghall Primary School, maybe a few less, the school only has a total of about 230 students enrolled in its Primary 1 through Primary 7 population, which, she said, is approximately equivalent to a K-6 school in the U.S.
Because of Reed’s size, Buchanan said she hasn’t had much interaction with teachers outside her area of the building.
“Back home we get together as a whole school about twice a week,” she said. “I met everyone here the first day, but I haven’t seen them since.”
Also different at home are the school’s vertical groups, where older students give younger counterparts lessons on topics like fair trade, and eco-friendly practices.
The Scottish curriculum is shifting, she said, to include lifeskills and lessons with real-life context.
Ciriculum standards also include goals of creating confident individuals, effective contributors, successful learners and responsible citizens.
So far, she said, her time at Reed has been a tremendous learning experience.
“My team here is outstanding,” she said, expressing gratitude to the other first grade teachers, as well as Principal Chuck Silzly. “They’ve all been so welcoming and excited to have me here. Chuck has been great about making sure I’m doing what I need to do professionally, but also making sure I’m OK, too.”
Buchanan said she came across Fulbright opportunity while doing some online research.
“I’m always looking for something new, something to enrich myself,” she said.
According to information published by the organization, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
The primary source of funding comes from an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with participating governments, host institutions, and other entities also providing support.
Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The Program operates in over 155 countries worldwide.
Buchanan said she’s been in touch frequently with Christy Hall.
“She’s having dinner with my dad tonight,” she said.