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Foreign teachers finding niche in county schools

September 12, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

"A dog's breakfast" is the Australian phrase of the week in Dianne Stokes' English literature class.

The foreign exchange teacher, an "Aussie," intentionally inserts phrases from her home country into her lessons at South Hagerstown High School. Each week, there's a new phrase - not counting her occasional "G'day mate" greeting.

By the way, "a dog's breakfast" is the same thing as saying "it's almost over."

Stokes is one of seven foreign exchange teachers in the county under a new program coordinated by the North Carolina-based Visiting International Faculty (VIF) Program and Washington County Public Schools.

The VIF Program matches teachers from other countries with schools in the United States. The teachers, able to work through visas, have to return to their home countries after three years, said David Young, chief of program development.

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More than 17,000 teachers, representing 52 countries, have been placed in 11 states, Young said.

Washington County is the only county in Maryland with the foreign exchange program, Young said. South High has three teachers, Williamsport High School has two and Boonsboro High School and E. Russell Hicks Middle School each have one.

The school system is paying the teachers' salaries, which are comparable to what other local teachers are making, said schools spokesperson Will Kauffman. If things go well here, the program could expand to other counties, Young said.

"We're trying to groom students for the global marketplace," said Ned Glascock, VIF spokesman. "We want Hagerstown to be competitive with the Baltimores, the Washingtons and the Beijings of the world."

Rigoberto Coto, who is from El Salvador, teaches honors Spanish at South Hagerstown High School. Though he's encountered many cultural differences, Coto said some things never change.

"I was a student, too," Coto said. "I knew which teachers you could fool around with. You don't want to be that kind of teacher. I don't have problems with class management here."

He said he joined the program because he always wanted to experience teaching in the United States. Coto also taught in Orange, N.J., through the VIF program.

While students are getting a firsthand cultural experience, foreign exchange teachers find that they're learning just as much from the students.

Montserrat Plaia-Rabella, who teaches English in her native Spain, said teaching Spanish at South Hagerstown High School would enhance her teaching and English-speaking skills.

Stokes, who has taught in North Carolina through VIF, said the experience has deepened her appreciation for parental involvement and school spirit.

Students simply enjoy the variety.

"I kind of like it," said Brad Logsdon, 17, a senior in Stokes' English class. "It keeps me interested."

Washington County Public Schools sought out the VIF Program after trying to fill several teaching positions, said Gloria Maria Grimsley, supervisor of world and classical languages.

"You're getting highly qualified teachers from a professional standpoint and cultural learning," Grimsley said.

Young said the program's success hinges on whether the foreign teachers are able to meet the state's academic standards. If the experience is positive this year, school officials will consider hiring more exchange teachers, Grimsley said.

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