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USF exchange program benefits teachers, students here and abroad

Saliou Sarr talks to students at Freedom High School, where classes are much smaller than his. He is one of 24 high school teachers from around the world working on their skills in a USF program.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Saliou Sarr talks to students at Freedom High School, where classes are much smaller than his. He is one of 24 high school teachers from around the world working on their skills in a USF program.

NEW TAMPA — They got past the low point quickly in Mr. Goodchild's third-period English class.

The guest teacher was Saliou Sarr. Could anyone, he asked, point to his home country of Senegal on a map of Africa?

No.

Everyone missed the mark by a thousand miles or more.

But what the 11th-graders lacked in world geography, their curiosity made up for with plenty of questions about Sarr, his country and his students.

Students really learn French, English and often another language like German or Arabic?

Islam is the main religion?

Senegal was a French colony?

And the residents of its 14 regions speak different languages?

"Yes," said Sarr, who speaks five languages, in response to the last inquiry. "Excellent question."

Stimulating that kind of cross-cultural curiosity, of course, was part of the exercise. Sarr, 38, is one of 24 high school teachers from around the world spending six weeks working on their classroom skills at the University of South Florida.

The visitors first focused on teaching skills, instructional technology, theory and methodology in the program led by USF's Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions and College of Education.

Then they spent two weeks working with teachers at Freedom and Wharton high schools.

Now they are working on a variety of things, said Bárbara C. Cruz, the project's director and a USF professor of social science education.

They're comparing their experiences during their guest internships at Wharton and Freedom. They're talking about using advanced teaching strategies in global and multicultural education. And they're getting ready to make the transition from being a classroom teacher to becoming a leader who teaches, develops the curriculum and is an agent of change.

Their work at USF ends March 18.

"It's pretty intensive and pretty comprehensive, too," Cruz said. "It's amazing how much experience they've been able to cram into a short period of time."

In addition to Senegal, the educators come from Argentina, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Each is a master teacher in his or her own country, with five to 26 years of experience in the classroom, Cruz said.

The program is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the nonprofit International Research & Exchanges Board, which works to improve education, strengthen independent media and foster civic participation.

USF administrators say they hope the program leads to a mutual understanding of effective teaching methods by the visiting teachers and their hosts at Freedom and Wharton.

Ultimately, they aim to produce better-informed students here and abroad, something that Freedom High English teacher Phillip Goodchild said seemed to be happening in his classroom.

It was illuminating, he said, for his students to hear a different viewpoint.

"They're being exposed to a slightly broader perspective," he said.

They seemed fascinated, even charmed. At one point during Sarr's presentation, junior Gabrielle Krupp, 16, asked Sarr to repeat, in French, the name for a national Senegalese monument known as the Third Millennium Gate, or La Porte du Troisième Millénaire.

"I liked how he said that," she said. "That was cool."

Sarr teaches English as a foreign language at Valdiodio Ndiaye High School in Kaolack, Senegal (population: about 186,000). His school has nearly twice as many students as Freedom High, the students tend to be three or four years older, and he averages 70 students to a class.

"I used to complain about my grading until I met Mr. Sarr," Goodchild said.

Sarr, who has two college degrees, plus a certificate of specialization in American literature and civilization, said he was interested to learn about a country whose culture he had studied, albeit at a distance.

Much of what he had heard was true, he said, but he was pleased that Americans were not so hurried that they couldn't pause to give him directions as he tried to find his way around Washington, D.C.

While many of the fundamentals of teaching are the same here and in Senegal, Sarr said there are differences. Among other things, Freedom has small classes and excellent classroom technology.

Gesturing at Goodchild's computer, Sarr said, "I think he is spoiled."

The freewheeling classroom give-and-take took some getting used to, he said.

On Sarr's first day at Freedom, Goodchild's lessons focused on grammar, vocabulary and the Zora Neale Hurston novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

That evening, Sarr said he could not say exactly what Goodchild's students had learned that day.

The next day, as he talked to students individually, he realized they had been listening and learning.

"American students have much more freedom in the classroom than our students do," he said. "This isn't bad, because it makes them open-minded and engaged."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

USF exchange program benefits teachers, students here and abroad 03/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 3:30am]
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