2nd Grade in Colombia!

Here in Colombia, it  is hard to understand what most of the people around me are saying, and I do not recognize most of the plants I have been seeing, and I have been tasting fruits that I have never heard of. But there is one thing I have gotten to see and experience over this week that I do recognize and understand and that is SECOND GRADE!  🙂2016-07-26 07.20.34I was so excited to visit the 2nd graders of the CASD Public School where they are implementing a fascinating bilingual pilot project. The students in this school  do not study English as a separate subject, but instead study the content areas of science and social studies in English. 2016-07-26 07.20.13They were lucky enough to have a  teacher, Marco Jurado, who was not only fun and dynamic, but also passionate about preparing his students for the global society they will inherit. He explained to me that his students are being taught a foreign language in the same way we learn our first language. Through speaking, listening and using language in an authentic context. These are students who come from economically disadvantaged families and their ability to have a fluency in English will give them access to higher education and better jobs that they otherwise might not have. But more than all of this, what stood out to me was how much fun they were having!  They spontaneously broke out in a New Direction song for me and proudly showed me their notebooks–full of science and social studies diagrams and notes.  They were full of hugs and smiles and questions. I could have stayed their all day!  I was thrilled to learn that Marco Jurado’s school has access to the internet and Skype!  In September I will  introduce my new students to Mr. Jurado’s class through –Together our classes will be able to exchange ideas, learning and friendship.  Estoy feliz!


Question for kids: Look carefully at the pictures on this page. What things to you see in Mr. Jurado’s classroom and school that are the same as what you would see in our school? What things are different? image





Valle de Cocora

2016-07-24 13.35.43Today was such an extraordinary day! A group of English teachers from our host teacher’s school took us to Valle de Cocora–a valley near the village of Salento. It was one of those places that is so beautiful that it cannot really be photographed–but that did not keep me from trying!

The valley was surrounded by steep green hills that had clusters of palmas de cera– Wax Palm  trees. They are the tallest palm in the world and can grow up to 60 feet tall!

2016-07-24 13.21.29But it was not just the wax palms and the incredible landscape!  The host teachers suggested that we go on a horseback ride. Why not! That sounded like a great idea. The horses were gentle and seemed to know exactly what do do. We started along the valley floor, weaving around the people who were walking and riding their bikes. But then we turned off of the road onto a trail. A steep, rocky, muddy trail into straight into the forest.

This turned out to be a real trust experiment between me and this horse. I tried very hard to pretend that I was not nervous, but I don’t think it worked. The horse seemed to be completely aware of this, and also seemed to be having fun doing things like taking the most narrow and rocky side path,  going very close to the other horses and speeding up when we were crossing streams going downhill.

At a certain point I just realized that the horse knew more about where it was going than I did so I stopped worrying and started looking around. I was in a tropical cloud forest. I was seeing some plants that I had never seen before, and others that I had only seen in greenhouses. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Even now I find it hard to believe that I was really there!

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Question for kids: Throughout my day I was reminded of when we read The Great Kapok Tree. That book taught us about the importance of taking care of beautiful places. What is the most beautiful place you have ever been? 

Two Great Teachers!

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Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strange kind of “hero worship” when it comes to great teachers.  I use the word hero because this is truly how I view them. A master teacher is someone who is capable of seeing the best in others and then helping them to see that in themselves. They understand  and embody both the art and science of teaching. They clearly connect and “click” with their students and hold them accountable, pushing them to do the work that is required for real learning. It is something that is very difficult to describe or define, but when you are in the presence of such a teacher, you know it.

I have been lucky to work with SO MANY incredible teachers.( I would even write their names here but I am worried that I would forget someone)–so instead I am going to focus on two teachers that I met yesterday.  They are both English teachers at public Colombian schools. In Colombia the public schools are free of cost, but usually serve students who are from low income families.

The first teacher I met  was Sandra Gonzalez,  who teaches  at the Institucion Educativa Distrital Confederaciones Brisas del Diamente . It is located in the southern part of Bogota, in an area of extreme poverty. This school served students from the 1st to the 12th grade. ThScreen Shot 2016-07-22 at 10.57.41 PMe students at the higher grades received technical training either in the culinary arts or in administrative work. Ms. Gonzalez  helped her students to prepare multiple presentations, in English, about their school. Her English was excellent and her engagement with and commitment to her students was amazing. The students were a bit shy at first but soon were using their English to ask  all kinds of questions about the music we like, our children and pets, and where we were from the in the states.

They were clearly proud to take us on a tour of their school. They have a bakery to learn the culinary arts,  access to computers and they even have a robotics team. The students of Room 218 will be excited to learn that their school had a recycling museum! They created all kinds of sculptures and art works using recycled materials!  This elephant was made of plastic bottles and cardboard! image

The second teacher I met was   Ibeth Puello , an English teacher at the Institucion Educativa Distrital Usaquen. At her school she uses an English language “immersion room” to teach her students. They are luckScreen Shot 2016-07-22 at 11.15.02 PMy at their school to have volunteers from other countries come to help the students study topics such as music, human rights and social studies–all using English! One of her students even won a scholarship to study English in England for three weeks!  The students in her school treated us to some traditional Colombian dance performances and then used their English skills to answer many of our questions about their life and schooling. They explained to us that their school is a “green” school. They students in the school work to create projects to help the environment. One of these is the solar energy station. pictured below. I loved that they used recycled  bottles to look like apples and leaves on a tree!

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Both teachers were eager to reach out and make connections with the kids at Cumberland School–in fact, some of the students from the Brisas Del Diamente school answered some of our questions on our blog! Check out the comments from my last blog to see if your question was answered!

Tomorrow I will go to a new city in Colombia–Armenia, where I will get to meet even more students and visit more schools.

Question for kids: I was so happy to see the “upcycling” projects at these schools. What questions would you ask the Colombian students about what they do to help the environment?











A Field Trip

Bogota  is a city that I knew so little about before coming here. Here are some of the things that I learned today:

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 July 20 is  a holiday here–Colombian Independence day–Flags were out everywhere. 
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In Bogota people love to exercise. This is a group people  who RAN to the top of Monserrate peak–a mountain that overlooks Bogota. It has an elevation of 10,000 feet. They looked very tired, muddy and happy to be done with their run!  I took the easy way up. A funicular train that went at a 90 degree angle up the side of the mountain.
The views were spectactular!  Here I am with two other TGC teachers–Lauren from New York and Camile  from Florida! 


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 Colombia is home to more than 130,000 species of plants. I saw so many beautiful flowers that I had to force myself to stop taking pictures of them!
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The city of Bogota pays artists to paint murals! (The idea is to discourage grafitti) . I thought this one was incredible. 
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This city is HUGE! It has a population of 7.4 million people and covers over 600 square miles. 

QUESTION FOR KIDS:  Tomorrow I will go and see a school in Bogota. What questions do you have about the kids who live in this city? 

A Wonderful Welcome


What a welcome to Bogota! The amazing and generous and talented teacher and “in country consultant” , Yanilis Romero was the first person we saw when we came out of customs. Right away it felt like we were meeting a friend. She even brought along her cousin and aunt to welcome us, giving everyone was given a version of a sombrero vuetliao, a traditional Colombian hat and a handwoven friendship bracelet.

Our Welcome to Bogota!

From this moment onwards, she has done everything possible to make us feel special and taken care of. This included arranging for a three course meal for us for when we arrived at the hotel–(complete with our first taste of the incredible Colombian fruit juices–more on those tomorrow.) By the time we finished our dinner and made it back to our rooms it was nearly  1:00am. There I found that she had left yet another surprise, some delicious alfajores (Dolche de leche cookie sandwiches). Sweet dreams were assured!image

The next day (today) Yanilis gave us an excellent presentation about Colombian history and culture. Her talk was detailed and nuanced. Throughout the 20th century Colombia has gone through many struggles to achieve political and economic stability. In recent years the situation here has greatly improved– and these improvements have led to job growth as well as an important peace treaty between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel groups.  But as Yanilis pointed out, it will take time to tell how much of a difference that these talks will make in the lives of ordinary Colombians. Yanilis is a 10th grade English teacher and it was clear from her presentation that she is passionate about her students and very invested in their futures.  She teaches at a public school, (versus private) where many of her students come from disadvantaged and underserved populations.

Yanilis Romero and the TGC teacher Keith Bropst and Camile Betances. (The prize winners of her Colombian facts challenge quiz!)

Later in the day our entire group went to the American Embassy for a security briefing (more on that later in the week) and an introduction to the English Language programs that the US State Department promotes in Colombia. Yanilis came along and took the opportunity  to directly advocate for her students, encouraging the State Department to be sure to consider students like hers, who come  from  disadvantaged backgrounds when they are making selections for their  highly competitive study abroad and scholarship programs. I know I will be getting the chance to see many incredible sights here, but it is already clear that the highlight of this experience will be meeting passionate and dedicated educators  like Yanilis!


QUESTION FOR KIDS:  After only one day in Colombia, I already feel that I have met a friend. How can you tell when you have met a friend? 


Colorful and Cool: The Colombian Peso


Suddenly I look at the calendar and there is only ONE WEEK left before I leave for Colombia! But the truth is, travel never works exactly that way. I am of the opinion, that usually, especially when we are going on a much anticipated trip, we lift off of the ground long before the airplane does. Right now I  feel like I am in a sort of “limbo” zone between two places.

This began to feel especially true for me on Friday when I went to the bank to pick up the Colombian Pesos that I had ordered. (You know that you are going somewhere really great when the bank has to ORDER the money for you!). I exchanged 300 dollars and got 750,000 Colombian pesos in return. 750,000!  I felt giddy when the woman at the bank counted it out to me. It seemed like it took forever.  Then I had the fun of going home and examining the different bills. I have learned from experience that it is pretty important to have a secure understanding of the value and appearance of a currency that is new to you.

To help me remember which bill was which and how much it was worth, I  did some research into the different people and pictures featured on the bank notes. They have the usual cast of generals and presidents, but they also have a woman who was also a spy . One side of the  5000 note features a poet, Jose Silva  who took his own life because he had a broken heart.  (or so some people think.)  The back side of  includes one of his poems, Nocturnal. How can one not already be in love with a country that puts poetry on its money! Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 4.56.35 PM

They also have a poem on the back of the 50 peso  bank note, (along with a wax palm tree. . . more on that later!).

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And even though it is not exactly a poem, I think that 20,000 bank note counts as a poem because it has the moon and is dedicated to the Colombian mathematician and astronomer Julio Garavito Armero, famous for his studies of celestial mechanics. (If that is not poetry, I don’t know what is!  ) Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 4.54.17 PM


Question for kids: Which is your favorite Colombian bank note? Why?

Bonus question: One dollar is worth about 3,000 Colombian pesos. How many Colombian pesos would ten dollars be worth? 

Fourth of July in Whitefish Bay

I have been thinking a lot about how to explain my school and community to the students and teachers that I will meet in Colombia.  As I watched the Whitefish Bay 4th of July parade go by today, I realized that the answer to this question was walking right past me. If you ask anyone who lives in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, what the best day of the year in our village is, the answer would be: The Fourth of July! This is a day that really shows what is important to this community: children, neighbors, schools and churches. Organizations, clubs and businesses all come together for a fun filled small town parade which is followed by an all-day picnic and then fireworks in the evening.

As I watched the parade go by, it was clear that our schools hold an important place in our community. This year two of my teaching colleagues were given the honor of leading the parade! It was wonderful to hear the crowds cheering these fantastic teachers. There were also kids of all ages. School athletes (including the state champion high school gymnastics team), Little League baseball players, Boys Scouts, Irish dancers, Tae Kwon Do clubs, marching bands, Catholic school students and people of all ages just having fun walked by waving. I saw many of my current and former student as well as neighbors and friends.

So, how will I describe Whitefish Bay? I could tell how it is a village of predominantly single family homes covering an area of 2.4 square miles along Lake Michigan.   I could explain that almost  14,000 people live here and most of the people who live here work in business and education. But I think it is more interesting to consider why people live here.  When given a survey asking this question they responded:

  • Sense of community
  • High quality public and private schools

Whitefish Bay is considered to be a great place for families with children. People are willing to pay high prices for their homes here, largely to be a part of this strong social fabric.  What does this “fabric” look and feel like? It is clearly in evidence on the 4th of July!

Question for kids: What did you do on the 4th of July?