Spears Led Teachers from Coast to Coast Selected for K-State Program to Ethiopia; Participants to Develop Classroom Lessons on Diversity, Culture of African Nation

Twelve teachers from Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, New York and Virginia were selected to spend part of their summer in Ethiopia through a federally-supported Kansas State University program to integrate information on the Ethiopian culture into K-12 classrooms.

The teachers were selected from a pool of 53 applicants. They spent a month in Ethiopia to learn about the African nation's history, language and culture, and then used their experiences to develop classroom lessons about cultural diversity, said Jacqueline Spears, associate professor in K-State's College of Education.

Support for the project was provided through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program. Sixty-four percent of the total cost of the program, or $81,566, is funded by Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, with the remaining 36 percent funded by a combination of K-State and participant contributions. K-State contributions include support from the office of the provost, the office of international programs and the College of Education.

Partners in the project were the K-State College of Education and Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit organization that works to increase literacy and provide Ethiopian schoolchildren with books.

Spears said the group, which also includes herself and two other staff members and three volunteers from Ethiopia Reads, leftJuly 1 and returned to the U.S. Aug. 1.

"Ethiopia is home to nine ethnically-based states, 84 indigenous languages and two major religions, making it a prime place for developing lessons about cultural diversity," Spears said. "What you're talking about here is getting teachers to include a closer look at a given country so that children begin to understand how really diverse cultures are across the world."

Participants spent 12 days in Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa, and 19 days touring the rest of the country. They had the opportunity to visit schools, learn about the geography and culture in regions both north and south of Addis Ababa, explore the roots of the modern Christian and Moslem faiths, and explore the challenges that modern Ethiopia faces.

K-State is collaborating on the program with Ethiopia Reads, which serves nearly 100,000 children and young people annually through its libraries in Addis Ababa and Donkey Mobile Libraries that serve rural villages. The teachers selected are being asked to organize a book exchange between their students in America and the people they'll meet on the trip. Spears said this will involve some book-making activities, where books made by schoolchildren in both countries will be translated and shared across borders.

The program started March 1, 2009, and will end Feb. 28, 2011.

Along with Spears, K-State's Laurie Curtis, assistant professor of elementary education, will be a staff member on the trip. Other individuals selected for the trip and their role include:

From Kansas: Alica Thomas, fourth/fifth-grade teacher at Vinland Elementary School, Baldwin City, teacher participant; LeAnn Clark, a retired teacher from Hesston, Ethiopia Reads volunteer; Carol Settgast, library media specialist, first- through fifth-grades, at Sheridan Elementary School, Junction City, teacher participant; Jane Kurtz, author, Lawrence, Ethiopia Reads volunteer; and Amy Brownlee, a K-12 library media specialist at Sterling Grade School, Sterling, teacher participant.

From out of state:

Jeanne Boland, humanities and literacy teacher at the Odyssey School, Denver, Colo., teacher participant; George Conger, third- through fifth-grade teacher at Clearwater Valley Elementary School, Kooskia, Idaho, teacher participant; Carol Fujii, English as a second language teacher at Parkway Northeast Middle School, Creve Coeur, Mo., teacher participant.

From New York: Kelsey Turner, fourth-grade teacher, Winslow Elementary School, Henrietta, teacher participant; and Khieta Davis, language arts and social studies teacher at Flower City School No. 54, teacher participant, Alicia Van Borssum, Autumn Lane Elementary School, program staff member, and Diane Watkins, seventh grade social studies/history teacher at the Wilson Foundation Academy, teacher participant, all from Rochester.

From Oregon: Elise Bradley, fourth- through eighth-grade special education teacher at Lent School, teacher participant, and Chris Kurtz, Portland Public Schools, Ethiopia Reads volunteer, both from Portland; and Garrett Roberts, kindergarten- through fifth-grade special education teacher, Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, teacher participant.

Randolph Althaus, English as a second language teacher, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Arlington, Va., teacher participant.

The Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program provides grants to support overseas projects in training, research and curriculum development in modern foreign languages and area studies for teachers, students and faculty engaged in a common endeavor.