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Exchange program brings Argentinian principals to UCPS

Cristina Traverso, at left, an elementary principal from Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Cristina Figueroa, center, a secondary school principal from Cordoba, Argentina, are greeted by Monroe Mayor Bobby Kilgore during a reception in their honor at New Salem Elementary.

Two principals from Argentina were treated to a warm Union County welcome Monday (Oct. 15, 2012) at New Salem Elementary School, both visiting Union County Public Schools thanks to a principal exchange program funded by the US State Department.

Cristina Traverso, an elementary principal from Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Cristina Figueroa, a secondary school principal from Cordoba, Argentina, were honored during a reception at their host school, New Salem Elementary; a welcome that included a “key to the city” pen presented by Monroe Mayor Bobby Kilgore.

“We certainly welcome you to Union County and I want to thank you for all you do to educate children around the world,” Kilgore said.

New Salem Elementary principal Neil Hawkins was one of 50 principals across the United States selected to participate in the principal exchange program, which partners US principals with principals in Argentina, Portugal, Thailand and Brazil.

The first leg of the journey for Hawkins was to travel to Washington (last week) and meet the two Argentinian principals that he would host. He said while in Washington, his discussions with other American principals were very enlightening. “UCPS is so far ahead of other school systems across the US in its globalization efforts. It made me so proud of our school system.”

Hawkins honored the two Argentinian principals during a welcome reception at his school that included a musical performance by about a dozen students, under the leadership of the school’s music teacher Taylor Vancil. Students sang a special song they had been working on for more than a month.

“We look forward to working with you as we begin this new partnership in education,” Hawkins told the principals.

Traverso’s school in Argentina has 540 elementary students. Her school is separated into two shifts of students. The first group goes to school from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., while the second wave of students has classes from 1 p.m. until 5:30 p.m.

“In Argentina, we don’t have very many resources, so it’s very difficult to operate,” Traverso said with the help of Gustavo Arevalo, the UCPS Latino Outreach Coordinator, who served as their interpreter.

“We try to do the best with what we have,” Traverso added. “We want to see first-hand the educational system in the United States, specifically to be here in New Salem Elementary to see the dynamic of every single day.”

Figueroa said she is interested in how US schools deal with and encourage parental involvement. Figueroa is principal (or director as she is called in Argentina) overseeing four schools that have a total of about 300 students, taught by about 70 teachers.

About 30 of her students actually live at the school during the week because they live too far away to commute every day, plus the roads are too difficult to travel on a daily basis. They teach math, reading and writing, but they also teach agronomy classes for those who will work in some form of agriculture after graduation.

Figueroa said she was also interested in how American teachers integrate lessons that address the needs of all levels of students in the classroom. She said she is also interested in how American teachers handle discipline issues in the classroom.

As for specific differences in her students and the students at New Salem Elementary, Traverso said there is little difference. “Children are children, no matter where they live,” she said.

Hawkins explained the importance of an exchange program such as this one. “As we continually strive to provide our students with the tools needed to be successful citizens in the 21st Century, we understand the importance of globalization in this process,” he said.

While in Union County, the two principals will visit other UCPS schools, meet with the UCPS Globalization Committee, the UCPS Cabinet Staff, attend principal meetings, as well as other local points of interest. The summer of 2013, Hawkins will go Argentina to visit the visiting principals’ schools. All expenses are being funded by the State Department.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Oct 17, 2012 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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