• Jun072012

    POSTED AT 07:22 AM

    It takes time for an immersive experience like spending two weeks in an other country to all settle.  There comes a point were the minor frustrations of international travel fade into the background and the most valuable experiences shine through with great clarity.  In attempting to process my trip to Ukraine and to document the experience to some degree, I created a slide show.  You can view it from the link below.

    Ukraine 2012 Presentation

    During my trip I asked one class of students at the Boiko Private School to write letters to one of my classes.  These students were very excited to practice their English and share some information about their lives, their school, and their city.  They had many questions too.  I shared the letters with my students and asked them to respond in kind.  Our letters were sent via email pdf to the Ukrainian teacher.  I was very pleased to get a second round of letters a few days later via email.  I'm looking forward to continuing this collaboration with my colleagues in Ukraine in the fall.

    Students at Boiko Private School writing letters to Southeastern students


    POSTED AT 12:04 PM

    While in Ukraine I was assigned to the Boiko Private School in Kharkiv, in the eastern region of the country.  Boiko is somewhat like a charter school in the U.S.  Its focus is English language immersion.  As a private school, it draws students from well-off families, as well as gifted students, but also a fraction of students who are of average ability.  The school houses "forms" 1 through 11 under one roof - the rough equivalent of having 1st through 12th grade in one building.  During passing/break times, you'll see kids of near every age moving about the building.  Unlike U.S. schools, all of the schools I visited took breaks of between 10 and 20 minutes between each 45 minute period, as we'll as a longer lunch break.  Students had time to get a snack or meet with a teacher during these times.  They found it strange that we only allow 4 minutes to pass between classes!

    Daily class schedule breaks at the Boiko School.  Rather than a bell, the intercom plays a trumpeting "charge"-like song - other schools played music as well.  However, unlike U.S. schools, students don't rush to leave class and always seems patient as class wrapped up.

    I found students in Ukraine to be mature and polite.  As many study English from an early age, it was not uncommon for them to stop and say hello to me when I walked through the halls.  I noticed that most students greeted their teachers (in Russian) when they passed them, showing courtesy and respect.  

    Sometimes it was difficult to get a true sense of class size, but often smaller classes were combined for our presentations.  However, most classes were probably 15-20 students and classrooms were about half to three-quarters the size of US classrooms.  Many students had cell phones and sometimes I saw them check their phone quickly, but phones were almost never on their desks.  Ironically, teachers often took calls on their phones, but I suspect this is because they move around from room to room often and land lines are not efficient ways to finding them.  

    These students were very engaging.  The young man in the center was very interested in discussing American politics.  The girl in the British t-shirt is a model and the girl in front of her likes dance.  In early classroom, I could always find students who reminded me of my students at home.  

    Many of the schools I visited incorporated mini-museums into their buildings and classrooms.  One school had an entire museum about the importance of grain and bread in Ukraine.  Other schools come to visit it!  The first school I visit, State School 57 in Kyiv, had a museum about its own history.  President Bush visited the school in 2008 and they had a number of pictures of him in the museum.  Students showed us the history of the school - entirely in English.

    Many schools have displays to honor veterans of World War II.  Ukraine was occupied by the Nazi's for two years and many citizens fought and died.  At the time, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.  Because of this, you'll find a lot of Soviet symbolism connected with this history.  To an American, this can seem strange, but to them it is simply part of their history...not a statement that is pro-communist.  On May 9th, all Ukrainian students participate in celebrations for the victory over Nazi Germany.  At the Boiko School, I watched 3rd graders practice marching drills in preparation for the events.  May 9th is considered one of the most important holidays in Ukraine.

    I recall that all of the schools I visited, except Boiko, required a school uniform.  However, enforcement varied.  Most students dressed quite nicely and I rarely saw anything approaching "inappropriate".  

    These students had a school vest or jacket option, but it seems only the girls were following the rules that day.  

    One big difference between US and Ukrainian schools was sports.  Ukrainian schools generally do not have sports teams or leagues.  Students seem to enjoy pick-up games on their own or join private clubs.  Dance, music, and soccer are very popular after school activities.  The students had no clue what American Football was...the NFL has some work to do!  Because schools seem to assign a lot of homework, there is less time for sports as well.  One of my colleagues brought a football and tried to teach a group of kids the rules of the game...wish I'd seen that...he said it was quite humbling and fun.  What a great idea for sharing American culture!


    POSTED AT 11:56 PM

    The pace of the trip is definitely picking up now that we've entered the second week.  I'm feeling a lot more comfortable here in Kharkiv, better rested, and recognizing more landmarks.  It is fun to get to know a new city just by wandering around.

    My weekend was full of adventure.  I could write a book, but will try to summarize it here.  My host, Andriy, helped me rent a mountainbike for the weekend.  We cycled to the train station (about 20 minutes in the dark!) and boarded an overnight train to Simferopol in Crimea.  We had to put our bikes in nylon carrier bags and lug them onto the crowded train...it was very hot and sweaty work...and, pulling no punches here, the smell on the train was not entirely welcoming when you consider we'd be riding it all night long.  Somehow I managed to sleep a bit during the bumpy ride south. 

    Once in Simferopol, we reassembled out bikes and began the ride.  The road out of town was ok, but at times a bit nervewracking with cars and trucks passing and narrow drainage ditches along most roads.  I was told there would be a big climb on the route to the coast, but really didn't know what to expect.  Eventually we crested a 6 mile climb (steep!) and did a fast descent into the first little city, called Alushta, where by two travel companians promptly went for a swim in the Black Sea (a recurring theme of this trip).  Since the water and air temp are about the same as in MA right now, I opted not to swim in the Sea...though I probably violated some cultural norm by doing so.  Sasha tried to convince me it would keep me from getting sick...but I just couldn't consider getting cold and wet with more riding ahead of us.  I need to come back in July for the swimming! 

    Next we boarded an electric trolley bus to Yalta (about 1 hour), but rather than stopping in Yalta, we started riding up and down more big hills to get to our destination, called Alupka.  My host wanted to take a cable car up the moutain to a plateau called, Aj Petri, but we discovered upon arriving that the cars are not in operation this early in the season.  We slepted in a small apartment in Alupka...basically in someone's backyard.  Interesting, to say the least.  I think only locals could find a place like this to stay. 

    The next day we had an easy (downhill) ride to Yalta.  It is a port city with a nice boardwalk and restaurants.  My hosts swam in the sea, again, while I enjoyed some people watching.  In the evening, we took a 2.5 hour trolley ride back to the train station, then another overnight train to Kharkiv.  All told, we rode about 50 miles and I was quite sore from carrying my small backpack the entire way.  I was quite looking forward to a shower and breakfast, though I only had 1 hour to be ready to visit State School 29...this trip has been a whirlwind of activity to say the least. 


    POSTED AT 09:47 AM

    It is now Thursday and I'm in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine.  The last few days have been a whirlwind of cultural sightseeing, meetings, a school visit, and, finally, a bit of "free time" for shopping (and packing).  This morning I was up at 4:50am to catch an early flight to Kharkiv (pronounced "har-kov"), but back to that later...

    Yesterday we visited our first school.  It is called State School 57 and its an English immersion school located in the center of Kyiv (or Kiev).  We would call this a magnet school in the US...it has selection admissions.  The school is clearly regarded highly as it was chosen as a stop on President Bush's visit to Kyiv in 2008.  The school is very proud to have been visited by a US president and prominently displays photos of his President Bush at the school in its little history museum.  So, while we weren't the most distinguished visitors to School 57, we were welcomed quite nicely.  The school was quite impressive and I enjoyed observing presentations by 11th graders about the importance of studying science.  The classroom as equipped with the exact same Smart Boards we have at SET and the kids used Power Point to present.  

    We also met with a group of educational leaders and discussed the pros and cons of the Ukrainian educational system.  We learned about gaps in special educational services and teacher salaries.  The average Ukrainian teacher makes only about $3,000 per year...yet the prices around town are not much different from in the US and gas is certainly higher.  Because of this, teachers do a lot of outside work - tutoring, etc. 

    Today we made our first visit to Boiko School.  Unlike our visit to School 57, Carlos and I found ourselves alone in the room before a group of 6th graders within minutes of arriving!  The kids had wonderful and funny questions for us and it was a great welcome.  Four girls then gave us a frenetic tour of the school...sometimes literally running from place to place in excitement to show off their school.  First impressions are that the Boiko students have a lot more liberty to move about the building, and passing time can seem light a cavalry charge (including the trumpet instead of a bell), but they all seem handle the responsibility well enough.  Before we left for the day, we sat with an American girl whose Russian parents have her at Boiko while they work in Ukraine.  Eventually she'll move back to CA, but what an experience she is getting to master two languages and cultures. 


    POSTED AT 12:52 AM

    Often when you travel is it very unexpected things that stand out the most.  This morning at breakfast my travel partner, Bob, a teacher from Texas, struck up a conversion with two German men sitting at the table next to us.  Turns out the men were in Kiev tracing the route of their uncle who had died nearby during the Second World War.  My students should recall that the German army, under Hitler's orders, invaded the Soviet Union - despite an agreement he had made with Stalin not to do so.  The German Army advanced far into the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part at the time.  Kiev was overun and largely destroyed.  Eventually the Russian pushed back and Germany retreated, accelerating the collapse of the Third Reich. 

    So these two men, probably near 70 each, were here in Ukraine some 70 years later to trace their uncle's final footsteps and maybe locate his grave.  They told us they had visited a village where he was presumed to have died.  They were welcomed by the Ukraines - somewhat to their suprise - and shown around the village and the last reminants of the German presence in their homeland.  The men were clearly thankful for the welcome in light of the circumstances of their visit.  I don't know if they found any marker of the German graves - that is a question I'll ask today.  In France and Belgium there are American cemetaries, but we came as liberators, not conquerers during that war...circumstances here were different for the German dead.   

    Today will be our first excursion into Kiev.  I'm looking forward to discovering more about this city and will look for more examples of its history during World War II and the Soviet era. 


    POSTED AT 07:14 AM

    During my time in Ukraine, I'll visit a number of "state" schools - what we call public schools - as well as a private school that specialize in teaching English, a university, and an orphanage.  Ukraine is a newly independent nation.  Its formal independence was marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union.  In the years since, it has experienced the tumolt of emerging democratic government.  Educating the first generation of Ukrainians to live in an independent, democratic state places an important responsibility on its schools.  I am eager to see how Ukrainian schools approach civic duties and responsibilities, how the reflect on their countries history, and where they look for examples of good governance.

    Here is a picture of the Kharkiv National University.

    I have roughly 36 hours before I board my flight to Frankfurt, Germany.  I've prepared my classroom to be away for two weeks, created a Twitter page so that my classes can receive regular updates about my trip - and send me questions - and started to organize my "stuff" for two weeks on the road.  Next stop - Logan Airport.  Follow my travels on Twitter @SETHistory.     



    POSTED AT 12:32 PM

    Departure day is almost here.  On Saturday (4/14) I'll fly from Boston to Frankfurt, Germany, then on to Kyiv, Ukraine.  It will take almost a full day of travel to reach Ukraine.  I'll be staying at the Rus Hotel in Kyiv for a few days.  Looks pretty nice!

    On the first full day in Kyiv, we start with "An Introduction to Ukrainian History and Culture," followed by a sightseeing tour of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.  The next day, Tuesday, we learn about the "Foundations of the Ukrainian Education System" and then visit the U.S. Embassy.  That evening we attend the Kyiv Opera.  Here is a picture of the opera house.

    On Wednesday, we visit a school in Kyiv.  In the afternoon I'll participate in a panel discussion with local teachers. 

    Thursday is a travel day to our host school.  I'll fly from Kyiv to Kharkiv with my fellow US teacher, Carlos from Miami.  There we will meet Andriy, our Ukrainian host teacher. 

    My next post will highlight some of the great things Andriy has planned for me and Carlos, including a trip to Crimean coast of the Black Sea.


    POSTED AT 08:55 AM

    The other day I learned that I'll spend about one week in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv.  The city is located in Eastern Ukraine, close to the Russian border.  Kharkiv City was heavily influenced by the Soviet Union.  It was the focus of Stalin's purges in the 1930s when millions died or were driven out of the region.  I expect to see the Soviet influence reflected in Kharkiv's architecture and language, which blends Ukrainian and Russian.  In fact, the city sometimes uses the Russian spelling - Kharkov.  During the Soviet era, Kharkiv was a center of defense industry.  According to Wikipedia, it still boasts a tank factory...though I doubt I'll get to visit!  The city still has a statue of Vladimir Lenin, which foreignors may find ironic given the collapse of communism in 1991. 

    While I was in D.C. I learned a bit more about my intinerary.  It will take about 24 hours of travel to get to Kiev, the capital.  Upon arrival, I'll spend three days learning about Ukraine, meeting with officials from the U.S. Embassy, and visiting cultural sites.  We'll also visit some schools in the city and meet teachers and school leaders.  The fourth day is scheduled for travel when I'll make my way to Kharkiv.  I will be traveling with Carlos, a history teacher from Miami.  We got along great in D.C. - he is a soccer coach and used to be a Marine.

    I've read that it is a 7 hour train ride from Kiev to Kharkiv, but, who knows, I could end up on a bus...or get lucky and fly.  That is part of the adventure.  Upon arriving in Kharkiv, I'll meet with my host, Andriiy.  He is an Enlish teacher.  I'll stay in a hotel in Kharkiv for the week.  Each day we'll visit Andriiy's school, co-teach some classes, give presentations about the US, meet with officials, and see the sites.  After about a week, Carlos and I will travel back to Kiev and meet up with the nine other US teachers in our group and discuss our experiences.  Then it's another long travel day back to the US.

    I've begun to work with Andriiy to determine exactally what I'll be doing when I visit his school.  I'll share that in my next post.


    POSTED AT 09:51 AM

    This past weekend I traveled to Washington, D.C. for a symposium on Global Education hosted by IREX and the U.S. State Department.  It was a great experience.  I arrived on Thursday and had a few hours before my first meeting.  Our hotel was only two blocks from the Mall, so I dropped into the Smithsonian Air & Space Musuem for a quick visit before it closed.  That evening, after dinner with some of the teachers in the program, we enjoyed a nighttime walk around the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the new MLK Memorial.  It is great to see the monuments at night - fewer people and cool lighting.

    The first full day of the symposium included discussions of global education and a Global Ed fair featuring more than twenty organizations that contribute to global education.  I left with a pile of resources.  In the afternoon I had my first meeting with the teachers with whom I'll travel to Ukraine.  There are eleven us in all.  We were asked to write an "essential question" that will guide our in-country learning.  I chose to examine how Ukraine's education system is contributing to the development of civic duties and responsibilities - such as participation in the political process, rule of law, and service to community and country.  

    The final day on the symposium finally began to answer the big question on everyone's minds - "what will be doing when we visit Ukraine?"  I'll answer that in my next post.   


    POSTED AT 09:48 AM

    Welcome.  Over the next few months I'll use this blog to share my experience as part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program.  During the last two weeks in April, I will travel to Ukraine to meet with students, teachers, administrators, and local officials.  I'll learn about their education system and share information about ours.  I may even get to teach a class or two.  I also plan to Tweet regularly from @SETHistory.  Please check back regularly if you are interested in learning more about this experience.

    Mr. Kelley  

    This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State.