Antioch Elementary adds a foreign teacher to its instructional ranks
Union County Public Schools have long integrated globalization efforts into their curriculums, as part of an overall strategy outlined years ago by Superintendant Ed Davis – and Antioch Elementary is no exception. This year Antioch has taken it up a notch with the addition of Renski Christians – a native of New Zealand who will be heading up a fifth-grade class courtesy of the Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program.
Christians has extensive experience teaching in New Zealand, and after visiting Texas for a cousin’s wedding, became eager for a change. A brief online search ensued during which she discovered the VIF program.
Founded in 1989, VIF is the operating partner of the Global Schools Network, and is the country’s largest teacher exchange sponsor and provider of language immersion and global literacy programs. Over the past 20 years, 200+ school districts across the U.S. and throughout NC have partnered with VIF – with Union County having one of the largest participations in the country according to Antioch Elementary School Principal Karen Dillon.
The search for an international instructor
The search for an international instructor began last year after the school applied for a VIF instructor. “We interviewed four or five candidates via Skype,” Dillon recalled, before making a final selection. The VIF process for providing schools with candidates is rigorous, according to its website.
Christians can vouch for this – having personally completed the long process that included several legal and professional background checks and submitting a video of a classroom instructional session. Both Dillon and Christians were thrilled at the selection. “Antioch was my first choice,” she said. “I was really excited about their technology, and felt like I had a lot in common with the principal and vice principal.”
Dillon hopes the addition of Christians will build onto what is already a strong globalization foundation – earning the distinction last year as a UCPS International School – the highest possible rating making it a school that others can look to as a globalization model, she explained.
While Antioch parents may be new to VIF, they have welcomed Christians with open arms, according to Dillon. “She arrived at the end of July with just a 40 lb. suitcase and nothing else,” Dillon said. “I put the word out that she needed some home goods and people have been dropping off everything from dishes to even a bookcase.”
While adjusting to a new life and a new job in a new country, Christians is working to include one global activity once a day. “On the first day we worked on greetings, and today we learned numbers in Te Reo and did our times tables using them.” Te Reo is the language of the Maori, the indigenous population of New Zealand. “I used Te Reo quite a lot in New Zealand where I taught in a Title 1 middle school there,” she said.
Christians and the VIF program will provide staff development on integrating foreign culture into the classroom, Dillon explains. Christians will provide this instruction to her fifth-graders, who will use it to teach their younger peers school-wide all about New Zealand. “I tell my students they are global advisors,” she said. “They are learning bits and pieces to be able to pass on to others.”
21st century international learning starts here
The Global Schools Network program is a partnership between the State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction, Department of Commerce and its Business Committee of Education. Together these groups have formed an alliance with schools, school districts, organizations and businesses committed to creating collaborative approaches to international education, according to its website.
Their goal is to focus on international education for 21st century student preparation – by providing U.S. students with learning opportunities that include becoming proficient in other languages, gaining global awareness and cultural understanding, learning from visiting international teachers and engaging in collaborative learning projects with students in other countries.
VIF wants its global programs to extend well beyond the stay of the individual teacher,” Christians explained. “They want it to be a program that doesn’t just go away when teacher leaves.”
Perhaps as icing on the cake, Christians’ role does not officially count as part of Antioch’s head count for budgetary purposes. “This gave us an additional teacher in the school,” Dillon explained, “I was allotted 36 but now have 37 instructors including Renski.”
Here for perhaps as long as five years, Antioch families appear to be thrilled. So much so that Dillon hopes to participate in the Global Schools Network program again and perhaps apply for a VIF position for each grade going forward. “Parents are requesting her and appear to be seeing it like we are seeing it,” she says, “as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”