Over winter break, Spain welcomed 20 Slippery Rock University students to the country, allowing them to soak in the culture, warmer weather and educate young children about writing, math and history.
The students, led by assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education Dr. Sara Tours, spent 12 days in Spain; four of those days were spent working with children at the American School of Valencia (ASV). Tours, in addition to the faculty adviser of this trip, is also the professor in charge of the international track for the department of education.
“My favorite part [of the trip] was getting to see my favorite country in the world through my students’ eyes,” said Tours, who completed her master’s degree at Florida State University in Valencia. “Taking 20 students there was really magical for me because it’s part of my teaching philosophy, and it’s also part of the philosophy of the university, that we have these global experiences.”
Each student on the trip was assigned to a cooperative teacher at ASV and, in turn, a classroom and lesson plans. Sometimes, the lessons lined up with the students’ concentrations, and sometimes they really didn’t. For example, senior secondary history education major Marissa Hilinski was placed in a class that primarily taught math; however, she did get to work with a few students on history lessons.
“[I worked on history] with the kids who spoke English and couldn’t keep up with the Spanish version, so it was nice because it was more one-on-one or two-on-one and the kids got more individual attention,” Hilinski said. “It was more of a conversation as opposed to a lecture. I think it helped them in the long run because not everyone likes history, and I think they learned better.”
In fact, that sentiment was something many of the students agreed on: the more creative, open style of teaching they witnessed while at ASV seemed to work out better than the lecture and drill-based schooling in the United States. Sophomore early childhood and special education dual major Christina Donatelli even mentioned that she wants to incorporate that style of education into her classrooms as she progresses through her education and eventually, career.
Donatelli, who is on the international track and is earning a minor in Spanish, said she hopes to establish a certain comfort in her classrooms and not necessarily teach a straight curriculum.
“[I want] the students to feel comfortable exploring things so I can help them and aid them in that rather than just teach straight out of the books,” she said.
This trip also solidified some students’ decisions to study education, specifically those on the international track. Sophomore elementary and early childhood education major Marina Woodson is one of those students. She came to SRU as an exercise science major. After some time in the program, she said she realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do, so she took inspiration from her many family members in education and joined the department and later, the track.
“I love traveling and I love the concept of going somewhere new, and the international track opened up a new realm of possibilities,” Woodson said. “Nobody was surprised that I ended up here.”
Each student on the trip had a remarkably different experience, whether in the children they taught or the sights they saw, but they all seemed to agree that their experience was like no other.
“It was always my lifelong dream to travel the world and see different places, and especially because of my concentration in history, it would help me in the long run with my students,” Hilinski said. “This experience was definitely eye-opening; it’s just a whole different world over there. You can hear people talk about it all day, but unless you experience it firsthand, you truly won’t understand what it’s like. Everyone who’s given an opportunity one day should just go, just do it.”
Dr. Tours, who has been abroad so many times she’s lost count, said she is excited for the coming months because more and more students will be having these global experiences, whether through the international education track, through different programs, or just on their own. In the future, she hopes to expand the track and raise recruitment, one day transforming it into more of a cohort-style program.
“I’m excited to get all the international students to meet one another and discuss the reasons behind why they chose this program,” Tours said. “Those that are in it are passionate about it, so bringing them all together will be really helpful for them to continue and not lose out on having these really wonderful experiences.”