BES teacher's trip to Columbia enriching

BALDWIN — Julie Sherlock, music teacher for Baldwin Elementary, returned to her classroom after a three-week trip to Columbia with a new perspective on life and her surroundings — one of greater appreciation.

Through a fellowship program, Teachers for Global Classrooms, Sherlock was able to travel to Columbia with 10 other teachers to work with the schools. She left in mid-July for her trip and returned just before the new school year began in Baldwin.

"While I was in Columbia, I really came to the realization of how much I appreciate what I have here in the U.S.," she said. "The teachers and schools in Columbia have far fewer resources. I am impressed how teachers there are able to do so much with so little. While there, I gave presentations and showed pictures of our school at Baldwin. The kids asked if our kids were rich. The schools there didn't have consistent electricity and some lacked internet. Even the wealthier schools didn't have much technology. They had more traditional teaching methods. It makes me appreciate what I have here."

She was able to collaborate with many teachers in Columbia on projects, such as bilingual teaching. Sherlock is trying to acquire bilingual text books for teachers in Columbia. She also taught Columbian students traditional English songs such as "A Tisket a Tasket," and she is teaching her Baldwin students traditional Spanish songs. The students in Baldwin and Columbia have been able to exchange videos and Skype each other. They also have a letter exchange.

"My students in Baldwin have been very interested in my trip and are fascinated by the pictures and videos," she said.

Through creating a Web page, A Global Education Guide, Sherlock provides information to other educators about implementing a global curriculum in the classroom and also includes a blog of her trip.

"Columbia is a developing nation, and it is chaotic with a high level of poverty," she explained. "The citizens were very poor, but they were just beautiful people. From teachers to the taxi driver, they really went out of their way to welcome me. They don't get many visitors from other countries, so they looked at me as exotic with my blond hair and blue eyes. Some wanted to know if I was an angel. They couldn't speak English, but did their best to communicate.

"There has been a lot of civil strife over the decades with 50 years of civil war. Columbians are working hard to make up for those years by improving education and the economy with a resilient and positive attitude. They want to learn our education practices in the U.S. This made us all feel pretty good about what we do for a living."

The 10 teachers began their trip in the capitol, Bogata, to acclimate to the country, and visited the U.S. Embassy for a security briefing. They were hosted in the city of Armenia, which has 279,000 people.

"Armenia is located in a coffee region, and outside of the city limits the area is highly rural. It was beautiful — like another world with mountains, hills, coffee plantations and very green grass. The days were quite warm and the sun set by 6 p.m. The evenings were very pleasant," she said.

She worked with various schools, such as an art emergence school, a bilingual emergence school, an adult education program, private schools and rural one-room schools.

"The highlight of my trip was teaching in the one-room rural schoolhouses. The children were so receiving of us," she said. "I was also very impressed with the art emergence school. Classes go from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and are interspersed with music training and art programs. Many who graduate this school become national folklore dancers of Columbia, which the people of the country take much pride in. It was inspiring to see the children's choir. It is amazing to think of the progress made when kids are involved in music all day long, every day."

During the weekends, Sherlock and the other teachers had the opportunity to sightsee and enjoy recreational activities.

"Weekends were time for fun adventures," she said. "I got to travel down a river on a bamboo raft, hike in a forest, visit coffee plantations and museums. I did a lot of shopping. Items there are very inexpensive in Columbia, including emerald, silver, textiles and coffee. I was able to bring coffee home for gifts. The food in Columbia was really good, and the people ate all day long. They fed us well everywhere we went."

Sherlock is hoping to travel back to Columbia in the future and work with the rural schools.

"I have done a lot of cool things in my life, but this has been my most fulfilling experience," she said.