Brazilian Educators Learn, Teach in South Bend

Author: Kim Kilbride

Posted in the South Bend Tribune: Friday, February 21, 2014 

by Kim Kilbride

SOUTH BEND - From a special writing rubric to firsthand knowledge of what a hearty American breakfast tastes like, a half-dozen Brazilian educators who've been honing their craft at Brown Intermediate Center say they're leaving the country with an array of information to pass along to their own students more than 4,000 miles away.

The teachers are part of a group of 30 that's been working in classrooms in five South Bend schools and attending workshops at the University of Notre Dame for the past six weeks. They leave this weekend.

They've been sharpening their English skills, sudying pedagogy and learning about American culture.

They're part of a group of some 500 studying at U.S. universities and partnering with U.S. schools in a program funded by the Fulbright Foundation and the government of Brazil.

Jennifer Dees, program coordinator for the Brazil/Notre Dame project, said the overarching point of the program is to increase the teachers' knowledge of the English language as Brazil prepares to host the World Cup this year and the Olympics in 2016.

The group has also been immersed in American culture, Dees said, doing things like visiting Indianapolis and Shipshewana, attending a hockey game and watching sporting events, such as the Super Bowl.

One Brazilian teacher said she's taking a six-step writing rubric home with her to use with her students.

Another said she is excited about teaching Brazilian kids about the way Americans live.

"We can talk about pancakes, bacon and eggs," Neiva Mara dos Santos said, with a giggle.

The collaboration benefits local students, too, one teacher says.

Michelle Smith, a language arts teacher at Brown, has partnered with Brazilian teacher Ana Paula Takata for the past six weeks.

"The children had a lot of questions" for her, Smith said. "It really sparked our writing. They all wanted to talk to her ... Everyone's going to Brazil," she said, with a grin.

As for how different the Brazilian education system is from the American system, the teachers say the facilities are much larger and more high-tech here.

In the Brazilian schools where they teach, three groups of students attend schools in shifts, one in the morning, another in the afternoon and the final one in the evening.

Teachers teach two to three shifts per day moving around from classroom to classroom.

Several of the teachers said they've been surprised by how independently students here work.

Though the differences in the teaching environment in the two countries are striking, Caroline Gomes De Oliveira Vasconcelos said, a teacher's primary job in either place is the same.

"We're all trying to do strategies," she said. "We're all trying to reach our students."