Expanding Horizons: Two Vermont Schools Selected to Host Arabic and Mandarin Teachers | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Expanding Horizons: Two Vermont Schools Selected to Host Arabic and Mandarin Teachers

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Published May 17, 2022 at 8:00 a.m.


Kids learned to write their names in Arabic during an Arabic story hour in Winooski this spring - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Kids learned to write their names in Arabic during an Arabic story hour in Winooski this spring

Twinfield Union School in Plainfield and Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax are among 27 schools nationwide selected to host foreign language teachers through the federal Teachers of Critical Language Program, TCLP.

An Arabic teacher from Morocco will join Twinfield Union School and a Mandarin teacher from Taiwan will teach at BFA for the 2022-23 academic year.

Chinese Culture Club at Swanton Elementary School in Fall 2021 - COURTESY SPIRAL INTERNATIONAL
  • Courtesy SPIRAL INTERNATIONAL
  • Chinese Culture Club at Swanton Elementary School in Fall 2021

Both schools serve students in preschool through 12th grade. Besides teaching language in the schools, the visiting instructors will offer programs to introduce their culture to the entire community.

This is the first time Vermont schools have participated in TCLP, which started in 2006 and has placed Arabic and Chinese teachers in 42 states across the country.

Sixty schools applied this year.

“When I saw this, I thought it would be an amazing opportunity for the students,” said Debra Stoleroff, the director of Twinfield’s personalized learning program. “It will be a huge gift or benefit for the whole school to have somebody here who could share culture, a different perspective, [and] bring diversity to the school and the staff.”

Justin Brown, who is the grade 5-8 principal at BFA-Fairfax, shared similar sentiments. “We’re honored and humbled to have been selected. We also take this opportunity really seriously because despite the fact that we're a small rural school, we take a lot of pride in being pretty innovative — trying new things and offering great experiences to our students — and really trying to grow their perspective, globally, and beyond just the walls of our school.”

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs pays the teachers’ salaries and a stipend for living expenses. Washington D.C.-based American Councils for International Education implements the program. “We want to have a strong foundation to be part of a global world. The global world starts with communicating with each other,” said Zara Hovhannisyan, the American Councils teacher programs director.

Twinfield Union School serves 306 students from the towns of Plainfield and Marshfield. Several students over the years have studied Arabic through the school’s 25-year-old personalized learning program, Renaissance. One current student is in their third year studying Arabic and working with a native speaker in South Burlington.

“I always think first about what is best for my students and that was the impetus for this,” Stoleroff said “[TCLP] was going to be a program that was going to enrich the lives of all Twinfield students.”

The Moroccan teacher will offer an introductory Arabic language class to high school students and will be teach lessons on culture to elementary and middle school students. They will also craft community-focused enrichment gatherings that will likely include food and cultural learning activities. Hovhannisyan estimated that one TCLP teacher impacts 1,000 lives in their host community.

In a follow-up email Stoleroff wrote, “Many students in rural Vermont don’t have access to the larger world other than through media. As a result, their viewpoints can be somewhat provincial. Having a TCLP teacher is an opportunity to broaden student perspectives.”

In Fairfax, where BFA serves nearly 1,000 students from Fairfax and Fletcher, the Taiwanese instructor will teach Mandarin language classes for up to 20 hours per week and devote another 20 hours each week to developing school-wide cultural opportunities expected to involve the entire community.

“The community library exists at our school so the community comes in and accesses our building a fair amount. Our school is the community hub,” Brown said. “A small community does have that tight-knit feel … but we’re also aware that the world doesn't end at the borders of Fairfax. We are connected globally.”

A pre-pandemic trip to China organized by SPIRAL International - COURTESY SPIRAL INTERNATIONAL
  • Courtesy SPIRAL International
  • A pre-pandemic trip to China organized by SPIRAL International

Both schools hired SPIRAL International, a Burlington-based educational consultant, to help with the extensive, five-month application process. SPIRAL also will help find housing for the new teachers and help to coordinate community outreach. SPIRAL’s marketing coordinator Sydney Estey-Dedell said this might be the first time the state of Vermont has offered an Arabic language program in a public school.

“They really are pioneers. Up until now, there would've been no way for them to implement a program like this for a small community,” said Estey-Dedell.

BFA has worked for a decade with SPIRAL International to organize a summer exchange program for BFA high schoolers to host Chinese exchange students. Several years ago, BFA staff also traveled to China. Brown hopes this new opportunity will expand the school’s Chinese language foundation.

“We're just super excited that this is happening — both for our kids as well as for our community because I think it's a heck of an opportunity,” Brown said. "We’re really excited to make it a success.”

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Learn more at tclprogram.org