Program brings Hispanic flair to B-A

BELLWOOD – Administrators and teachers from Mexico are getting an up close and personal look at the educational system at Bellwood-Antis Middle School.

The visit is part of an international exchange program through the Penn State Office of Global Relations and Guanajuato University.

Bellwood-Antis officials visited Guanajuato last October.

“They are interested in learning about instructional strategies and our education system in general. They are really interested in our culture and our customs,” said Jamie Forshey, Bellwood-Antis instructional technology coach, who made the trip to Mexico with Diane Williams, retired high school principal, art teacher Leah McNaul and biology teacher Denise Shimel.

While at Bellwood-Antis this week, the teachers visited Spanish classes and on Thursday afternoon enjoyed a Skype session with their students back home at Salvatierra Prepa high school.

The visitors noticed some similarities and differences between the schools.

“There is a lot more discipline here. We are very impressed how their classrooms are managed; that is amazing to us,” said Ramon Juarez, who teaches English.

“The groups here have 20 in a class; back home we have about 40 in a class. The structure is more rigid here,” said Maria Refugio Quintana Sanchez, Salvatierra Prepa principal. “We are here to learn how everything works in their school, how to understand the system.”

Martha Gallaga Ortega, a former science teacher who now oversees 10 schools in Guanajuato including Salvatierra Prepa, said she was impressed how the Bellwood-Antis students receive an integrated education, with sports and other activities tied in.

“In our school, we are looking for our students to get an integrated education, but it is not achieved by all students. Integrated education is not always achieved in Mexico because of the attitude of students and parents,” Gallaga Ortega said. “There is not enough commitment.”

Laura Espinosa, an English language teacher, sees a lot of similarities.

“I think our students and the students of Bellwood-Antis are very similar. People are people. We both share similar interests; our students share similar interests,” Espinosa said.

The exchange program has been successful, Williams said.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but it has turned out to be an overwhelmingly positive experience. The biggest thing has been breaking down the stereotypes and understanding there are more similarities than differences. The education system is important to these people, and learning to share the strengths of both systems is the goal of both of these groups,” Williams said.

“The main thing is our students have the opportunity to see people from a different culture and that helps break down barriers that exist between other countries and cultures. They see we are basically the same,” Forshey said.

Plans call for the exchange program to continue.

“We would like our students and teachers to come to Bellwood-Antis for a short time as part of our exchange program. We would also like the Bellwood students and teachers to come to Guanajuato for a short term stay,” Espinosa said.

Discussions are underway about sending a group of Bellwood-Antis students and teachers to Guanajuato in March, Forshey said.

“The plan is to continue this both culturally and educationally with administrators, teachers and students,” Williams said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.