South America was the destination this summer for Summit’s Franklin School Principal Dr. Sheila Cole, who toured schools in Argentina as part of a Fulbright Principal Exchange Program.

“There are a number of differences between Argentine schools and U.S. schools,” said Dr. Cole. “But the care and concern for children’s learning and welfare is evident in the schools of both countries.”

Dr. Cole was selected last year to participate in the Fulbright program, which provides the opportunity for U.S. and Argentine school principals to work together as a team on issues of mutual interest to their communities, schools, and students. The first exchange took place in October 2009, when Argentine principals visited the United States for a three-week program with their U.S. partner principals. This past summer, the American principals visited Argentine cities for a pre-program orientation and three-week visit.

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An Argentine guest

In October of 2009, Dr. Cole and the Franklin School community hosted Laura Curtolo, supervisor of private schools in Argentina. Ms. Curtolo’s visit to the U.S. included trips to Washington, D.C., New York City, and the Jersey Shore, as well as an extended stay in Summit to visit schools and meet Summit students and families.

Dr. Cole’s 23-day trip to Argentina began when she arrived in Buenos Aires on July 25. During her stay in Santa Fe, Dr. Cole stayed mid-week in Magisterio Catolica, a building that has been converted into a girls dormitory, and on weekends she stayed with Ms. Curtolo at her apartment in Rafaela. She visited 12 of the 30 private schools Ms. Curtolo supervises in the towns of Rosario and Sante Fe.

“I was particularly interested in how the schools reinforce the students’ second language learning, as well as how the Argentine system differs from ours,” Dr. Cole said.

She said the biggest difference between the Argentine and U.S. systems is that schools in Argentina, both public and private, are in session for only a half-day, with morning or afternoon sessions available. Children attend another school for the time they are not in their regular schools. (Maybe this needs a bit more info?)

“Class sizes are also notably larger than in the U.S.,” said Dr. Cole, “and I did not notice a significant difference between public and private schools. Many of the poorer schools do not have the resources of books or materials that US schools do, but the kids were happy and learning with what they had.”

Dr. Cole pointed out that many of the private schools in Argentina are subsidized by labor unions or other organizations such as the Italian Society.

Keeping in touch with home

Dr. Cole kept a blog of her trip to Argentina, and a number of her teachers at Franklin School and other Summit Schools staff members were regular readers. Enjoying the opportunity the trip gave her to practice her own second language acquisition, Dr. Cole wrote some of her blog in Spanish.

Her first blog entry chronicled the story of her canceled flight from Kennedy and her eventual landing in Buenos Aires a day later than expected. She reported on the cold temperature of the Southern Hemisphere winter, the warm welcome she received at the schools she visited, and her pride at successfully ordering dinner at a restaurant  - in Spanish.

Visiting an archaeological site – the Cayasta ruins in Sante Fe - with a fourth grade class, touring a rice production factory, visiting two university campuses, and attending a family barbeque were also highlighted in Dr. Cole’s informative blog. 

“The way teachers care about kids and the creative ideas they use to get kids to learn are common qualities among all educators, and were evident even in the poorest schools I visited,” said Dr. Cole. “I increased my Spanish speaking skills during my visit, and I learned a number of strategies we can use in Summit to help both our students who are learning a world language and our English language learners.”

Dr. Cole said she will continue to keep in touch with Ms. Curtolo and other educators she met on her trip.