Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why study abroad?
According to an article by Gail Rosenblum published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune11 months ago, fewer and fewer high school students in the US participate in study abroad programs.  In fact, during the same year (2009 - 2010), US students studying abroad totaled just under 2000 compared to more than 28,000 exchange students around the world who came to the US to study.

In Dreaming in French, Author Alice Kaplan writes about three important American women, Jackie Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis, who chose to study in France as young adults and who were profoundly changed by their experience. In Kaplan's conclusion, she states that the year that these three women spent in Paris "gave each of these women a deep and lasting confidence confirmed their spirit of adventure and guaranteed their freedom from home constraints." Kaplan, a professor of French at Yale University, captures her own study abroad experience in French Lessons: A Memoir.

In my own experience, my semester abroad in Nantes, France in 1982 was a time I will never forget for so many reasons.  I stayed with a dear family with whom I remain close today and to whom I pay visits each time I travel to France.  This family is truly my French family.  I began to refine my skills in French to a level I would not have otherwise attained had I chose to stay in the US to study.  And, like the women in Dreaming in French, my experience confirmed in me that "spirit of adventure" that lead me to live in Cairo, Kuwait and back to France where I set up house in the 11th arrondissement in Paris.  During my time in Paris, I traveled throughout Europe and even back to the continent of Africa with my now ex-husband, a pilot.

So, to get back to my original question, "Why study abroad?"  Study abroad is an opportunity that should be embraced whenever it is offered - at the fifth grade as it is in the school where I teach, in high school or in college.  The young person who is able to take advantage of this experience will have a rich experience to draw from as he or she continues as a student and down life's twisting, turning paths.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


With Election Day today, it was time to reflect on what it means to be able to live in a free country.  I spent a few moments this afternoon talking with my second graders about Election Day and that they could participate in a mock vote in their community.  It is hard to express all that this freedom really means to 7 and 8 year-olds who, like many, seem to to take so much for granted.

At last month's Friends of the Hennepin County Library Penpals lecture, Salmon Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses (1988), spoke of one aspect of this great gift of freedom as an author -- the freedom of speech.  The publication of this his fourth novel of his, brought about the issuance of a fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini, demanding his capture and execution.  Rushdie then went into hiding for over a decade and threats and acts of violence followed in numerous countries, including public book-burnings, and assassinations and attacks on individuals involved in the selling, translating and publication of the novel.  His new memoir,  
Joseph Anton, gives a detailed account of his years in hiding under police protection.

Recently, in Atlanta, Rushdie spoke of how he is pleased that this novel is now being recognized for its worth as a piece of literature rather than for the scandal it has caused worldwide.
November 6th Atlanta Press Club Talk

Indeed, it is a wonderful thing to live in a country where you are free to speak, write, create and vote for your governmental leaders.  I hope that I can help educate the next generation of citizens to value and uphold these freedoms in whichever country they eventually call home.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Vendredi: Mission accomplie!

Nous avons un beau ciel bleu. Nous avons fini le travail que nous avions devant nous cette semaine. La fondation pour l’école Delmas 33 est faite et les cadeaux des élèves ont été placés dans les mains de nos amis de Lougou. Journée à la plage aujourd'hui!
We have a beautiful blue sky.  We have finished the work we had before us this week.  The foundation for the Delmas 33 school is complete and the gifts from the Normandale 3rd graders have been placed in the hands of our Lougou friends.  Beach day today!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pernier - Ecole Maranatha

Mercredi/jeudi Nous sommes deux équipes ici ches les missionaires Bill et Dorothy Smith: l'équipe du Minnesota (10 personnes) et l 'équipe du Tennessee (6 personnes). La plupart de nous travaillons sur le site de construction mais comme certains de nous sont tres intéressés à voir les écoles, nous avons choisi, Josh (Pasteur pour enfant a son eglise au Tennessee) et moi, d'aller aider Pasteur Obed et son assistante Anise dans une école un plus éloigné de Port-au-Prince dans un village qui s'appelle Pernier. Beaucoup des élèves de cette école sont parrainés par Latin America Child Care alors il y avait beaucoup à faire pour les aider aujourd'hui: photos de chaque enfant plus 2 projets d'écriture par enfant à faire. Avant de partir, Josh a pris une petite dans ses bras en disant qu'il allait partir avec elle. Elle était si mignonne - je pensais la même chose! Demain nous allons retourner pour finir le travail. Les gens de Lougou vont aussi venir chercher les impermeables et les lampes de poches en debut d'après-midi. Wednesday/Thursday There are 2 teams here staying with missionaries Bill and Dorothy Smith: the Minnesota team (10 people) and the Tennessee team (6 people). Most of us have been working on the construction site but since some of us have been very interested in seeing the schools, Josh (Children' pastor at his church in Tennessee) and I chose to help Pastor Obed and his assistant Anise in a school abut farther away from Port-au-Prince in a village named Pernier. A lot of the students in this school are sponsored through Latin America Child Care so there is a lot to do today: photos of each child plus two writing projects for each child to do. Before leaving the school, Josh took a little girl in his arms saying that he was going to leave with her. She was so cute - I was thinking the same thing! Today (Thursday), we will return to finish this work. The Lougou people will also be coming to pick up the raincoats and flashllights in the early afternoon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Delmas 33a : Aujourd'hui, toute l'équipe a travaillé ensemble. Nous avons continué à poser la base en ciment pour l'école. A côté de notre champs de travail, quatre classes étaient en cours en pleine vue de tout. Comment pouvaient-ils se concentrer sur leurs leçons?! Les enfants étaient très affectueux. Nous avons distribué des robes à toutes les petites filles et à peu près 40 paires de shorts aux garçons (faits par les femmes de l'église de l'équipe de Tennessee qui travaille avec nous). J'ai aussi aidé Pasteur Obed et Anise avec les enfants qui faisaient des dessins pour leurs parrains. J'ai fait de nouveaux amis - en particulier, une petite qui ne voulait pas me lâcher!

Delmas 33 construction site

Today, the whole teamed worked together.  We continued to lay a cement foundation for the school.  Next to our work site, four classes were carrying on in full view of everything.  How were they able to concentrate on their lessons?!  The children were very affectionate.  We distributed dresses to all the little girls in the school as well as about 40 paires of shorts to the boys (made by the ladies from the church of the Tennessee team working with us).  I also helped Pastor Obed and Anise who were working with the children who were doing drawings for their sponsors.  I made some new friends - in particular, one little girl who did not want to let me go!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On y va !!

Les valises (trois plus les baggages à main) sont presque prêtes!  Dedans, nous avons pu mettre tous les imperméables et toutes les lampes de poche pour les enfants de Lougou.  Monsieur Werness est un génie!  Nous n'allons pas pouvoir prendre plus de quelques livres d'ombres, par contre.  Nous partons d'ici à 4 heures 30.  Un grand merci à Mme Livant qui nous amène à l'aéroport. Le prochaine message sera de Port-au-Prince!  Je dois songer à dormir un peu mais j'ai tellement hâte que cela va être bien difficile.
À la prochaine!
Mme Werness
P.S.  Ceux qui aime le foot: jète un coup d'oeil à ce site web:
Hope Balls for Haiti

The suitcases (three plus the carry on bags) are almost ready!  Inside them, we were able to stuff all the raincoats and flashlights for the children in Lougou.  Mr. Werness is a genius!  We won't however be able to take more than a few of the shadow books.  We leave at 4:30 a.m.  A big thank you to Mme Livant who is taking us to the airport.  The next post will be from Port-au-Prince!  I need to think about sleeping a little but I am so excited to go that this will be difficult to do.
Until next time!
Mme Werness
P.S. For those who like soccer, check out this web site:
Hope Balls for Haiti

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Haiti cheri

Dans quelques jours, je pars avec 9 autres personnes pour une semaine de mission où nous allons aider aux efforts de la reconstruction.  Je prépare ce voyage depuis plusieurs mois et c'est difficile à croire que nous sommes sur le point du départ.  
En allant à pied au "YMCA" ce soir, j'ai senti les lilas et je me demandais quelles odeurs, quelles images, quels sons vont nous surprendre en arrivant là-bas?  Je suis prête - j'attends les surprises.  Mon coeur est ouvert!
Mes élèves ont fait un très grand projet humanitaire et j'ai de la chance de pouvoir les aider avec ce voyage.  Avec Taylor, nous allons amener des lampes de poches, des imperméables et des livres qu'ils ont créer - tout cela pour des enfants qu'ils ne connaissent pas du tout bien loin dans le village de Lougou en Haiti.  Les mains des enfants de troisième année à Normandale à Edina qui tendent la main aux enfants de troisième année de la Petite Académie à Lougou.  Que c'est beau, quel espoir ce projet a créé!

Raincoats ready to be packed!

In just a couple days, I will be leaving with nine others to spend a week in Port-au-Prince to work on the rebuilding efforts.  I have been preparing for several months and it seems surreal that we are on the verge of our departure.  As I walked to the YMCA this evening, I could smell the lilacs all around me and I wondered what smells, what sights, what sounds will surprise me when I arrive  there?  I am ready - I am expecting these surprises. My heart is open!
My students have done a big service learning project and I am fortunate to be able to help them in making this trip.  With Taylor, we will bring flashlights, raincoats and books that they created - all this for  some children they do not know far away in the village of Lougou in Haiti.  The hands of third-graders from Normandale in Edina reaching out for the hands of the third-graders of the Petite Académie in Lougou.  How beautiful, how much hope this project has created!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What is the What

This is the title of a riveting novel by Dave Eggers published in 2006.  It is the story of Valentino Achek Deng, a young man who came to the US as one of the "Lost Boys" of the Sudanese civil war. In the preface, Valentino says, "I believed that some day I could share my experiences with readers, so as to prevent the same horrors from repeating themselves."  This quote shares the incredible power of storytelling and when the story is written down, its power is multiplied infinitely.  Through literature, great stories travel the world over, reaching the young and the old, the powerful and the seemingly powerless.
Talking about why his parents did not accept Christianity, Valentino says this: "My father, who had many wives, rejected the new religion on these grounds [because polygamy was forbidden], and also because to him the Christians seem preoccupied with written language."  He goes on to say that his parents could not read and that many of this generation were also unable to read.  Incidentally, Valentino was baptized by a Catholic priest due to the urging of an uncle.  Having his story told, Valentino is a living example of the power of reading and writing and storytelling.   These are common activities in our schools today and I think as educators, we can take these practices for granted.  
Through this novel, Eggers brings to light the tragedy that has taken place in Sudan, not to mention in many other regions of Africa and worldwide.  Perhaps a blog written by an elementary school teacher in the Midwest could also be a powerful tool to bring to light critical issues in education and could serve as an example to students as to the importance of reading and writing.