Irish exchange

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Students at Cape Girardeau's Franklin Elementary School didn't see any leprechauns on Monday. But they couldn't resist asking their student teachers from Northern Ireland about the mischievous elves.

"We had a little discussion about leprechauns," said Tracy McDonald, one of four student teachers from the Belfast area of Northern Ireland who arrived in Cape Girardeau over the weekend for the start of a monthlong exchange program.

"They told me I didn't look like one anyway," said McDonald, who is student teaching in Julie Harrington's second-grade class.

McDonald, along with her fellow student teachers from Northern Ireland, attend Stranmillis University College in Belfast, which has an enrollment of about 700. The exchange students are involved in a teaching program -- now in its second year -- developed by Southeast Missouri State University.

Under the program, Southeast and Stranmillis exchange students to teach in elementary schools for four to six weeks. The exchange students also participate in cultural and educational activities, and independent travel.

The students from Northern Ireland are living in the Towers residence hall complex during their stay here.

Plenty of questions

On their first day in the classrooms on Monday, the student teachers fielded plenty of questions from children curious about Irish culture.

Student teacher Keith Pinkerton said some students in Judy Gau's fourth-grade class wanted to know if Irish people had pointy ears.

Snakes were a topic in Debbie Harris' first-grade classroom. Student teacher Helen Proctor told students that there are no snakes native to Ireland.

First-grader Eleazar Edwards was intrigued by Proctor's accent. "I never had anybody talk like she talked," he said.

With all the snow this winter, Franklin students also asked about the weather. It rains a lot back home, the student teachers said, but seldom snows.

Student teacher Jason Scott found some children in Julie Antill's fourth-grade class mistakenly linked bagpipes and kilts to his native land rather than Scotland. But he said he had no trouble relating to the youngsters.

"The children are the same everywhere you go," he said.

While the children are the same, elementary schools in the United States and Northern Ireland differ, the student teachers said.

In Northern Ireland, students wear school uniforms. Classrooms are smaller, more crowded and have fewer computers than those at Franklin.

Franklin Elementary also has more specialized teachers.

"The classroom teacher does everything" in Northern Ireland, Scott said, including teaching music, art and physical education.

School lunches are different too. "I had never seen a corndog before," Proctor said.

Proctor said she's looking forward to Friday, when students celebrate Valentine's Day. The holiday isn't celebrated in elementary schools in Northern Ireland.

More self-confidence

Dr. Jean Benton, coordinator of international programs for Southeast's College of Education, said the exchange program benefits prospective teachers. "The student teachers in the exchange program get a new sense of self-confidence about their ability to teach," she said.

Rhonda Dunham, Franklin School principal, said her students and teaching staff benefit as well. "We get a wonderful cultural experience," she said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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