A summer camp organized to provide soccer training and international education to Southeast Missouri children has blossomed into a classroom opportunity for area students.
Beginning in October, Cape Girardeau's Cultural Exchange Network, or CENET, will be sending international students, university staff and community members into Cape Girardeau and Jackson schools for a first-time service called Culture in the Classroom.
CENET seeks to promote cultural exchanges between Americans and foreign citizens through immersion in social life and work environment of hosting cultures, and works with the U.S. State Department to determine if international students qualify for internship and training programs it facilitates.
The idea for Culture in the Classroom came from GOALS, a four-day camp held during the summer by CENET at Southeast Missouri State University, which taught 34 children in second through eighth grades about soccer and culture. Mornings were dedicated to soccer training and afternoons focused on international lessons from speakers from other countries, said Leslie Corn, assistant director of corporate relations for CENET.
The camp's goal was to promote cultural understanding, Corn said, and that is now the goal of Culture in the Classroom.
Corn and CENET staff began contacting school administrators before the start of fall classes with the offer of sending international speakers to classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade and school-related club meetings.
"The response was almost overwhelming," Corn said. "We received 26 requests in the first two days after we announced it."
The programs will vary by a particular speaker's heritage and culture but can include topics like sports, music, arts, food, language and school subjects like government, history, literature, math, science and business.
Robyn Walker, executive director of CENET, said the service is to promote international culture awareness to students as well as help people in the international community feel more connected to the area.
Corn said the service will promote knowledge in students and the community of how diverse the area really is. There are many people here, including students, who come from a different country and need to get to know their community better, she said. The university had 705 international students enrolled on the first day of classes this fall.
According to International Students Inc., an organization that focuses on connecting local churches with international exchange students, 75 percent of international students will never enter an American home and 80 percent will never enter an American church.
Jean Domagni, a graduate of the university who is now a software developer with Creative Edge in Jackson, came to Cape Girardeau to attend college from the Ivory Coast in Africa in 2004. Domagni gave a presentation on the culture, food and music from his country to students during the camp over the summer and will likely present again for Culture in the Classroom. He said educating children about other cultures is important because they will appreciate them more.
"Africa is much more than what they see on TV every day," he said. "I am from Abidjan, the third-largest French-speaking city in the world, and yet people ask every day why some black people speak French."
I think the more educated we are, the more we are able understand, accept people different from us. I truly believe in education. Ordinary people can make a difference with it."
The first presentations for Culture in the Classroom will be Oct. 19 before foreign language students at Jackson's Russell Hawkins Junior High School with Santiago Flores, a Southeast senior from Ecuador studying international business and economics, and Jose Jallardo, a student from Panama who is working on a master's degree in technology management.
Flores said he plans to talk to the students about the country's native animals, activities popular with teens in Ecuador, food, salsa dancing and especially sports, like volleyball and soccer.
"They should know we have breaks during the day in school just like here that last around 30 minutes, but we will avoid lunch just to play soccer," he said. "Any free time is soccer, no matter if it's raining or anything."
Jallardo said he will also speak about sports and culture in Panama but will focus more on his background and similarities to American culture. When he was young he spent a lot of time camping and was a Boy Scout.
"It's not very different," he said. "We had a lot of American influences."
More information on CENET and its services are available by calling 335-7111.
920 Broadway, Suite 312, Cape Girardeau, MO