31 Ambassador Teachers Bring Energy, Experience and Sometimes PhDs to FCPS Classrooms in New Global Exchange Program
Christopher Jones, a 6th grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., is explaining fractions to his students, asking them to find the ratio of chickens to alpacas on a farm with 3 sheep, 2 alpacas and 5 chickens.
“The answer is 5 to 2, if you did it right I wanna hear you say : ‘Ya Mon!’,” Jones says.
Jones, a teacher with 16 years of elementary education experience in Jamaica, is just two weeks into his first U.S. position. He came here through a new Fairfax County Public Schools initiative with Participate Learning that this year delivered 31 “Global Exchange” teachers, all of whom have bachelor’s degrees, some of whom have PhDs, and who have a combined 274 years of teaching experience between them, straight into FCPS schools.
“I’m doing this to get an opportunity to shine elsewhere,” Jones said. “When I read about the resources here in FCPS, the diversity, the school itself, and got a warm feeling from the administration and other teachers, I decided yes I needed to take this step.”
He’s already pleasantly surprised to discover his classroom came equipped with a smart board and a multimedia projector for his exclusive use – back home there is only one smart board shared by 7 or so teachers, he says.
As an ambassador teacher, Jones says he hopes to instill an appreciation for other cultures and countries, specifically Jamaica, in his students – and pick up some best practices in U.S. education that he can incorporate in his school back home when he does return.
That’s exactly the type of mentality the program aims to bring, says Felicia Hamilton, an FCPS diversity, equity, and inclusion employment specialist in the Department of Human Resources who is overseeing the new initiative.
“The goal of the Global Exchange Program is to provide a diverse workforce as well as differentiated and culturally responsive learning environments which align with the pillars of our strategic plan,” Hamilton said. The program also supports FCPS Portrait of a Graduate objectives, such as “helping students to be ethical and global citizens.”
The 31 ambassador teachers working in FCPS this year come from eight different countries (Argentina, Barbados, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Philippines, South Africa and Zimbabwe), says Hamilton. In order to participate in the program, ambassador teachers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in teaching or education, two years of teaching experience, a driver’s license, be fluent in English, and commit to teaching here for five years, according to Hamilton.
Laura Elliott, Woodlawn Elementary's principal, was aware of Participate Learning’s success elsewhere in Virginia. When she learned FCPS would be partnering with the group, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I had previously worked with teachers through this program in another Virginia county – I knew they were vetted and brought high quality, phenomenal teachers to the U.S.,” Elliott said. “I said my school will take every one of them we can.”
“I am really hoping this enables us to have a stable teaching workforce at Woodlawn for the next three to five years,” she said.
Down the road from Woodlawn, three other ambassador teachers are in place at Washington Mill Elementary School. Kimone Howell, also from Jamaica, teaches fifth grade in one classroom at the school.
Howell, who is pursuing her doctorate in education, is excited about the resources available to her in her new role. Back home, she says, classrooms are smaller so teachers aren’t able to gather kids to sit in a circle on the floor for a morning meeting. She’s also eagerly embracing the “Responsive Classroom” mindset in which teachers aim to give students a voice, to instill in them a belief that their opinions matter.
“I love the idea of ‘turn and talks’ where students are encouraged to discuss an answer or an issue with someone sitting near them,” she says. “They are not just sitting on a bench listening. They are learning to work together, build discussions and value other people’s input.”
School leaders are hoping their students take away the idea that there are different approaches to education, and many ways to guide children to be successful,
Washington Mill ES Principal Bradley Bennink says.
“There are excellent teachers beyond our immediate area, beyond the United States,” Bennink said. “Anytime we can help kids to see there is a world beyond our immediate community, our immediate country, it opens their minds that we are all part of something bigger.”
Learn more about FCPS Portrait of a Graduate goals.