SUN PRAIRIE — Kathryn Fishnick said she has more empathy for her Horizon Elementary School students who are not native English speakers after taking a trip to Myanmar this summer to help evaluate the country’s educational system.
“We can talk to our students about putting yourself in other people’s shoes,” added Ali Armstrong, a school counselor and another participant on the trip.
Fishnick, a special education teacher, and Armstrong were two of four Horizon staff members who accompanied Thin Thin Rodgers, a Horizon parent and Burmese-English interpreter. Rodgers, a native of Myanmar, started the nonprofit group, Project Paramie, the trip sponsor. It’s named for a neighborhood in which she grew up.
During the four-week trip to the country formerly called Burma, the teachers observed schools for poor students to generate a report to the National League for Democracy on the state of the country’s schools and recommendations for improvements.
The NLD is a political party that emerged from pro-democracy protests in the late 1980s.
In addition to observing the schools, the Sun Prairie teachers offered training to Myanmar teachers, most of whom volunteer their time and some of whom have only a high school education.
The Sun Prairie teachers also offered strategies to implement critical thinking in the curriculum, said Steve Mulich, third grade teacher at Horizon. He said the group tried to give suggestions that would work with the resources and curriculum available to the teachers in Myanmar.
Rodgers said she had promised herself to one day help her country. She was volunteering at Horizon when she came up with the idea of Project Paramie to help schools in Myanmar.
Deana Blum, third grade teacher at Horizon, already is trying to instill an appreciation of one’s own culture and that of others in her classroom as a result of her Myanmar experience.
“On day one of this school year, we shared about our family and culture,” she said. “ I want to make it a point this year to embrace each other’s culture, and demonstrate how that brings us all together as a classroom and a nation.”
Blum also said she was inspired by the sense of community and support in Myanmar.
“In the past I have started the school year having my students write down and share their hopes and dreams with their classmates,” she said. “This year, I really emphasized that we help each other work toward our dreams.”