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Rieke teacher heads across the pond on classroom exchange

Fulbright program will bring British teacher to Rieke as well


HILLSDALE - Next school year, the world will get a bit smaller for Jeff Sturges, a fourth-grade teacher at Rieke Elementary School, who was selected one of 76 U.S. and international teachers to participate in the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program.

Sponsored by the U.S. government, the Fulbright International Educational Exchange

Program has been sending students and teachers abroad - and vice versa - since 1946 and operates in 155 countries worldwide.

Sturges said he first applied for the program two years ago through what was a "long and

daunting process." He made it through to the final round of applicants, but Fulbright wasn't

able to match him with an exchange partner.

Sturges said he was disappointed but decided to move on, until he received an email last summer saying his application was good for two years and could be updated with the

addition of a few supplemental materials. He decided to apply once again and heard over

Spring Break that he'd been matched with a teacher in Leicestershire county in the Midlands of England.

Next year, he will teach what is the equivalent of a second- and third-grade blended

classroom in a village called Walton on the Wolds.

Back home, his exchange partner, Robert Pearce, will be teaching a third-grade classroom

at Rieke, as Sturges and Principal Andrea Porter decided its curriculum, which focuses on Portland and its history, would be more inviting and fulfilling.

Sturges said that coordinating to move with his wife and two children has been a complicated process, especially when it comes to getting a U.K. work visa, but that Fulbright officials have been helpful and well organized.

"They are really big on shrinking the world and getting us teachers out of our comfort

zones and throwing us into a brand new learning environment," he said.

Sturges has already been to an orientation in Denver, where he met with Fulbright exchange

alumni and said that he'll spend a week in Washington, D.C., for another orientation

that he'll attend with Pearce.

Once he reaches England, he and his family will have a couple of weeks to become acclimated with their new home before the school year starts in late August.

The family will live in Melton Mowbray, about 15 miles from Sturges' school.

Sturges said he is anticipating more challenges in adjusting to changes in everyday life

than changes in the classroom.

"I'm actually more worried about learned to drive on the other side of the road than I

am about teaching kids," he said.

He said he will be bringing a lot of energy and excitement with him to his new classroom

and anticipates his students will as well.

"I think the kids are going to be excited about being in the room with someone from

the United States who is going to teach a little bit different and who that they can ask a lot of questions of," he said.

Struges said he does expect some differences in terms of school culture, especially because

primary school in the U.K. is year round.

"So often, us teachers (in the United States) are re-teaching what the kids were supposed

have mastered in the previous year," he said, as children have two and a half months off in

which they aren't immersed in their studies.

In the U.K., on the other hand, the longest

break students have is about five weeks for summer; they get three weeks off for Christmas

and two for Easter.

He said he also expects some differences in terms of the discipline.

Sturges said he will attend a few conferences throughout the year, as well as visit other

schools, and is hoping to travel with his family during his weeks' off.

Collectively, Sturges said he hopes these experiences will tell him what he's doing right as

a teacher and what he's doing wrong, allowing him to bring back new strategies and a new,

global perspective on children. He said he'd also like to maintain a long-term relationship

with his exchange partner so that future classes can correspond as well.

"(Fulbright wants) teachers who are really going to commit to this for the rest of their

careers and not just say ‘Oh, I went and taught abroad for a year and am back to where I was,'" Sturges said. "I want to make an impact with my school; an impact with myself."