So You Are Going to New Zealand?

I am home, back in Detroit and enjoying summer in the Great Lakes.  Being home has been an incredible whirlwind.  I have spent time with family, started  wedding planning, taken a restorative justice class, visited friends, and attended a National Endowment for Humanities summer seminar on Frankenstein and adaptations.  This is my first summer that I have not not taught summer school and it has been so nice to relax and ease back into life in the United States.  Despite enjoying being home, I keep thinking about my time in New Zealand.

I am so grateful for my Fulbright experience.  New Zealand is such an incredible place.  Everywhere is beautiful, really everywhere, which makes it difficult to recommend places you must visit.   Below I listed some Wellington specific advice and some places I really enjoyed traveling to in New Zealand.

Wellington Specific Advice

1.)  Arrange housing before you arrive.

This should be abundantly clear during orientation, but secure housing a few months before arrival.  Major cities in New Zealand are facing a housing crisis, this is particularly amplified in Wellington.  The demands are extremely high for housing.  The Fulbright stipend is generous and will support housing, but it definitely needs to be secured before arriving.   I lived in Aro Valley, which is just down the hill from Victoria University.  The neighborhood was great.  It was about a twenty minute walk to the harbor and a ten minute walk to Cuba Street.  I shared the apartment with another Fulbright DAT.  I loved having a roommate while there; we were able to travel together, support each other with the inquiry project, and process the experience together.  I have heard of previous Fulbrighters finding Kiwi roommates and enjoying that experience as well (if you are interested in this, trademe may be a good site to look into).

If you are looking for a more budget friendly neighborhood that is not directly in the CBD, I would recommend looking at places in Newtown.  It is a diverse neighborhood with great restaurants and tons of public transportation.  It is very easy to get to the CBD and Victoria from here as well.  If I were to live in Wellington long term, this is the neighborhood I would prefer to settle in.

2.)  Use public transportation.

Speaking of public transportation, it is definitely available and fairly easy to operate in the Wellington region.  You will want to get a Snapper card upon arrival.  They are available at most bodega type stores.  With your Snapper card, do not forget that you need to tap on and tap off, otherwise it will charge you for the entire route.  The Snapper card will work for buses, ferries to the local islands, and the cable car.  If you use your Snapper card on the cable car, you wont have to wait in the long line to purchase one.

The schools I visited were mostly outside of the city, either in the Hutt Valley or near Porirua.  You need to take the train to get to these areas.  When you go to purchase your train ticket, you can purchase a 5 fare card, which will save you money long term.

3.)  Get a Zealandia membership. 

Zealandia is the world’s largest urban island sanctuary.   It is breathtaking and a wonderful way to spend a few hours.  Memberships are discounted for students (just bring your Vic ID).  With a membership you get free admission, half off admission for up to 5 guests, and half off tours for yourself and your quests.  I did the night tour several times there because I am obsessed with kiwis and loved seeing them roaming around.  Also, you can see the Takahe, one of the rarest bird species in the world.

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4.)  Take advantage of the Fulbright network

I waited far too long to do this, and definitely wish I would have earlier.  When you first arrive, it is challenging to get into schools and build a network.  Many of the former New Zealand Fulbrighters are happy to have you come visit their schools or recommend a colleague’s school/ classroom to visit.  Fulbright arranges a mixer after orientation, which is where I was able to make connections.  Also, the Fulbright NZ office has a list of current and former Fulbrighters, and they are happy to share contact information of teachers who may be useful to your project.  Join them for morning tea and inquire about who may be able to help.  I also reached out to a former DAT after reading her blog and realizing our projects were fairly similar.  She was able to give me recommendations of schools to visit.

5.)  Explore the greater Wellington region- so many great day trips 

The greater Wellington region is beautiful.  Some of my favorite day trips were; going up the Kapiti coast and exploring the beaches, Putangirua Pinnacles and hiking around, seeing the seals at Cape Palliser, bike/ wine tour in Matinborough, and taking the ferry to Picton.

Green Jersey Cycle Tours offers tours or transportation to many of the above places.  We used them to get to Martinborough because the train schedule from Wellington to Martinborough is not the best.

Trips

Traveling in New Zealand is easy and fairly cheap.  I often used grabaseat to find good deals on airline travel.  I also recommend traveling early.  When I arrived I was eager to explore Wellington and spent my first few weeks staying in the city.  In retrospect, I wish I would have used this time to travel.  Once you begin working on your ethics application, you have considerably less free time and you will need to stay in Wellington to meet with your adviser and do revisions to the application.

Below are some of my favorite experiences I had while traveling in New Zealand.

Penguin watching in Dunedin

The Otago Peninsula, right outside of Dunedin, is home to the albatros, blue penguins, yellow eyed penguins, fur seals, and sea lions.   We arranged a small tour to go to see wildlife and it was one of the highlights of my time in New Zealand.  While there we were able to watch penguins coming in from fishing and hop into the forest where they sleep at night.

Biking around Hawkes Bay

Hawkes Bay is a fairly easy four hour drive from Wellington.  It is a large agricultural region in New Zealand, and has orchards and fresh fruit everywhere.  We rented bikes and did a wine tour through the countryside.  We ran into fig farms, apple orchards, and vineyards while biking.  Napier, which is the Art Deco capital of the world, is located in Hawkes Bay.  There is an Art Deco festival in February that we missed by one weekend.

Visiting the far north and rural schools

The Northland region was one of my favorite areas in New Zealand.   Small towns, incredible farmers markets, beautiful beaches, and an opportunity to the visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  Amanda, my roommate, met a teacher who used to work in that region, and gave her contact information for a principal, Queenie, in a small rural school.  The school was a k-8 school and had about 25 students.  We visited on a Friday morning and were welcomed with a powhiri and the boys in the school performed a haka.  We also happened to visit on a day where the local men were doing a hangi fundraiser.  The kids took us on a bush walk and we had morning tea with the teachers.  Our conversation about pedagogy over morning tea (while roosters casually meandered into the kitchen) was one of the most memorable conversations I had while in New Zealand.  Because the school is so small, the teachers have complete freedom in their curriculum and decision making.  The school focused on culturally responsive, play based instruction.  The students were designing their own playground and then building it based on the materials they requested.  They were also planning a foraging and hunting festival for the town.  The staff at the school were intentional about the curriculum being relevant and personal to the students.  They were huge proponents of play and outdoor education.

 

Renting a campervan

I was intimidated to rent a campervan, but was encouraged by nearly everyone I met to do so. I decided it had to go on my New Zealand bucket list.  We rented a campervan and did the nothern west coast of the South Island.  The roads in the South Island are smaller and less populated than the cities in the North, which make them fairly easy to navigate, even with a large vehicle.  It is a completely different feeling by campervan.  We went with Britz and did not have any problems with them.  I definitely recommend taking the plunge and renting a campervan.

 

Summary of Research

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“Alone we can do so little.  Together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

It’s my last day in New Zealand, and I’m finally getting around to taking photos of my friends here. Last night, I had a going away party and long after everyone had left I realized I didn’t take any photos. I have far too few photos of the wonderful people I have met here. Spending the last few months discussing pedagogical best practices with educators from New Zealand and the United States has been a dream. In less than twelve hours, I will be at the airport, boarding a plane to come home. It’s bittersweet.

While here, I completed a small inquiry project titled Wraparound Programs in Schools: Creating Inclusive Environments and Fostering Post-secondary Success New Zealand. This project illuminated New Zealand students’ experiences of school-based wraparound services, with a focus on their perspectives of how receiving these services has affected the development of key life competencies/ non-cognitive skills.  These are necessary skills for post-secondary school life, so they give an indication of how well these students might be able to function independently, as successful adults. The objectives were to learn about the nature of wraparound services offered in New Zealand secondary schools as experienced by students, and to identify the impact of wraparound services on the student’s behavior and involvement in their communities.   

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Special educators in this field often find this work to be particularly challenging and exhausting, which leads to the one of the highest turnover rates in the educational arena. Special education teacher retention is so important; we need good, experienced teachers to stay in special education. I remember when I first started teaching, I would come home so overwhelmed.  I did not feel equipped to solve the problems I was faced with, nor did I know how to ask for help.   Even after 10 years of teaching, I still struggle with this. I pride myself on being a dedicated teacher, which I often conflate it with being able to do it all myself. Children, now more than ever, are entering the classroom with complex behavior needs often stemming from trauma.  A team based wraparound approach can help special educators in this field navigate the compounded needs of the child and can counterbalance feelings of isolation within the field. Special education is inherently a team based approach, but it seems to often be reduced to the case manager (whether that is teacher, social worker, or SLP) being accountable for it all.  It is exhausting, unsustainable, and its not in the best interest of children or the educators servicing them.  

New Zealand has implemented a national wraparound service delivery model, Intensive Wraparound Services (IWS), for children with severe special education needs.  IWS is primarily referred to as Te Kahu Toi, which is the Maori name for the program. New Zealand’s Intensive Wraparound Services research indicates that students enrolled in Intensive Wraparound Services improved  their non-cognitive abilities. Intensive Wraparound Services have had a particularly strong impact on Maori youth. New Zealand’s wraparound model has been an effective means of engaging children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders.  

There is a strong emphasis on whanau/ family and community in New Zealand’s k-12 education, which supports the development of wraparound programs in schools.  Community Engagement in New Zealand schools is integrated into the national curriculum, making a strong statement that family and community involvement should be prioritized in schools.  Wraparound programs are able to capitalize on the principle and practice of community engagement within New Zealand schools and build upon those partnerships.

My research (specific findings are below) found that wraparound programs have a positive impact for youth with severe behavioral challenges, as self reported by students and as reported by coordinators of the programs.  Every student reported success within the program. Students in all of the education settings self-reported improvements in the areas of managing self and participating and contributing. The students interviewed indicated that positive relationships had the biggest impact on their success at school.  Positive relationships with adults in the school promote pro-social behavior and support the development of non-cognitive skills.  Based on student and wraparound coordinator interviews, successful wraparound programs will have the following:

  • Positive relationships with caring adults
  • Allow for student voice
  • Incorporate natural supports that student can access in their own communities
  • Restorative practices

I work at a day treatment center that offers many of these things; sharing about staff and programs at Beacon Day Treatment with educators in New Zealand has made me incredibly proud.  I am constantly learning from my colleagues at Beacon and inspired by their innovative ideas.  Even though my school offers many of these things to varying degrees, my project here has made me reflect on how to incorporate them more into my practice.  I look forward to returning to work and using what I have learned here.

This experience has changed my perceptions on school leadership.  The wraparound programs I have observed here have hinged upon strong leadership.  I recently visited Tawa College, which is one of the first completely restorative secondary schools in New Zealand.  Since becoming a restorative school, Tawa College has seen improvements in student graduation rates, reduction of suspensions, and increased academic performance among their students.  I was fortunate enough to meet with the deputy principal and restorative justice coordinator.  While discussing restorative practices in schools, both of them stated that the success of the program is dependent upon the school leadership- principals have to be on board in order for a school to become fully restorative.  My masters and educational specialist degrees are both in special education leadership, which up until now I have not had much interest in pursuing.  These last few months, I keep thinking about how exciting it would be to be a principal in a special education program- to create a restorative school embedded with wraparound.  Perhaps one day an opportunity in leadership will arise, until then I am excited to return to my classroom and implement this on a micro level and share with my colleagues.

Findings

Wraparound Programs

Feature Mainstream Activity Centre Alternative School Residential

School

Support Person X X X X
Restorative Practices X X X X
Natural Supports X X X X
Student Voice X X X X
Extra-Curricular Activities X X X X
Team Meetings with Students   X X X
Parental Involvement   X X
Parenting Courses   X

I observed wraparound programs in four different educational settings: a mainstream school, an activity centre, an alternative school, and a residential school.  The wraparound programs at the mainstream school and activity centre were independent programs developed by staff in each respective school.  The wraparound program at the alternative school and the residential school were a part of the Intensive Wraparound Services program, which is a specific program administered and financed by the Ministry of Education.   The chart above highlights some of the key  similarities and differences between the programs.

Managing-Self

Every student interviewed discussed how the program had supported their development in different ways.  Each student had positive experiences in the wraparound programs.  Behavior was also consistently discussed during the interviews.  All of the students indicated that their behavior has had marked positive changes since entering the wraparound program.  When discussing changes in their behavior, many of the students noted that they felt more confident and capable, which led them to experience success outside of school.  Some of the students tied these feelings directly to the programs they participated in with wraparound.  For example, many of the students had participated in equine therapy through wraparound.  Four students mentioned how working with a horse increased their confidence, so they were able to use those skills in other areas in their lives.  Other wraparound activities that the students mentioned participating in were: DogAble, Police Academy, circle groups, accessing nurses and doctors at school, counseling services, transition services when entering the school, and family support groups.    Students also reported on increased academic success, better relationships with their teachers, and more time spent in the classrooms.

“Last year my grades were really bad.  I didn’t go to class often because I didn’t like school, but now that I have these people to talk to, I go to class all of the time.”

“I wagged a lot last year, but I haven’t wagged this year.” 

“I never thought this program was going to help me, but I know- I can not feel it helping me, but it does on the inside it does, but I just cant feel it.”

“Before I came to this school my behavior was off the charts.  I was a naughty-as kid.”

Relationships

Across all four environments, students reported similar perceptions of the wraparound programs and the impact it has had on them.  Relationships were most consistently emphasized by the students as a key to their current success.  Eleven out of the twelve students surveyed (92%) discussed the importance of their relationships with the staff in their wraparound programs.  Many of the students (50%) identified the staff in their wraparound programs as “family” or “best friends.”  One student described his relationship with the case manager as that of, “an old married couple.”  When discussing relationships, four students indicated that it was important to be able to joke around with the staff.  Another element of relationships that was discussed by many of the participants was trust.  The students expressed that it was important that the staff in the programs say what they mean.  This population of students have often been through several schools, which has created trust issues between themselves and schools.  Students need to be able to trust that the school will follow through on their word and not give up on the students.  When I probed about why they were able to develop strong relationships with the staff in the wraparound programs, some ideas that students shared were: the staff encouraged the students, the staff understood where the students were coming from, the staff listened to the students, and the staff help students understand their self-worth.

“It makes me feel like I’m not alone, and I’m not the only one going through this kind of thing.” 

“Yeah, they’re my best friends.”

Participating and Contributing

Many of the students discussed an increase in participating and contributing in their classes and school environments since being a part of a wraparound program.  Seven out of the twelve (58%) reported an increase in participating and contributing. This was particularly emphasized by students in the mainstream environment.  These students discussed attending classes more frequently, participating in polytechnic courses, and joining extracurricular activities.  The students who attended courses at the local polytechnic schools reported that they would be interested in pursuing a career related to the course they were enrolled in.  Students in lesser restrictive environments (mainstream school and activity centre) reported more gains in the areas of participating and contributing; which could potentially be due to the fact that the students in more restrictive environments are not in their home communities.

“Before I came here, I wasn’t doing anything.  I would just sit in the corner.”

“I used to be really scared to walk around the school.  I was always shy and I did not want to go to school.  Sometimes I would just ask my mom if I could stay home and not go to school, but this program has made me feel like I can come to school and participate in the work.  This year I have been doing the sports, because  I feel enough confidence to do everything now.”

Student Voice

Attention to student voice was also emphasized by the students during interviews in each of the settings.  Seven out of the twelve (58%) of the students discussed the importance of student voice and what it means for them.  The students who discussed student voice viewed it as an opportunity for themselves to be heard and to have a say in their educational experiences.

“It’s about us being heard.”

“We do a thing called Student Voice.  Do you do that?  It is where we all come together as a group and talk. I can make suggestions to improve the school” 

“I can just ask the staff stuff and they will give me a straight answer.  The staff here listen to the students.”

Students’ Advice to Me

Mainstream Activity Centre Alternative School Residential School
“Just let kids be themselves and express their feelings, even if they curse and stuff, it’s okay.”

 

“You need to have boundaries.”

 

“Help people.”

 

“Get people who have been through it so that they understand what the kids are going through.  Don’t get the ones that are like, oh that’s bad.”

 

“Just encourage them and give them loads of confidence.” 

Get staff members that work really good with kids, who can connect with kids.”

 

“Find out where the problems are in the student- every individual student- and help them in those areas.”

 

“Hire staff that are patient.  Who are strict and understanding.”

 

“Be sure the staff relate to the kids and believe in what they can do.”

 

“Ask the kids if they need any help.” “Teachers should have secured guns and tasers so school shootings do not happen.”

 

“If someone is angry and tries to hit someone, the teacher should get their arm and put them on the ground.  If you put them on the ground, they won’t hurt anyone.”

 

“Cut down all of the trees by your rooms, so kids don’t climb in them and get hurt.”

 

“Encourage kids to go to their safe places.”

The final question asked during the interviews was, “I would like to go to Detroit and create my own wraparound program.  What advice do you have to me?  What do you think would be important in a wraparound program?”  The students in the less restrictive environments commented on the importance of staff establishing good, caring relationships with the kids.  Many of these students stressed hiring the right people to be involved in the wraparound programs.  The students in the most restrictive environment, the residential program, all commented on safety.  Each of the students at the residential school discussed their use of a safe space and how that was meaningful it was to them.  An explanation as to why students in the residential program emphasized safety and students in the mainstream program did not, could possibly be due to students with more severe behaviors having perceived school as being an unsafe place.  The students at the residential school all discussed violent incidents that they were a part of at school, which makes me wonder what impact these events had on their feelings of safety in school environments. A question that arose while looking at the data was: knowing that students’ safety needs need to be met before they can successfully engage in academics, what are the impacts of violent acts on this populations’ academic performance and engagement?  Further research is needed around the long-term impacts around students engaging in violent acts at school and their perceptions of school safety.

Below are a few photos from the last few weeks.  I am missing the beautiful views already.

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Conservationism in New Zealand and the United States

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I have a bit of an obsession with kiwi birds.  Ever since arriving in New Zealand, I have had to stop myself from buying anything with a kiwi on it.  They are just so misshapen and I love how they awkwardly move about.  I find them to be the cutest animals.  They are a flightless bird that has somehow become the name of New Zealanders themselves.  New Zealand does a wonderful job working toward habitat restoration and conservation of kiwis and other endemic species.  New Zealand has no natural predators towards flightless birds, however over time people have brought many threats to the island- mainly stoaks, rats, mice, cats, hedgehogs, possums, dogs, and rabbits.  Why would someone coming from England arrive and think, “New Zealand is really beautiful and all, but it could definitely use some ferrets.”  Unfortunately, these mammals have decimated the native bird population in New Zealand.  On Dave’s last night in New Zealand we went to Zealandia, which is the world’s first mainland island sanctuary in an urban environment.   Zealandia has created a predator proof fence, which allows threatened and endangered species in New Zealand a space to restore.  Kiwi, tui, tuatara (a three-eyed lizard from age of dinosaurs), and takahe are some of the species protected there.  That evening, we were lucky enough to see two kiwi roaming around the park.   Kiwis have awful eyesight and use their beaks to sense vibrations and move about.  Often you hear them tapping away before seeing them.  I was told of a Maori legend that describes kiwi as old men using their canes to get home after a night of too much drinking.  Sure enough, Dave and I heard the tapping of the beak before seeing the kiwi emerge from the forest.

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New Zealand does so much work around conservation.  One of New Zealand’s goals is to be predator free by 2050.  Its been really inspiring to witness an entire nation supporting the protection and restoration of native species.  I have spent some time reflecting about my own relationship to the environment and where I am from.   I grew up on a small tributary of the Detroit River.  As a child, I remember doing a school project with a friend where we took photos of the creek and thought they were similar to Ansel Adam’s photos.  Our photos of the Ecorse Creek were beautiful, but definitely not in the same vein of Ansel Adams, but we believed that the Ecorse Creek was just as beautiful as Yosemite.  Gwen Frostic, a linoleum block carving artist, lived on the same street I grew up.  Her work is a celebration of nature and native Michigan species.  Despite the natural beauty of the area, it has been routinely polluted by local factories.   The block I grew up on is one of the only federal superfund sites in the state of Michigan due to arsenic and cyanide in the soil, leftover from when the land was a dump site.  Five miles from the house I grew up in, is the most polluted zip code in the United States (48217- whose toxicity score is more than 45 times the statewide average).  Steel plants, oil refineries, and abandon factories are peppered throughout our cityscape.  Its a place of contradictions; beautiful rivers and tributaries to our Great Lakes, large wetlands and coastal marshes with their unique flora and fauna, native species living among factory ruins, smoke stacks looming over neighborhoods, and bald eagles returning to the area for the first time since the 1960s only to nest in the power plant.  If you squint your eyes just enough, its beautiful.

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Conservation has nothing to do with my project or the work I do in schools.  The students I work with, however, are disproportionately impacted by pollution and the awful air quality of the area I grew up, live in, and teach in.  The area has some of the highest rate of youth respiratory problems in the United States, incredibly high rates of cancer, and a local parks have become dumping grounds for hazardous chemicals.  People refer to 48217 as a sacrifice zone.  I refuse to believe that my community, or any community, is a sacrifice zone, but I wonder where do we go with protecting and preserving the natural environment, when we are so far gone?  I look forward to returning home and finding ways to support environmental work being done in my area, which will manifest itself in my teaching as well.  I am thinking of adding a more in-depth environmental studies focus to my Transcendentalism unit and concluding it with a student led inquiry project about their own local environment.  My Fulbright experience has inspired me in many ways to become a better, more well rounded teacher.   Living in New Zealand has inspired me to become a better, more active citizen, particularly in regards to environmental conservation and justice.

For those of you reading in Michigan, what are your thoughts on the state of conservation?  Teachers, do you incorporate environmentalism into your curriculum?  If so, how?

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Wraparound Meeting

The view of Aro Valley from Tanera Park

Recently, I was invited to a wraparound meeting for a young boy in the Wellington area. He is receiving services under the Intensive Wraparound Services program, which is defined as, “a program that supports tamariki who have behavior, social, and/ or learning needs with a plan to meet each child’s needs. Their needs are highly complex and challenging and they require support at school, at home, and in the community.”  IWS services the kids in New Zealand with the most extreme emotional and beahvioral needs.  The model is student and family centered, and is inherently individualized, team based, culturally competent, community based, and incorporates natural supports. To most educators or people involved in mental health in the United States, wraparound services are not new. The model in New Zealand uses the framework from the United States. I was drawn to the New Zealand model because of their small scale implementation, strong community involvement in the schools, and positive results.

When a child begins receiving wraparound services a team is assembled to support the child. Members of the team may include anyone who plays a significant role in the child’s life. Parents and guardians are encouraged to invite community members and extended family. Some wraparound teams have included a local sheep shearer (the child wanted to be a sheep shearer), local police officers, LGBTQ advocates, community liaisons, grandparents, community mental health workers, teachers from a school that the student will be attending, advocates, social workers, psychologists, etc. The meeting I attended included the child, myself, a social worker, a representative from Oranga Tamariki (the NZ foster care agency), an education psychologist, a wraparound facilitator, a youth worker, a director of the school, a member of Challenge 2000, a cultural advocate, and the uncle.

The purpose of the meeting I attended was to review the IWS plan and determine if any changes needed to be made. The meetings are run similar to IEP meetings, except these are monthly meetings. I was impressed at how involved the uncle was in the meeting, everyone in the meeting contributed and participated and all voices were heard. I have sat in or facilitated so many IEP meetings where the parents and family were minimally involved. I often wonder how I can ensure that parents are equal partners in the IEP development. I have always tried to be open with parents, empathetic, not use jargon, culturally aware and sensitive, but I have still had several families who were not involved. I have had wonderful relationships with parents, some of whom I still keep in contact with, but I have really struggled to engage with some.  Parental participation in the special education decision making process is extremely important. If parents are not involved and do not feel heard or valued, the work that is being done in school will exist in isolation. A true, meaningful partnership between school and home would ensure that the children are being fully supported. Numerous studies (Wagner, Dabkowski, and Spann are a few) have found that parents often feel left out of the special education process. Two of the biggest barriers to meaningful partnerships are lack of understanding about special education and cultural barriers. According to a study done by Lo (2009), 41% of students receiving special education services are culturally and linguistically diverse, yet only 14% of special education teachers are from diverse cultures. I have attended several meetings where the entire special education team were young, white, middle class women, and the family is from a culturally and/or linguistically diverse background. This imbalance often leads to a language and cultural barrier between families and schools. Salas (2004) interviewed Mexican-American women whose primary language was Spanish about their experiences during IEP meetings. All of these families reported feeling that they were not heard by school personnel and were marginalized and isolated during the IEP meeting. The Journal of Disability Policy Studies conducted an extensive study on parental participation in IEP meetings and concluded with, “these findings raise questions about whether schools are doing enough to engage the diversity of children and parents who are part of their communities.”

As educators, it is our job to ensure that parents are empowered to be a meaningful partner in the IEP process, which includes ensuring that diverse communities are engaged and represented. The IWS meeting I attended this week, was an excellent example of how that can be done. The child whose meeting I attended is Maori. His IWS team had a cultural liaison/ community representative, Arthur, included in the meeting. The meeting started with a karakia lead by Arthur, then went onto a discussion of the child’s strengths and current plan. With every discussion Arthur ensured that the uncle’s voice was heard, he understood what was being said/ proposed, and brought cultural perspectives and insights into the discussion. The student is really struggling living with his uncle and would like to be returned to his parents. Unfortunately, he is unable to do so because he has been removed from the home. This struggle is causing a lot of anger and frustration in the child’s life. The team has already tried talk therapy, and the child was very resistant and did not have the tools to cope with the feelings it brought up. Arthur suggested narrative therapy and viewing it from a cultural framework. In Maori culture, the whanau is an extension of the family, and by living with his uncle the child is living with his own whanau. Arthur suggested using the lens of whanau to normalize the living situation for the child, and allow him to rewrite his own script. The entire team agreed that narrative therapy would be a good option for the child. A person knowledgeable in the families culture and community is often pivotal for the success of a meaningful school and family partnership. Without Arthur at the meeting, this would have never been suggested or thought of. The therapy suggested may give this child a closer connection to his Maori culture and see his own situation through a new lens. I left the meeting feeling excited about new ways to ensure meaningful partnerships between schools and families. None of it was particularly ground breaking, but it was an example of how being intentional and inclusive can transform a meeting where the family is a by stander to an active leader in the process.

On a personal note, Dave has arrived. We spent a long weekend in the middle of the north island and visited Rotorua, Matamata, and Tauranga. While in Tauranga, we went to the disability sports festival and saw The Wheel Blacks (NZ’s most competitive wheelchair rugby team, check our the haka they do here). We often place a false construct of fragility on a person in a wheelchair (the term disability has so many connotations of weakness or less-able), and wheelchair rugby is the complete opposite of anything fragile. Its intense, fast-paced, and very full-on. It was exciting to see. We also went to Hobbiton, which was kind of a dream come true. We meandered around the hobbit holes, ate at The Green Dragon Inn, and walked through the shire by lantern light. Below are a few photos from Hobbiton.  He is here for another week, and I am looking forward to more adventures in New Zealand together.

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Rimutaka Prison Visit

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Since being in New Zealand, I have started to say yes to every educational experience that presents itself, even if it is not directly related to my teaching practice.  People here are so friendly and want to help you in any way possible.  When I am talking to people about my project, they often recommend that I contact someone they know, “Just ring them up for a coffee and a chat.  They will be happy to meet with you.”  Even Airbnb hosts have connected me with local schools to visit while vacationing.  I have randomly called up several people for a coffee and a chat, which is something I would never do in the United States.   It has been so fascinating to meet people involved in different facets of education.  Its led me to a stranger’s home out in Hutt Valley, coffeeshops throughout Wellington, a teen pregnancy center, and a number of really interesting schools.   One of these random trips was to Rimutaka Prison, which ended up being one of the most powerful educational experiences I have had recently.

I volunteered to be a part of a writing workshop at Rimutaka Prison, one of the largest men’s prisons in New Zealand.  The workshop was put on by Write Where You Are, a organization local to Wellington that works in prisons to, “bring creative writing to places where there has typically been a barrier with creative writing.”  The group of volunteers was made up mostly of local writers and teachers; however, there were three well-known authors joining us and to assist with leading the workshop.  The authors were Brannavan Gnanalingam, Ian Tregillis, and Paula Green.   Writing and sharing your writing is quite a vulnerable process, which I often remind myself when my students are frustrated with writing.  I try to do writing assignments alongside of them to demonstrate my own writing process (forever inspired by Kelly Gallagher), which includes frustrations, doubts, and insecurities.  This is my tenth year teaching, and I have been working with writing since the beginning of my career.  Despite my experience with writing and writer’s workshops, I went into this experience feeling vulnerable about sharing my writing.

After going through a series of steps to get into the prison, we were asked to wait in the foyer before entering the space.  As we were waiting, we began to hear a guitar being played and singing.  The inmates ushered us in with a song in Maori and we shook hands with everyone.  It was very similar to the powhiris I have attended in New Zealand.  The workshop was focused on sharing in the writing process together and as equals, so we were introduced to writers as writers.  It was powerful to not know anyone’s backstory or history and come together as a group of writers to produce work.  It can be so challenging to shed preconceived notions about yourself.  Many of the students I have worked with have identified as being “bad” or “trouble” from a very early age.   Heather Hickox did an interesting study on self- concept for children with behavior disorders.   Her research found that negative labels on children becomes internalized and impacts a child’s self-perception.  Its interesting to think about this in terms of the labels “emotionally impaired” or “emotional and behavioral disorders,” which are negative labels that we often put on children at a young age.  These are labels that men and women who are incarcerated disproportionately share as well.  Once you have a negative label, it is often difficult to see yourself outside of that context, much less in new ways, which is why I think acknowledging the inmates as writers first was so important.  Our system of special education is a deficit model and often further minoritizes marginalized students.  I hope that special education in the United States moves away from a deficit model to model that is needs based based.

After introductions, some of the inmates chose to read poems that have previously written or some did not want to read theirs aloud so they had a friend read for them.  It was really powerful to hear their writing and listen to their stories.  Prior to this experience, many of the inmates had fairly awful experiences surrounding writing and education.  We then broke into small groups and did an interactive writing workshop.  We created poetry together, shared stories, and discussed craft.  As I previously mentioned, this was many of the inmate’s first time with creative writing.
Most of the poems focused on what it means to be a prisoner, the mistakes they made, and their hopes for their future.  Before going into this experience we were reminded that the inmates did cause harm, but often times they were victims themselves, which was evident in their writing.  One of the beautiful things about creative writing is that it allows people to see the world and their own worlds differently.  Through writing you can imagine possibilities, explore different ways, and empathize with others.  I was able to take all of those things away from this experience.

After the writing workshop, we had lunch together.  The Department of Corrections bought us sushi, which the inmates said was a highly unusual lunch for them.  The inmates graciously made sure that the volunteers ate first and assisted some of the older volunteers with getting their food.  It was really touching to see.  I was a bit nervous about what we would chat about over lunch, there were so many cultural barriers between myself and inmates in New Zealand.  However, I should have known that there is never a dearth of conversation as an American in the era of Trump.  Many of the inmates recognized my American accent and came over from their groups to ask me questions about Donald Trump and my thoughts on this administration.  They shared their perspectives and what they had been hearing on the news.  At some point, they started to feel bad about all of the questions they were asking me regarding American politics and what a negative light was being shed, so they tried to make me feel better by saying, “Well, he must be smart in some ways.”   We also talked about sports, favorite foods, and interests.  We shared in our humanity, which was beautiful and important.

This experience impacted me in many ways.  I saw the potential of a strong writing curriculum and the failures of broken system.   In my first blog post, I discussed the disproportionate amount of children with emotional and behavioral disorders being involved in the judicial system as children and later as adults.  I know that many of the students that I work with over the years will be incarcerated and in many of these cases it is a systematic failure that causes this.  Education is one piece in a complex puzzle of changing the system and creating a better future for younger generations.  Despite being frustrated with the United State’s educational policies and our deep systematic failures of children, I have hope. I have met incredible educators in the United States and New Zealand working to change this.  I am inspired by the dedicated professionals I work with at Beacon Day Treatment who go above and beyond everyday to ensure that the student’s emotional and academic needs are met, by the responses I have seen to guns in the classroom, by the community educator at Porirua College who ensures that student discipline is met through a restorative process that is fair and promotes positive well being of students, by the projects that teachers in the Fulbright Program are doing, the teachers at Te Ara who are dedicated to meeting the needs of their students in creative ways, the teacher I met at Salisbury School who saw that her student who was nonverbal loved Mr. Bean and worked with that student to create social stories using Mr. Bean and eventually got her to use words, and so many of the other educators I have met over the years.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about education during the last month, nearly everyone I interact with is a teacher or involved in education.  I have seen inspiring and exciting programs, and I am hopeful for our schools.

Aside from school visits, I have spent the last few weeks further exploring Wellington, learning to drive on the left side of the road, visiting Hawke’s Bay, riding the ferry ride to the South Island, exploring Abel Tasman, hiking at Rivendell, taking lithograph class, and learning to appreciate the flat white.  Below are a few pictures from the last few weeks.

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The ferry to the South Island

 

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Mr. Bean Social Stories
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Kayaking in Abel Tasman

School Visits and Life in New Zealand

IMG_20180208_121057Its hard to believe I have been in New Zealand for three weeks already.  I have been keeping busy exploring, making connections in schools, and reading.  The top photo is from a hike I did with my roommate called the Paekakariki Escarpment Track.  It was an easy train ride out of the city and a beautiful 10k hike.  We decided to go at 2pm, and felt the wrath of the New Zealand sun.  Apparently, there is a hole in the ozone near New Zealand, which makes their sun and UV rays very intense.  Most restaurants and cafes have public sunscreen available for everyone.  I have also attended my first cricket match, visited a few schools, rented bikes in Martinborough (the photo above), attended a play in New Zealand Sign Language, visited Sommes Island and birded, stayed over night at a Marae, attended two powhiris, met with a someone from the Ministry of Education, played Kahoot with a group of sweet middle schoolers, worked in beautiful cafes, and bought fish off a boat.  Its been an incredible whirlwind of getting to know the city and trying to make connections with local schools.  Below are some photos from the last few weeks.

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Inclusion is huge in New Zealand, not just in schools, but also in society.  People with disabilities are expected to participate alongside their peers and New Zealand does a wonderful job removing barriers to access.  New Zealanders, Kiwis, actively seek out ways to be inclusive.  Every museum I have attended has New Zealand Sign Language displays, parks have braille markers, all buses are wheelchair accessible, plays have audio guides for those who are blind, there are service dog run areas, there are national web accessibility standards, and so much more.  Its refreshing to be in a country that places an emphasis on inclusion and has progressive policies regarding this.  One of my favorite things is to walk around and notice the different ways that New Zealand works to be inclusive.  Below are just two photos of the many examples I see daily.

I write this journal entry as House Bill 620 just passed in a 225 to 192 vote in the United State’s House of Representatives.   If it passes through the Senate, we will remove incentive for businesses to comply with ADA and instead shift the burden to those with disabilities who are being denied access.  In a letter from over 200 disabilities rights groups, the authors make the following statement, “The ADA has been law for almost 27 years. By this time, business owners have had ample notice of the ADA’s requirements and opportunity to remove barriers. If, after 27 years, a business has continued to not comply with the requirements of this legislation, why should a person have to wait more time for enforcement of their civil rights?”  It is an interesting and unfortunate contrast between the two countries.  There are wonderful people in the United States pushing for accessibility and organizations that go above and beyond to provide accessible access; however, our government is implementing regressive politics regarding this.   I hope that the United States follows New Zealand’s lead on inclusivity, but with this new legislation it seems like less of a possibility.

My project is moving in a different direction than I had originally anticipated.  Some of the programs I had wanted to observe are quite different in implementation and may not be suitable for my project or the work that I am doing in the United States.  New Zealand’s strong push for inclusion in schools is wonderful, but there are still many issues being worked out.  Ideally, inclusion would follow the model below, but there are not enough resources to support this model for all students to receive this level of support.

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Since starting my research, I have found that there are some huge differences between the US model of special education and New Zealand’s, mainly there are not any special education trained teachers in New Zealand and students with mental health issues do not receive any special education support.  All teachers have the same teacher training and enter the school and are assigned a role.  Teacher training programs may include a lecture on special education, but its also possible that new teachers will have never had any formal teaching about special education.  This model means there are not any teachers with specific training in special education entering schools.  Teachers are entering the classrooms here with a limited understanding of disabilities and learning differences.  I have been told stories of parents of children with autism who are paying for their child’s teacher to to go professional development and training in order to improve their child’s education.   The other big difference is that New Zealand does not have a special education label of emotional and behavioral disorder/ emotionally impaired and does not consider mental illness a disability.  This model really limits resources available to schools in supporting children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders.

Despite not having adequate resources or training (which is very familiar to teachers in the United States), New Zealand’s schools are doing really exciting things with children with special needs.  Student voice and agency are really pushed here.  Also, most schools are pulling local community resources into the schools.  Every school I have met with so far has a partnership with several outside agencies that are providing free or reduced cost services to the students.  Some of these agencies are; a local nurse providing sex education and contraceptives to high school students, a boxing gym teaching the students the sport and offering free sessions in the gym during after school/ summer hours, senior centers in the area teaching gardening skills, local restaurants working with culinary skills, and universities offering tutoring services by teachers in training.

One of the schools that I have visited a few times so far, is comprised of students who have been excluded from their mainstream school and sent to this school.  The process is very similar to Beacon Day Treatment.  The biggest difference is that the students are not considered to be receiving special education services, which leads to even more limited funding.  All of the kids there have severe behavior problems that have kept them out of their mainstream school.  The school is structured fairly similar to Beacon as well; they have an incentive based program, the program is focused on relationship building, they do daily group conversations, and the students are expected to work quietly during work time.  The first time I visited it was difficult not to frame everything around Beacon.  The program is very small, it can only accept ten students who are either in year 10 or 11.  The school has 4 staff all together; 1 administrator/ teacher, 1 teacher, and 2 youth service workers.  These 4 staff do all of the operational aspects of the school (janitorial services, secretary services, etc.), as well as the educational component.  I am blown away by their creativity with using their limited resources to provide the students with a quality, comprehensive education.

The staff at the school wanted to find a way to engage the students more in their learning and behavior.  They created an online dashboard to engage students with their academic and behavioral progress.  Through the dashboard they monitor their progress in their classes, set behavior goals, and track their milestones within the program.  I spent some time talking with 3 of the students the other day.  The school invited me to participate in their weekly lunch and help cook with the the girls in the program.  The kids decided to make pancakes and bacon (an American inspired breakfast for me) and I helped with limited guidance (I have never made bacon in my life) and mainly just asked questions about their educational experiences and they were able to ask me questions about the United States (Why is your small our large?  Have you seen the movie Eight Mile?  How many flavors of oreos are there?).  The girls talked about how happy they are at the school and how they feel supported.   Something they all agreed upon was that they had much more ownership of their learning and behavior in this program.   They used the dashboard program to monitor their academics and behavior, they also feel comfortable discussing the data on here and using it to lead conversations with their parents, teachers, and outsiders, like myself.  This program gives students a platform to exercise their voice and autonomy with their education.

I have only been in a few schools so far, but based on what I have seen and the conversations I am having with other NZ educators, student voice is the direction that my project is moving in.  Students are expected to have autonomy and be a partner in their education.  I want to look at student voice in the k-12 setting as a means to improve post-secondary outcomes for children with disabilities.  Despite faults in New Zealand’s special education system, children with disabilities are still fairing better upon graduation than in the United States.  I want to look at this data through the lens of student voice.  When students have a strong voice that is heard by their schools and communities, they are engaged and empowered.  They are able to take these skills with them when they graduate and use their voice to advocate for themselves.  I want to examine strategies that have been successful in increasing voice and agency for students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

*Disclaimer: This is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

Wellington

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I arrived in Wellington after a 30 hour flight.

I first became interested in New Zealand’s special education system while working on my master’s thesis.  The focus of my thesis was on parental engagement in transition planning.  While doing research, New Zealand’s culturally responsive model of special education came up often.  New Zealand is a global leader on including parents in the special education process.  Engaging with parents, whanau, and communities is a priority in New Zealand’s schools and their ministry of education has committees that strictly committed to that.  The Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Parents Association was founded in 1949 by Hal and Margaret Anyon, Wellington parents of a son with Down Syndrome, who wanted him to have an education, employment and a home in the community.  The United States did not start deinstitutionalisation until the mid 1970s.    Prior to the mid- 1970s, people with disabilities in the US were often forced to live in institutions outside of hundreds of miles away from their families and communities where they received no education.  They were often removed from their families at birth or sent there later by a physician and taken to asylums which were notorious for poor living conditions, lack of hygiene, overcrowding, ill-treatment, and rampant abuse: many patients starved to death.  The United State’s treatment of individuals with disabilities is a national shame that is still present.  Fortunately, there have been wonderful activists with disabilities (two noteworthy examples are The Capitol Crawl and the 25-day sit-in for section 504) that have paved the way for legislation that promotes and requires equal treatment for individuals with disabilities in the United States.  So often the disabilities rights activists are left out of discussion surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, and even today individuals with disabilities are often left out of the narratives of social movements, despite playing an active role in them.

Given the United State’s history and current treatment of individuals with disabilities, this experience is very powerful for me.  I am able to observe one of the leading educational systems in the world, particularly in the area of special education.   I am particularly interested in how New Zealand’s push for inclusion early on impacts student’s post-secondary success and community engagement today. I do not start the actual research component for another week or two, so I have spent the last few days wandering around and getting to know the city.   I have already noticed that most of the public buildings and spaces are accessible.  I visited Wellington’s Botanic Garden yesterday for their Garden’s Magic.  Every night, for two weeks in the summer, they have a free concert in the garden.  We were told to arrive early to explore the gardens and reserve a space.  We arrived at six and wandered around.  The signs in the garden were in English and Braille.  Each path was wheelchair accessible.  Its so encouraging to see that level of inclusivity and accessibility.

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My roommate, Amanda, who is another Fulbright Scholar, and I brought a picnic to the gardens and enjoyed.   There were hundreds of families and friends gathered and everyone brought a picnic with them.  And amazingly, almost no one was on their phone.

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My apartment is located in Aro Valley, a neighborhood about a 20 minute walk from downtown.  It is a great neighborhood; it has two awesome coffee shops, The Garage Project Brewery,  a local park, a community centre that offers yoga and exercise classes, a beautiful nature preserve, one of best bakeries in Wellington (I am really into cake, so this is exciting), and a video rental store.

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The photo above is a picture of the cottage I will be staying while I am here. The cottage has several books in it (Confederacy of Dunces and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are both here), which is always a good sign.  The view out the living room window is incredible.

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Above is the video store.  Below is a picture of the Aro Valley Park and the nature preserve.  On Friday and Saturday, Aro Park hosted Star Trek in the Park.  Some cities have Shakespeare in the Park, Wellington has Star Trek in the Park and I couldn’t be happier about that.  There was a Khan screaming contest,  and a Doo-wop group that sung songs about Captain Kirk, and Klingons running amok throughout the park.

The weather has been warm and sunny since arriving.   Its in the mid 70s to low 80s with quite a bit of humidity.  It has been record breaking heat for New Zealanders and there is actually a nationwide fan shortage.   The Kiwis are referring to it as “Fandemonium” and the entire island is not expected to get another shipment of fans until March.  The temperatures are not too bad, but there is no central air in New Zealand, so its hard to escape the humidity.

I love Wellington and have really enjoyed walking around and exploring the last few days.  This week I am going a hike just outside of the city, meeting with my university adviser, opening my bank account, and spending some time reading and researching for my project.  Orientation is on Thursday and Friday, and after that I will be able to officially begin my project.   I have been enjoying my downtime and getting to know the city, but I am eager to delve into my project.

*Disclaimer: This is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

 

Getting Ready

Things are starting to feel very real. I told my students today that I will be taking a leave of absence in January to go to New Zealand and research strategies to become a more effective teacher.  My Fulbright experience will be bittersweet because I know I will miss my seniors’ last day, miss our morning group time, and miss seeing all of the progress my new students will make in our program.  Despite knowing this, I am so excited to be afforded the opportunity to research and reflect on pedagogical best practices. My project will be focused on increasing community engagement and post- secondary success through k-12 interventions for children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. I want the research I do in New Zealand to translate to the work I do here and hopefully give me a framework for helping my students have the best lives they can when they graduate.

Children with emotional and behavioral disorders are one of our most vulnerable populations in the United States: they have some of the lowest rates of post-secondary employment, enrollment in college, home ownership, while largely making up a disproportionate amount of the population incarcerated.  The National Longitudinal Transition Study- 2 estimates only 64% of youth with emotional and behavioral disorders are employed, 6.4% are enrolled in a 4 year college, and only 34% are living independently upon graduating.  They also have the highest dropout rate for any disability category, 61% dropout; only 32% graduate compared to 75% in general education. 

It is even more alarming when looking at the data for children and adults with emotional and behavioral disorders in juvenile detention centers and jails.  Some researchers estimate that between 1 and 3 juveniles arrested have a disability, while others believe that estimate is too conservative and the number is closer to 3 in 4.   Children and adults with EBD are 3 times more likely to be arrested than the general population.  They make up 64% of people in local jails, 54% in state prisons, and 45% in federal prisons, while only making up 4.9% of the general population.  The National Council on Disability and The Hechinger Report both have comprehensive articles on the special education pipeline to prison.

The statistics are harrowing.  It is evident that there is a lot more work to be done.  Children and adults with mental illness face so many barriers: lack of access to mental health services, discrimination in employment, housing discrimination, inability to see a doctor, unstable home lives, criminalization through a disproportionate amount of time removed from school (suspensions/ expulsions) or society (jail, etc.),  and many many more.   When I am working with my students, these statistics weigh heavy on my mind.  I have wonderful, kind students who I want to graduate and lead successful, happy lives. I often wonder what else can be done to support these students?  What other models are there?

I applied for the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching in New Zealand to dig deeper into these questions.  New Zealand places a strong emphasis on whanau/ family and community in their k-12 education.  Children and adults with disabilities are often active members of their communities in New Zealand.  Individuals with disabilities are employment 2.5x more in New Zealand than in the United States.  I am incredibly grateful for an opportunity to observe special education best practices in New Zealand.  I am still determining exactly how I want my inquiry project to look, but some of the questions I want to explore are: what impact does a national social and emotional curriculum have on children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders?, when does transition planning begin and how does that look in action?, what roll does the use of intensive wraparound services play in post-secondary transition planning and how can that be translated?, and what strategies are put in place to ensure that students have strong community engagement upon graduating?

On a note unrelated to my project, but still very intertwined with my professional life, I would like to spend some time observing the high school English curriculum.  The literacy rate is estimated to be 99% in New Zealand and 86% in the United States.   Does the national curriculum in New Zealand allow for more joy in reading and less emphasis on standardized curriculum and assessment?

It is hard to believe that I am leaving so soon.  The next few weeks will be devoted to reading books by New Zealand authors, taking an EdX course on New Zealand culture, learning basic Maori words, sub planning, preparing my final exams, and spending time with friends and family before I leave.  I am incredibly grateful for an opportunity to observe educational best practices, research pedagogical questions, and reflect on improving my own instructional practice.   Above is a picture of myself (on the left) and the other educators who are traveling to New Zealand.  It should be a wonderful adventure.

*Disclaimer: This is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.