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Eyes Open Wide

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Visitors from Ghana broadened the outlook of local school students.

Student eyes and, in some cases, mouths, opened wide when visitors dropped by their schools on a recent day. Clark Fork, Hope Elementary, Northside Elementary, Farmin Stidwell Elementary, Washington Elementary, Sandpoint Middle School, Sandpoint High School, and Southside Elementary all warmly received visitors from the African nation of Ghana. The five visitors, part of the Sandpoint Rotary Club’s Friendship Exchange program, chatted with students and teachers as they tried to learn more about our education system. At the same time, we learned a great deal about Ghana.

We learned that Ghana is a peace-loving nation that highly values education. English is their chosen language, and many students have the opportunity to attend one of the 15 colleges that are located in their capital city of Accra. Like us, they are teaching their students to compete in a global economy. They understand that education is the key to success. Multi-national companies dot their urban landscape and the western world is viewed as a model. They were particularly fascinated by our “hands on” opportunities particularly in subject areas like welding, drafting, and technology classes.

They told stories of media driven pictures of American schools. They expected to find police stationed on our school campuses and students who might be threatening. We know this picture doesn’t reflect our schools, but the world wide media often portrays the worst of what our society produces. At the same time, I shared with them that our media portrays most of Africa as a continent of tribal hostilities, starvation and disease. We do not often hear about the stable nations, like Ghana, that are as focused on providing a good education and a future of hope.

It was clear to me that many of our students have not had opportunity to interact with visitors from other parts of our world. Students living in our urban areas certainly have that opportunity, and parents have learned how important it is for their children to interact comfortably with all people. A number of our students simply assumed that our visitors were athletes and eagerly sought autographs. Little did they know they were educators! Visits like these help our students to learn about and appreciate the wider world beyond our beautiful, yet isolated location.

As an educator, I was reminded that our students will be competing with children being educated from around the world. The work force in their generation will, in many cases, be multi-cultural and demand that our students interact comfortably with many people. It is a valuable lesson that we can teach as parents and educators. Our goal is to produce world class scholars, but world class people as well.

I forgot one thing. Somewhere in Ghana this year a Clark Fork Wampus Cat tee-shirt will make its debut. It is a small world after all.

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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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