With 44 international students representing 22 different countries and six continents on its campus, Lees-McRae College has launched its International Student Ambassadors Program (ISAP). Through this program, teachers in local Avery County Schools can request to have international students visit their classrooms to speak about their home countries and cultures.
"We're lucky to have such an international presence on campus," claims Scott Crawford, director of Lees-McRae's Global Community Center, the center that manages the program. "ISAP is meant to capitalize on this presence and use it as a learning resource in local schools."
Already, students from 14 countries have signed up for the program, which has been met with enthusiasm from Avery County teachers. Requests from teachers started coming in immediately after a list of international students was faxed to local schools, according to Crawford, and already two international students have made appearances in classrooms.
On December 3, Abril Rodriguez, a sophomore from Mexico, visited second graders at Freedom Trail Elementary School as part of a unit on "Christmas around the World." Abril shared Mexican traditions surrounding Christmas, noting that the holiday season lasts much longer in Mexico. "Three Kings Day [January 6] is our big day for gifts," Abril told students, "because that's when the kings gave Jesus gifts." Students especially enjoyed the fact that, instead of writing letters to Santa, Mexican children tie their "wish lists" to helium-filled balloons and let them go into the sky, hoping the lists will find their way to the kings who will bring the gifts.
On December 9, Ochigbo Ameh, a senior from Nigeria who goes by the name of OC, visited seventh graders at Cranberry Middle School as a featured speaker for their unit on Africa. OC, who is 6′ 9″ and played basketball for Lees-McRae, was a big hit with the middle school students, several of whom posed for pictures with him and asked for his autograph. But amidst the fun, serious learning took place. OC had prepared a PowerPoint presentation with many pictures, including slides of rural Africa and slides of his home city of Lagos, a city of 25 million people. "I wanted to show you both," OC told the students, "so you could see the two sides of Africa. Many people, when they think of Africa, think only of huts in the countryside, but there's a lot more to Africa than that."
Both Abril and OC enjoyed their experience immensely. "The students asked good questions," OC noted. "I was impressed with them."
Crawford credits much of the program's success thus far to a strong support staff, notably freshman Britannia Tomlinson, who helps with the program as part of her work as a Lees-McRae Service Scholar, Melinda Davis, a faculty member in Lees-McRae's education program, and Donna Dicks, a member of the college's Board of Visitors, who is serving as the primary coordinator of the program and the liaison between the college and the schools.
"Donna is the perfect person to be coordinating this program," notes Crawford. "After retiring as a librarian from Avery County Schools, she's spent recent years reaching out to support international students at Lees-McRae, along with her husband Bill. As such, she understands better than anyone what our international students have to offer and how they can be an invaluable resource for local students and teachers."
ISAP will pause over the next few weeks, as international students travel home during winter break-though with requests already in for students from Brazil, Germany and Ireland to speak next semester, the program looks to continue to bring the world to Avery County schools when classes resume in February. Anyone looking for more information should contact Scott Crawford at 828-898-8788 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Donna Dicks at 828-898-6667 or email@example.com.
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