For more than 20 years, the Cultural Exchange Network, based in Cape Girardeau has provided opportunities to experience world cultures.
Now, in cooperation with Jonathan Coleman, a native of Jackson, and co-founder of Intentional Tours, Cenet will provide a short-term international education experience to four southeast Missouri teachers.
The four selected educators are: April Garner, principal at Franklin Elementary in Cape Girardeau; Seth Mayes, fifth-grade teacher at Chaffee; Erica Robbins, intro to foreign languages teacher at Jackson; and James Tilman, social studies teacher at New Madrid.
Cenet Executive Director Robyn Walker said this summer, Cenet’s first study tour will take those four teachers to the Dominican Republic.
“Cenet received many applications and the selection process proved very difficult,” Walker said. “We are fortunate in Missouri to have quality teachers dedicated to professional development. This was apparent during our application process, with outstanding essays and letters of recommendation submitted by all candidates. In the end, we made our decision based on the quality of the application and the subject matter taught. We wanted diverse representation throughout Southeast Missouri so school districts were a factor as well.”
Robbins graduated from FHS in 2004, and Southeast in 2008. She moved to Barcelona, Spain in 2009 and back to Missouri in 2015. Robbins started working at FHS for the 2016-2017 school year. She left the Fredericktown School District and moved to the Jackson School District for the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, and then began her position teaching foreign languages and culture at the Jackson Middle School at the beginning of this past 2018-2019 school year.
“It’s my understanding that Erica Robbins is a Fredericktown native,” Walker said. “Her application stood out due to her excellent communication skills and understanding of what we’re hoping to achieve. Erica wrote in her application: ‘Participation in this program would provide a means for me to incorporate my experiences into the curriculum. If selected, I would pledge to educate my students on how to synthesize cultural differences into their own individual knowledge bases thus facilitating their personal and professional success in an increasingly diverse world.’”
Walker said Cenet is authorized by the U.S. State Department to sponsor the following inbound exchange programs: Intern, Trainee, Camp Counselor, and Summer Work Travel. These programs provide exchange experiences in the U.S. for students and young professionals from around the world, at no cost to the American taxpayer.
Cenet oversees The Magellan Exchange, a consortium of universities worldwide offering affordable faculty and student exchange opportunities for Americans and their international counterparts.
“Our latest initiative is Cultural Classroom, which will send local teachers abroad to experience the world,” Walker said. “Cenet’s mission is to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.”
Walker said research demonstrates employers increasingly seek to hire young people with international experience.
“Our youth need to develop a better understanding of the world in order to effectively compete,” she said. “Cenet aims to provide these educators with a deeper awareness of our world. They will then incorporate their experiences into their lessons to enhance global competitiveness for our local students.”
As part of the Intentional Tours itinerary, the teachers will learn about the Dominican Republic’s colonial and political history, visit a local school and learn about the challenges of the Dominican educational system, and meet with local entrepreneurs and activists. Trying Dominican food and a meal with a local family are also included.
“In our downtime, we’ll have the chance to take a walk through rural villages and enjoy the natural surroundings,” Walker said. “Personally, I'm most excited about the Merengue and Bachata dance lessons.”
Upon their return, the teachers will attend 2-3 workshops organized by Cenet.