This past summer, Mililani Mauka teacher Johnna Jacobsen had an extraordinary learning experience of her own as an educational ambassador for the United States.
Jacobsen, who is in her 17th year of teaching, was one of 16 applicants chosen nationwide and the only person from Hawaii selected by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and the office of the U.S. Secretary of Education to participate in the Fulbright-Hays Cultural and Educational Seminar in Peru.
"This program has allowed me to bring the world back into my classroom. It has helped me to appreciate what we have here in Hawaii, people forget how lucky we are," said Jacobsen.
During her four weeks in Peru, Jacobsen said she noticed many similarities with Hawaii – the struggle to meet the needs of so many diverse learners, an influx of people from around the world and a rapidly developing economy. How Hawaii is dealing with these issues is where the similarities stopped, she noted. "[Peru is] having a hard time keeping up with the modern world as far as education goes, and they were looking to us for input. They view the U.S. as experts in education."
The South American country has a population of 31 million. Peru, a third-world country, has many schools lacking infrastructure basics such as running water and electricity.
Jacobsen learned that in preparing for the winter break, teachers would log their students' height and weight. The information would be used to monitor the health of the students, to make sure that they were receiving nutrition when they were not in school.
However, in private schools and some public ones, Jacobsen shared that the facilities were very modern and these schools were doing an adequate job preparing kids for college, especially in the bigger cities. At these schools, the kids were well fed and clothed.
Jacobsen said she was inspired by the commitment and dedication of Peruvian teachers.
"They were part of the community, pouring their hearts and souls into their profession," she recalled. "In one school, you have teachers cooking on hot plates for their students. Their commitment was heartwarming."
In addition to school visits, the Ambassadors participated in a wide variety of Peruvian cultural experiences and visits to historic sites like Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo and the reed islands of Lake Titicaca.
As an ambassador, Jacobsen met Peruvian officials who were eager to learn about her teaching experiences, culture and achievements in Hawaii.
"I shared with them that in Hawaii we meet the needs of all kids no matter how they come to you," added Jacobsen. "We make sure they're given the support and tools they need. Every kid needs something different, and it's a teacher's job to figure it out."
Despite the demanding schedule that included post-trip curriculum development requirements, Jacobsen urges other teachers to apply. "This is an all expenses paid opportunity of a lifetime," she emphasized. "The only thing you're giving up is your time and expertise in exchange for an experience that will benefit your students for years to come."
Click here to learn more about the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program.