FSU enters agreement with ChileMass to provide support for educators

FSU and ChileMass are working together to create an educational program that will support and improve the linguistic and pedagogical skills of Chilean educators during the 2021 calendar year. 

According to its mission statement, ChileMass is a non-profit organization dedicated to the sharing of technology and knowledge between the country of Chile and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to improve the quality of life of people in both areas. 

Ten kindergarten through 12 Chilean educators were selected to take part in the educational program during the spring and fall semesters of 2021. 

The educators began their online intensive English language instruction in January and will move to an on-campus session in the summer or fall, when travel allows it, according to Fernanda Soza, executive director of ChileMass.

The on-campus session will consist of three components: a graduate education course, an intercultural experience course, and classroom observations in local area schools, according to an FSU press release.

Soza said, “This program started two years ago. We started with a delegation from Chile – a lot of people from the Ministry of Education, some NGOs, some public and private universities – to visit Boston because we were thinking of creating a program to benefit teachers.”

She added, “We really liked the welcoming experience from the University, so that’s why we started the conversation with Framingham, and started developing the project.”

A pilot program ran at the beginning of 2020 for two months that allowed two Chilean educators to stay in the dorms at FSU, spend time with the community, and participate in those program’s educational initiatives to improve their linguistic and pedagogical skills, according to Soza.

According to the Director of Community Education and English Language Programs, Rebecca Hawk, the Chilean educators “were raving about the language instruction they received here at FSU.”

Soza said, “They had a really good experience, and they loved the University, the food, the professors, the whole community.”

The two educators in the pilot program took English language courses and shadowed classes at Framingham Public Schools, according to Soza.

The Chilean educators were placed in programs by Glenda Espinoza, department head of the secondary two-way bilingual program at Framingham Public Schools. 

Espinoza said, “They either observe classes or they teach something from Chile – it’s a cultural exchange.

“The program is bilingual, and the students are learning Spanish,” she added. “It’s a great experience to have native speakers in the classroom.” 

Soza said their experience at Framingham Public Schools was really good for them because they realized that here, teachers are doing things completely differently. “They learned a new way of creating or developing their classes.”

Espinoza said learning in Chile is more “rigid,” more European, but the American way is more focused on the student. 

The pilot program ended and the educators returned to Chile on March 13, two days before Gov. Charlie Baker announced the temporary closing of schools in Massachusetts. 

As a result of COVID-19, ChileMass and FSU made changes to the program, and decided to begin with the linguistic component and host it completely online, according to Hawk.

Also, the English language component of the program was adjusted down to only five weeks for the cohort of Chileans who participated during this past January, according to Soza.

She said the educators took intensive, synchronous English language courses for three hours a day with homework, and “it was very, very demanding.”

English department head of her school in Chile, Camila Ruz, was one of the 10 educators who participated in the program for the last five weeks. 

Ruz said she took two courses during her time remote learning – one to develop written English academic skills and a public speaking course.

Hawk said, “They are taking what they learned to really encourage their country to make changes that are fostering better communication, better problem-solving skills, better education for their kids.” 

Ruz said she’s been working on her digital literacy, and will be “bringing this digital literacy test for school teachers” back to her school in Chile with the goal of assessing “their digital competency” and identifying “gaps to make further decisions.”

The English language component of the program ended on Feb. 8, according to Soza.

According to both Soza and Ruz, these Chileans have given up five weeks of their summer holiday to improve their English language skills and bring back new knowledge to their school communities. 

Ruz said it’s been a “pretty enriching” and “fruitful” five weeks.

“I’ve had the chance to meet the American education system, which is awesome,” she added. “Framingham State University has given us the attention and solutions for every problem we have faced. Awesome teachers. Wonderful lessons. So, I would say just keep on doing things in the way you are doing it right now.”

According to Soza, the in-person portion of the program has not been scheduled yet. They’re hoping for May, but depending on COVID-19, it may have to wait until September. 

Espinoza said, “I only just came back to school. We don’t even have students in the classroom. September will be more realistic.”

Hawk believes the program has a global impact. “We need to be able to engage internationally in a really positive, constructive way. I feel like this is an important step toward that.”

Soza said, “A goal of the program is to create a collaborative project to improve the second language skills of teachers and students from both countries.”

She added the program is starting with Chilean teachers, but hopes “in the future we can also bring teachers from Massachusetts to learn Spanish in Chile.”