Traveling abroad: Santa Fe teacher learns about international collaboration

Maria Loewen, second from left, has lunch with Stefanie Ortiz-Cidlik, executive director of iEARN USA, and another teacher at the iEARN Latina Conference. Provided Photo
Maria Loewen, second from left, has lunch with Stefanie Ortiz-Cidlik, executive director of iEARN USA, and another teacher at the iEARN Latina Conference. Provided Photo
This past summer, the teacher became the student while teaching in Paraguay.

Maria Loewen of Newton, who’s from Hillsboro, traveled to Paraguay to take a class and also ended up teaching a workshop for education students on technology integration in the classroom.

“One of the biggest things I learned there is there’s so much teachers can learn from other teachers,” Loewen said. “There’s so much value in teacher exchange.”

Loewen’s trip was from June 29 through July 12.

“I was approached by [school board member] Steve Richards and asked if I could take a class with a program called iEARN to just explore the possible international collaboration with project-based learning,” Loewen said, adding Richards is president of Kansas Paraguay Partners.

Through iEARN (International Education and Resource Network), Loewen will collaborate with other teachers internationally on projects.

Loewen is taking steps for such a collaboration with her students.

“I am currently communicating with teachers I made connections with through the iEARN network to start a collaborative project with a class in another country,” she said, although she’s not sure what that other country will be.

Although she’s not sure what the project will be, Loewen said it probably will be non-academic, like community relationships or cultural exchange.

Because iEARN is an international organization, the conference was in Paraguay.

“I took the class, went to the conference,” Loewen said.

Richards helped the Santa Fe 5/6 Center teacher get a grant to attend the conference through Kansas Paraguay Partners.

“I observed other schools in Asuncion,” Loewen said, adding Comité Paraguay Kansas organized her itinerary and allowed her to experience the history and culture of Paraguay.

Loewen will teach fifth- and sixth-grade science at Santa Fe, and next academic year marks her second year at the school.

The schools she observed emphasized learning through ecology and art, kind of like what Walton Rural Life School does with agriculture. These were specialized schools, Loewen said. A couple of the schools she visited emphasized art in every subject.

“Every school that I went to had more knowledge on teaching bilingual students,” she said. “In Paraguay, they have two national languages.”

She said teachers have more skills in teaching bilingually, and their two languages are Spanish and Guarani.

“They teach students to read and write in both languages, which is really cool,” Loewen said.

Maria Loewen, right, has a conversation with another teacher in Asuncioncion. Photo provided
Maria Loewen, right, has a conversation with another teacher in Asuncioncion. Photo provided
Through the iEARN conference, Loewen said she learned collaborating with other cultures is incredibly valuable in building empathy and cultural awareness. iEARN strives to have students collaborate with other students and break down distance barriers, she said.

“I think it helps cultivate an understanding of similarities across cultures and build value of learning from different perspectives,” she said.

As part of her experience, Loewen learned about how to communicate with others who speak a different language, like through Google Translate, which Loewen said she used a lot in Paraguay.

She also learned about Flipgrid.

“Flipgrid is a platform where students can record videos of themselves,” she said, adding anything shared is previewed by the instructor, and all privacy matters are adhered to.

“The biggest takeaway is understanding there is so much value in international collaboration,” Loewen said.

The trip to Paraguay isn’t Loewen’s only international trip this summer. She recently left for Tanzania to visit a child she’s sponsoring through Compassion International, and she also planned to hike Mount Kilimanjaro through a fundraiser for clean water for a child-development center. She said she also raised money for her trip.

Loewen likes to help children.

“I think they are the future,” she said. “I want be empower students to embrace their individual gifts and strengths to make a positive impact on the world.”