Access Program Connects Culture and Language with Service-Learning

By Natasha Fly

Secondary1BGSU recently hosted 20 teachers from Pakistan as part of a three-week, cross-cultural program that offered curriculum focused on critical thinking, teaching, technology, methodology and language.

The 2017 Pakistan English Access Microscholarship Program is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy Islamabad through the Department of State to provide English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers with the opportunity to gain a first-hand experience of U.S. culture and the English language.

The three weeks Access teachers spend abroad fulfills the cross-cultural component of their EFL training. The learning experience allows for teachers to form a closer connection and understanding of the English language and U.S. culture that they will share with their students in Pakistan to teach more effectively.

Access teachers work with disadvantaged Pakistani students ages 13-25 as part of a two-year program that helps each student form a solid foundation of the English language through after-school classes and intensive sessions. Additionally, the program provides students with essential leadership skills that will aid them as they look for jobs and a sustainable career path with improved opportunities.

Secondary2BGSU was selected to host the program for the second year in a row, after completing a rigorous application process. The university was the only school selected nationwide to host the program last year, with an expansion to just three universities in 2017.

Abdul Majeed, who serves as the English program manager and acting representative at the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad, Pakistan working under the Department of State, stressed the value of the exchange for both the Access teachers and students.

“The U.S. component of the program serves teachers so they can gain first-hand experiences and become familiar to U.S. culture and values,” Majeed said. “Community engagement is emphasized to encourage people to become more responsible citizens, and the information becomes more accurate when you have the opportunity to experience it first hand.”

Dr. Sharon Subreenduth, professor in the School of Teaching and Learning , oversees the program at BGSU, where faculty and staff coordinated the curriculum presented to the Access teachers.

“We build on their knowledge and examine contemporary teaching techniques on how service learning and U.S. culture and values can successfully integrate into EFL curriculum development and pedagogy,” Subreenduth said.

A team of interdisciplinary faculty from the School of Teaching and Learning and the School of Cultural and Critical Studies coordinate the three-week program. They include Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Rainey, lecturer and ESOL Program Director Kimberly Spallinger, lecturer Cindy Ross and instructor Mark Stevens.

Secondary3The curriculum focuses on the integration of critical thinking and community engagement, which is implemented throughout the program through a variety of service-learning projects. One goal is to allow Access teachers to find which activities they could adapt and utilize in their classrooms in Pakistan. Access teachers also interacted with BGSU faculty, staff, students, lecturers, members of the Bowling Green community and beyond.

In addition to their time at BGSU, Access teachers travelled to both Detroit and Seattle for other cultural and learning opportunities. They visited Detroit and saw the Museum of African American history, the Underground Railroad Living Museum, a Ford Factory tour and a theatre production of “Circus 1903.” The teachers also traveled to Seattle to attend the annual Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) international convention. During their five-day stay, they took part in numerous seminars, lectures and workshops related to service-learning, critical thinking or U.S. cultural values.

Access teacher Hira Yaqoob said the seminar on grammar through storytelling was her favorite, and she plans to implement the techniques in her classroom back home. Yaqoob is also excited to apply the photography skills she learned through a service-learning project with Girl Scouts from the Bowling Green community as well.

Secondary4Access teacher Shazia Jabeen praised the program for its connection to U.S. culture and technology as an asset in the classroom.

“The program helps us to make the teaching more effective and interesting for the students,” Jabeen said.

She celebrates both Pakistani and American culture in her classroom, recently celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. day with her students. Jabeen teaches her students, ages 13-17, the value of the program through career opportunities available to those with English writing and speaking skills.

Through the Access program, teachers and students gain a closer connection to the English language and U.S. culture while developing a relationship with members of the BGSU community. The exchange of ideas is paramount to the learning and understanding of both communities, which will benefit the next generations for decades to come.