It’s that time of year when Orange County districts break for spring recess, and many local teachers are embarking on well-deserved getaways.
But few will travel farther than Gina Whitcomb, who leaves for Senegal in Africa on April 17.
Whitcomb, who has been in education for 18 years, is a teacher on special assignment in the Anaheim Elementary School District, where her work focuses on technology integration. This year, she’s also been taking part in the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, a year-long, professional development opportunity that encourages U.S. teachers to become leaders in global education.
Teachers for Global Classrooms is run by the International Research and Exchanges Board, with funding by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Out of 500 applicants, 75 teachers — including just five from California — were selected to be dispatched to Senegal, Morocco, Indonesia, India, the Philippines or Colombia.
Whitcomb said she applied for the program about a year ago and was accepted in June 2016. After completing an online component from September to December, she met up with other educators enrolled in the program in February for a national summit on global education in Washington, D.C.
Now she’s among a group of 10 set to travel to Senegal on Africa’s west coast for two weeks, returning May 2.
“Specifically, we will travel to Dakar (the capital) together as a group and then break off in pairs to various areas of Senegal to teach in the local schools and learn about their education system,” she told the OCDE Newsroom. “I will be traveling with a teacher from Northern California to Nioro du Rip, a very rural area in Senegal close to the Gambian border. I will be teaching in a high school, an elementary school and I will be teaching some after school English classes.”
The idea behind Teachers for Global Classrooms is to equip teachers to bring an international perspective to their schools through targeted training, experience abroad and global collaboration. Whitcomb said she plans to compare Senegal’s education system with that of the United States, exploring both the similarities and differences.
“I am specifically looking for differences in access and use of technology in education,” she said.
Already, the program’s professional development piece has paid off. Whitcomb said she’s been able to help enhance lessons on global issues at Juarez Elementary and Roosevelt Elementary schools in the Anaheim Elementary School District. This year, students have participated in several activities, including “Mystery Skype,” a game that allows students to interact with counterparts from different countries.