Blaine, Argentina trade administrators
Blaine school district superintendent Mary Lynne Derrington will spend more than three weeks in the South American country of Argentina this summer as a recipient of a Fulbright Teacher Exchange grant from the U.S. Department of State’s bureau of cultural and educational affairs.
The program began as a partnership of the International Institute Graduate School and the U.S. Department of State in 1943 in a effort to increase cultural understanding between the United States and other countries.
Derrington will be one of 16 U.S. administrators who will travel to Argentina in July of 2006.
While there, she will spend three days in the capital of Buenos Aires and meet government officials before traveling to San Raphael a city at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
In exchange, Derrington is playing host to Susana Zurli, a high school principal from San Raphael for three weeks during her visit to the United States.
Zurli arrived in Blaine on Saturday after a brief visit to Washington D.C. where she met government officials and had dinner with the U.S. ambassador to Argentina.
Derrington said she was interested in the program because it focused on school leadership, and could provide an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of South American culture and work on her Spanish-speaking skills, which she conceded were a little rusty. Derrington said, however, she is learning to communicate with Zurli despite their language barrier.
“She speaks very little English and I speak very little Spanish, so we are learning to invent our own language,” she said. “We’re getting pretty good at it. Both of us are learning more words.”
On Tuesday, Zurli took a tour of Blaine high school with the help of 17-year-old William Clift, a student there who was able to translate for her. Clift lived more than 10 years in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica with his family and speaks fluent Spanish.
Zurli said through Clift’s translation that she was impressed with the organization of American schools and how they generally had more money for equipment such as computers, desks and other office supplies.
“It’s two different worlds,” she said. “Still, many of the teaching methods are the same.”
Derrington said she also plans to take Zurli around Skagit Valley and the San Juan Islands, as well as the wine regions in Eastern Washington to introduce her to the state.
“She comes from an area in Argentina that produces wine so I wanted to show her some of the wine regions here,” she said.
Derrington said she hopes to arrange a similar visit to Blaine middle school and Mount Vernon high school, which has a large Spanish-speaking population.
“We’re going to spend a day at Mount Vernon high school,” she said. “I want her to see how we work with that.”
A study by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction found that during the 2000-2001 school year, approximately 10 percent of children in Washington public schools were Latino.
Blaine school district has only 34 students whose first language is Spanish, but because Hispano-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic population in the United States, Derrington said it is important to become more familiar with some of the social and cultural challenges those students may face.
The 1990 Census, for example, found that among adults 25 years or older, 85 percent of white students maintained an high school diploma while only 56 percent of Latino students the same age graduated from high school.
The disparities at the college level are even more greater. While 23 percent of white adults had a bachelor degree or higher, only 11 percent of Latinos had comparable certificates.
At least one other Blaine school official has been a recipient of the prestigious grant. In 2002, Blaine high school teacher Jeff Worthy participated in an exchange with a teacher in the United Kingdom.