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please know that 100 percent of the cost was paid by private donors.
The world is growing smaller every day, and it's our job as educators to prepare our students for a future in which we're all very closely connected economically, culturally, and socially. Thanks to sponsorship by the Raindrop Turkish House, I was fortunate to be one of eleven AISD educators to take part in an intercultural study trip to Turkey to assist our district in providing our students with a much more expansive view of the world we live in.
Istanbul at sunset
The trip's purpose was to advance global connectedness and to raise the awareness of Turkish culture and history in U.S. classrooms and our community at large. There are changes to the TEKS that AISD is required to teach to students for world history, world geography, and world languages that specifically relate to Turkish culture and history, so the trip helped to bring these expectations alive for the teachers and staff. These new standards require study of the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Islamic Caliphates. They also require new focus on the interactions among Jewish, Muslim and Christian societies in Europe, Asia and North Africa.
In addition, this past fall we launched a pilot Turkish study three-week unit as part of the exploratory language class at O.Henry Middle School. Bryker Woods Elementary will include a six week pilot for its sixth graders this spring, as will Martin Middle School in its exploratory language class. O.Henry's class will have a second three-week unit later this spring. We are working with the Raindrop Turkish House in Houston and Austin in the curriculum design, resources and instruction.
AISD delegation and hosts at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
Joining me on this trip were our Chief Academic Officer Ramona Trevino, Executive Director for Core Curriculum Suzanne Burke, Academy for Global Studies Director Theresa McCorquodale, our World Language Coordinator Tina Dong, Social Studies Supervisor Joe Ramirez, Eastside Global Tech International Coordinator Monica Molina, and district Social Studies teachers and specialists Dominic Henderson, Elizabeth Jenkins, Terry Loessin, and Jamison Warren. We were also joined by State Representative Mark Strama and his wife Crystal Cotti.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
What a beautiful country! The trip's first stop was in Istanbul. Our gracious hosts made sure we visited the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans who ruled Turkey for 600 years.
The Blue Mosque
Except in places of worship,
head scarves are
optional for women in Turkey.
The next day we met with Istanbul Deputy Governor Feyzullah Ozcan and representatives of the Turkish Ministry of Education Directorate for an exchange on the importance of intercultural studies and a presentation on the Turkish educational system.
Rep. Mark Strama and Deputy Governor
Feyzulla Ozcan with translator
Meeting with Education Ministry officials
Turkish students wearing AISD t-shirt for
Murchison and playing with Mr. Maroo
For me, the most exciting part of the visit was the opportunity to visit a public high school and speak with the students. I was very impressed by how respectful the Turkish students are.
Istanbul High School Students
with Ms. McCorquodale and Mr. Maroo
Istanbul High School is a science magnet public high school and is housed with a museum in a beautiful 250 year old building. The students showed a growing proficiency in English. It is compulsory as a second language across Turkey, beginning in the 4th grade. French, Spanish, and German are offered as third languages.
Istanbul Science Magnet High School Students
We also toured a private elementary school, where we were fortunate to arrive in time for the weekly all-student assembly to sing the national anthem on the school's front steps. The school's owner and principal served us lunch, during which we were able to learn about schooling in Turkey. Elementary education is a high priority across the country. When we asked about school violence and bullying, they said it did not take place in their schools.
Elementary School Classroom
After the private school, we investigated a tutoring center set up to prepare high school students for the university entrance exam. At 14, all students are tracked either into a college preparatory high school or into a trade or technical school.
Meeting with professors at Zatih University in Izmir
While I was not able to participate in the entire tour, other members of our delegation also visited public and private schools and a university in Izmir on the Aegean Coast and Antalya on the Mediterranean, in addition to important cultural and historic sites.
Near Izmir, they toured the ancient Greek City of Ephesus. They also visited a private high school. It was well equipped with technology. While Turkish law prohibits separate schools for girls and boys (no Ann Richards School there), the students are boarded in separate facilities with the boys on campus and the girls in a dormitory off campus.
In Antalya, they visited a prestigious high school. They noted that many of the teaching methods were similar to those used in our schools. The private tutoring center in Antalya assisted students not just in passing tests but in securing financial support for college. The group also went to a public elementary school in a village near Antalya. The students in the village enthusiastically greeted their guests and were eager to try out their English.
Public elementary school near Antalya
Roman theatre at Aspendos
Our educators were also given a tour of the ancient Roman theatre at Aspendos.
Our curriculum leaders have returned with many exciting new ideas drawn from this trip for our Social Studies TEKS. Because Turkey has served for millenia as an important world crossroads, the history and culture of the region play important parts in the TEKS for World Geography and World History and in our students' general understanding of the making of world civilizations.
We are indebted to the Raindrop Turkish House, its supporters, and our hosts, including Mehmet Okumus, Fatih Zirih, Dr. Yetkin Yildirim, Mahmut Nedim, and Salih Dogan, for making this learning opportunity possible.