April 29, 2015
For three Swiss assistant teachers a three-week trip to The Bahamas was as much an education for them as it was for the Kingsway Academy students they encountered to complete their mandatory teacher training experience. Hilal Urkay, Eva Lutz and Anna-Nina Schaer observed and taught lessons in English to first, second and fifth grade students; they also counseled with homeroom and specialist teachers.
The program is part of the regular training for primary school teachers at Zurich University of Teacher Education. The assistant teachers have to do the training in an English-speaking country. The teachers chose to apply to Kingsway to engage in their teaching practice. It was the first time Kingsway Academy had engaged in such an exchange.
"They got to experience what we teach to our children," said Cassandra Smith, director of academy affairs at Kingsway Academy. "We were willing to accept them because we believe they bring a rich cultural exchange to our students."
One of the major lessons the Swiss teachers learned was the differences between the school systems in The Bahamas and Switzerland.
The Swiss teachers noted that Bahamian children start school at a younger age and cover more subjects than they do in Switzerland. Elementary school for Swiss children starts at the age of seven and lasts at least eight, but usually nine years. And in kindergarten, Swiss children do not learn how to read and write, but to develop their social capabilities and getting used to sitting quietly for a while and paying attention to the teacher. Children attend kindergarten for a year or two. Because they are supposed to start school at the age of seven, they go to kindergarten when they are five and six years old.
At the primary level, the Swiss also combine a lot of their subjects like health, science and social studies which for them becomes social science, as opposed to splitting it into three subjects. Language and reading for the Swiss is English as opposed to phonics, language and reading.
Switzerland claims to have one of the world's best education systems and most children go to public schools. Private schools are usually expensive and people tend to think that students of private schools probably didn't make it at the public school. Public schools include kindergarten, elementary school secondary school and university.
Prior to accepting the Swiss teaching assistants at the school, Smith said Kingsway's administration did their background check on the program and the students, and that there was discussion between both sides about the school's rules and regulation, and what the school's administration expected from the assistant teachers coming into the Christian school. Smith said the Swiss assistant teachers were prepped and were willing to comply with the school's rules and regulations.
Immersion in the school program also meant learning about the Bahamian culture. During their teaching experience, the Swiss assistant teachers participated in an off-island experience with second grade students on a field trip to Andros. After studying about the island, the students get to experience what they studied.
They visited a number of sites, including Uncle Charlie's Blue Hole, spent time at Pineville Motel and Farms where everything is all natural and they got to experience scrub boards and pigs in pen. They also visited BAMSI and saw the operation there. Urkay who was assigned to second grade and Kindergarten 5 said the experience was interesting.
"I love the idea of Andros coming up with sustainable culture of farming and planting vegetables and fruits. This makes the people able to take care of themselves," she said.
She was also delighted to see children being nice to each other in the classroom and outside during their breaks. For Lutz the biggest cultural difference was the chattiness and friendliness of the people.
"They are supportive and very helpful," she said.
But in the beginning, she said understanding the Bahamian accent was challenging, but as she prepares to leave, she said she understands everything.
"We even know what it means when someone said they be there at eightish."
During the Andros trip, Lutz said she enjoyed seeing the blue hole and making her way through the pirate-made cave and she found it fascinating to think that pirates hid in the caves. And her favorite food was definitely fish.
Schaer, a vegetarian, got a lesson in the cuisine of The Bahamas which she said she found to be tastier than the offerings in Switzerland, although the sticker shock got to her. She particularly enjoyed plantain.
Kingsway Academy Elementary Principal Joycelyn Taylor was pleased with the cultural exchange and the opportunity for students to interact with the Swiss teaching assistants.
"As I visited their classes and observed their lessons, it was good to see the teacher-student engagement They [Swiss teachers] were pleasant and patient." She further said it was fun the watch the children study the Swiss currency and pronounce words in Swiss-German. "The children had a ball and I'm sure they will remember this experience for many years to come," said Taylor.
The Swiss teaching assistants also shared with students videos on their life in Switzerland. Second grade students Kevin Roberts and Joshua Bowe were fascinated to see the snow and the teachers showing them that student built snowmen outside their classrooms. Kevin was particularly interested in snowboarding and skiing down the mountain.
Fifth grade students raved about the songs Lutz taught them and get a kick out of saying "Guete Morge" at the start of their school day.
"She [Lutz] was very helpful and did not mind being asked so many questions," said fifth grade student Asa Butler. "I loved her accent and would love to travel to Switzerland." He said he learned that there are over 450 cheeses in Switzerland.
Stemarciae Bain giggled as she sung a catchy tune in Swiss-German. "Because Swiss children can speak three languages in elementary school, I want to focus on doing well in Spanish and then I would like to learn French a little later," she said. She added that she loved the Swiss chocolates the best.
After viewing Schaer's presentation, first grade student, Alexis Roberts decided to investigate the inside of watches to see if they were Swiss made. She was pleased to see that all the watches she inspected were indeed Swiss made. The students were also fascinated by the presentation the teaching assistants did on the transportation system of trams and trains in their country.
Another point of interest for the Bahamian students was the Berggasthaus Aescher-Wildkirchli, the Swiss guesthouse in the Swiss Alps. "Looking down would be so, so scary," said Winston Coakley.
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