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June 8, 2010 > Local teacher soaking up knowledge abroad

Local teacher soaking up knowledge abroad

By Alissa Gwynn
Photos By Alissa Gwynn

"I think the best classroom is visiting other countries. And I personally believe in professional development; if you want to be a good educator, you have to continuously seek courses to develop yourself, to keep yourself fresh," says Risha Krishna, a social sciences teacher at Mission San Jose High School (MSJ). Krishna, who teaches World History and Ethnic Studies, has recently been offered two separate travel opportunities abroad in Germany and England this summer to broaden her horizons as an educator.

The first program, Fulbright Kommission's Teacher Spring Seminar, is a fully-funded trip that Krishna and about 20 other teachers from across the United States were selected for out of an extremely competitive applicant pool. During the three-week seminar, the teachers will participate in a cross-cultural exchange with German high schools and "explore new ways of cooperation and school partnerships."

The Fulbright Kommission, named after Senator J. William Fulbright, is a bi-national board that aims to promote mutual understanding between the United States and Germany through academic and cultural exchange.

After this seminar, Krishna's Ethnic Studies classes next year will have the opportunity to blog with German high school students and explore different cultures first-hand. Regarding what she hopes to bring back for her World History classes, Krishna would like to increase cultural and academic awareness of Germany. She says, "Almost 40 percent of California State Standards for World History students [involves] Germany, whether it be imperialism, totalitarianism, or World War II. I would love for my students to understand that one person [Hitler] doesn't represent the whole."

This isn't the first time Krishna has provided rare and exciting opportunities for her students; in fact, she was the one who first created the Ethnic Studies program at MSJ in the fall of 2002. She says, "[After 9/11], it was really disheartening to hear racial slurs in the community...I just felt inspired to create a class where students would have the opportunity to talk about race-relation issues in an academic format." In this course, typical discussions include: Are Native American Mascots Justified? And what social hierarchy exists at MSJ versus a school in Hayward?

During her second trip, Krishna will spend a week at Cambridge University in England to study the Civil Rights Movement. Sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the seminar will cover topics ranging from the roles of Martin Luther King, Jr., women, and local movements to the relative importance of violence versus nonviolence through various lectures and discussions. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a non-profit organization that supports the study of American history through various seminar, programs, and publications.

Krishna's interest in the Civil Rights Movement sparked when she went on a trip with a colleague to the American South through the Alameda County of Education and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center at Stanford University. During the week-long trip, they visited important landmarks during the Civil Rights Movement, including Central High School in Arkansas and the Lorraine Motel in Tennessee where King was assassinated.

Ultimately, the fact that Krishna was selected to attend not only one, but two educational seminars this summer is extraordinary. She says, "I think to bring back some relevant experiences back to the classroom [will help] my students develop into people who will love history."

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