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North Branford Totoket Valley Elementary School (TVES) 5th-grade special education teacher Jackie Thurston is a national Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program grant winner. This summer, she’ll use tech to take students and the community with her to teach in India. She’s also helping TVES kids develop their own ideas to make the world a better place, based on 17 Global Goals set by the United Nations. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
TVES principal Carter Welch Ed.D (left) is working with Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program grant winner Jackie Thurston to develop an action plan for the TVES community that’s centered around global goals. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
As a Fulbright Teacher for Global Classrooms, Jackie Thurston is about to help North Branford think globally and act locally. )
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Jackie Thurston is about get North Branford thinking globally and acting locally.
This summer, as one of only 76 U.S. educators to win a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program grant (and the only Connecticut educator selected), Jackie hopes to take her students at Totoket Valley Elementary School (TVES) and their hometown along while she’s in India and to inspire all to create and share global initiative ideas that can help make a difference in the world.
“The program’s very focused on bringing global competence to your district and community,” says Jackie. “Another big piece of it is taking action. In a world of seven billion people, you are one 10-year-old—how can you feel empowered to make a difference so you know that you are leaving your mark on the world?”
Jackie hopes to motivate every child in grades 3 to 5 at TVES feel they can contribute, as well as to learn some valuable lessons from interacting with students living a world away.
“Now that I’m in the program, I understand the value of what it’s going to bring to the school, the community, and to the world, hopefully,” says Jackie, a special education teacher of 13 years at TVES.
Jackie applied for the Fulbright prize in the spring of 2018 and learned she had been selected in August. Following a three-month online intensive, graduate-level program undertaken by each member of the 76-teacher cohort, Jackie met with her peers for the first time this February, during a four-day symposium in Washington, D.C. Each teacher brought an administrator from their school so that they could develop an action plan to bring home. TVES principal Carter Welch, Ed.D. attended the symposium with Jackie.
“They brought the administrators to get them on board and teach them about what we’ve been learning, and then we came together to create an action plan for our school,” says Jackie. “Carter’s support with this has been a huge piece in bringing this to life. I’m really appreciative of his passion in this type of initiative.”
Welch said Jackie is a very humble individual, but should be very proud of her selection.
“It’s such a source of pride to be selected,” said Welch. “When I was down in D.C., they said that this is a highly selective group. There are a lot of qualified people who applied who didn’t get selected.”
Welch said he feels North Branford is very lucky to have Jackie’s enthusiasm and willingness to expand the outlook of students and residents through her Fulbright work.
“Her energy has been really inspiring, and her willingness to do something different and take our kids beyond our community, that’s the thing that we’ve talked a lot about,” said Welch. “They may have a very narrow focus on North Branford, and this can get them thinking about what’s beyond, in the U.S. and the world.”
Work to further the initiative at TVES next year has already started, says Jackie. For a start, she’s helped teachers to share with their students information on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development list crafted by the United Nations (U.N.). As a follow up, kids will be invited to develop an idea, project or other function to share which supports that goal.
“The U.N. came up with 17 global goals to help make the world a better place by 2030, and the whole world is tackling them,” said Jackie. “So we taught the students about the goals, and we intertwined it in lessons. And next, each of the students is going to choose a goal that speaks to them—something they feel passionate about—and come up with an action plan: ‘Okay, how can I affect my school and my community, and how can that make an impact globally? How can I, as one person, make a change and a difference?’”
Jackie says the TVES program readily lends itself to bolstering students’ social and emotional learning while also engaging them and enriching their learning experience.
Jackie already interacts with most of the kids in her school, and says she’s hoping for some help from “my kids” to make her upcoming trip a success.
“I work with a lot of the students, because I co-teach an inclusion class,” says Jackie. “So I’m in three 5th-grade classrooms, plus I run all the afterschool programs. So I know all the students at a pretty personal level, and that’s who I mean when I say, ‘my kids—I feel like I have 400 of them, sometimes!”
When she travels to India this summer, Jackie also plans to get students involved in the trip by asking them to help her gather gifts and information. She wants to bring some small gifts, like bracelets, made by TVES students, to give to her students in India. She’s asking her students to get her up to speed on the latest games, tech, sports, and other pop culture American kids are experiencing, because she’s heard that’s “the number-one question kids will have for us.”
To invite the community to get involved, Jackie’s planning to blog from India during her trip.
“That is a mission of the Fulbright; to get your community involved, and I’m just going to try to take it to the highest level I can. I want the entire community involved, so I’m going to be blogging throughout the trip,” she says. “The blog’s going to be geared toward children, but I want it to be interactive so the kids can be asking questions about what they’re curious about involving the Indian culture, and what the schools are like, so they can learn with me and so they’re experiencing it with me.”
She’ll also be updating with posts on Instagram and Twitter (follow her at @thurston4change).
“I started a teacher Twitter account and Instagram, so my students and other teachers around the world can follow it. It’s been really cool to see the interaction already,” says Jackie.
A seasoned traveler who also enjoys traveling to undertake sport climbing (this year, she’s going rock climbing in Glacier National Park and backpacking through the Grand Canyon), Jackie was inspired by a family member apply for the Fulbright award.
“A relative of mine had told me, ‘Jackie, this is calling your name—you need to be a part of it,” says Jackie. “I’m also a big traveler and a big fan of different experiences and putting myself in those. So that helped inspire me to apply. But now that I’m in the program, I see the necessity of why its important to my students.”
Jackie only recently learned she would be traveling to India and is still waiting to learn what area of the country will become her temporary teaching home over the summer.
“When you apply for Teachers for Global Classrooms, you have no idea where you’re going, and you don’t know when. They have partnerships with over 100 countries,” says Jackie. “In addition to India, they’re also sending teachers to Indonesia, Morocco, Senegal, Columbia, and Peru this year. So far, I know I’m going to be one of 12 going to India for three weeks. We’ll spend three days in Delhi [training], then we’ll be sent out to teach. I don’t know where I’ll be teaching, yet, but I will definitely be sharing that information with people when I find out.”
After all, sharing information, as well as opening minds to differences, understanding other cultures and working together as a global community is what this program is all about, she notes.
“It’s really about the need to understand different perspectives of people,” says Jackie. “As a citizen in the 21st century, all of these students are going to be needing 21st century skills, including collaborating with people from all over the world. So I want them to have exposure to those differences, and to have sensitivity toward them, and understand different perspectives so that empathy is there. I hope this will be the start of a lifelong journey in our district.”
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