Professor breaks boundaries in Bhutan



Monday, September 3, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Carla Raynor’s passion for education has no boundaries.

The Kishwaukee College family literacy program coordinator spent some of her summer thousands of miles away in Thimphu, Bhutan, teaching educators and children the value of family-based learning.

Raynor spent two weeks in the small southeast Asian country at a Montessori day care center, showing staff how to use limited resources and develop multiple lessons out of the same books and materials.

In Raynor’s Kishwaukee College program, children spend time engaged in literacy activities while their parents are in a GED preparation or English as a Second Language course. When parents and children come together at the end of class, they are given activities they can do with each other at home.

That concept was foreign to the teachers and families in Bhutan at first, but Raynor said everyone was open to and excited about the new learning techniques she shared.

“When I talked with the parents, they had no idea what family literacy was, but they were very, very open to it and made it a wonderful experience,” Raynor said. “I just told them about all the everyday things they do with their children and how to make it a learning experience.”

Raynor’s visit was highly anticipated by the staff and students, who have interacted with Raynor for a few years through the help of grants. International grants allowed the Montessori Day Care Center to receive some of the same materials used in Raynor’s children’s classes, and the students were able to upload YouTube videos of the puppet shows they created based on those books and see what the other class came up with.

There was one concern Raynor, dubbed “the lady with the golden hair” by the Bhutanese students, had when she observed the classrooms – the children were losing their native language.

Raynor said there was almost no language barrier because almost everyone was fluent in English, but some people had trouble speaking Dzongkha (pronounced Jong-ka), the native language.

“They are losing their home language, and to me that is very important to preserve because it is part of their culture,” Raynor said.

To help combat the problem, Raynor shared techniques for the staff to use the much more commonly found English books in a way that would also teach Dzongkha.

Wangmo Wangchuk, owner of the day care center in Bhutan, has invited Raynor back, although cost may prevent that from happening. Raynor did say she would stay connected with the school and continue to send materials, which generally cost her at least $200 out-of-pocket expense to ship.

A major project she will continue to assist is the Ability Bhutan Society, designed specifically for children and young adults with disabilities. It’s the first program of its kind in Bhutan and Raynor said it needs all the help it can get as it had next to nothing when she visited.

The journey was just one example of the enriching partnerships educational institutions can make across borders, said Evelina Cichy, vice president of instruction at Kishwaukee College. Cichy, whose brother facilitated the partnership through his work as an art conservationist in Bhutan, said she hopes to bring Wangchuk to Kishwaukee one day and that the partnership continues.

“You can always find ways to cross international lines,” Cichy said. “I think the connection helped both of them share ideas and benefited both programs.”

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