FAIRBANKS — Three principals from the southern-most regions of Brazil spent the last week and a half in the northernmost region of the United States. The distance from their homes in Brazil to Fairbanks is around 8,000 miles.
The principals came to the United States through an educator exchange program the U.S. Department of State has with Portugal, India and Brazil. After spending two days in Washington, D.C., they came to Fairbanks, where they were hosted by Denali Elementary School Principal Tim Doran.
Along with the three who came to Fairbanks, 27 other educators from Brazil travelled to schools around the U.S. as part of the exchange. This summer, Doran will travel to Brazil as a reciprocal part of the exchange program.
Doran and the Brazilian principals were each chosen to participate in the exchange program by their respective countries because of their recognition as exemplary educators.
Danclar Rossato from the city of Santa Maria in the state of Rio Grande Do Sul, Eva Montani from Imbitu Va in Paraná, and Zelci Lorenzon from Xaxim in Santa Catarina spent Oct. 16-29 in Fairbanks with Doran at Denali. They also visited about a dozen other schools in Fairbanks.
The News-Miner sat down with Rossato, Montani and Lorenzon and Doran on the Brazilian principals’ last day in Fairbanks to discuss their expectations and takeaways as they prepared for the 30-hour trip home.
Because the official language of Brazil is Portuguese, so Rossato, Montani and Lorenzon spoke to the News-Miner through an interpreter, Denyse Cohen.
What follows is an abridged excerpt of that conversation.
News-Miner: Was it much of a culture shock traveling from the southern tip of a country in South America to the northern tip North America?
Lorenzon: Culturally, yes.
Montani: One of our concerns coming to a very cold state, a frozen state was the weather and not being able to endure the cold, and our physical capabilities, but we brought the warm weather with us so the temperatures were actually pleasant.
Rossato: Another question we were concerned about was the
logistics of traveling so far, and the weather and daily activities of the schools, but we were lucky that we were so welcomed here that we feel we’re home.
Was there anything you found while spending time in the schools here that you felt was very different than in Brazil?
Lorenzon: I think one thing that’s very different is your buildings, your structure ... One thing that we notice here and in Brazil the educational focus, it’s the same. Maybe the educational methods here are delivered differently but the focus on education is the same.
Montani: One thing we notice here is the autonomy of the district, managing the budget and the decisions. In Brazil things come from top to bottom so things come from the government, and we like the way the district is able to make their own decisions, and they’re closer to the day to day necessities so they can gauge that better.
Rossato: I was very surprised by how the school takes care of the different ethnic groups that come to Fairbanks and also to rescue the student learning in a way that every step you take you’re assuring that they’re learning. (There are) a lot of strategies that the school adopts to ensure that the student, based on their grade, their age they’re progressing in a systematic way. Also the discipline and the organization of the schools.
News-Miner: Is there anything you’ve seen here that you would like to implement in your own schools?
Rossato: I would like to implement the quiet room (laughing) I also would like to visit more classrooms to observe the teachers and students. I also (would like to) give prizes or honor the students with the best achievement like the honor roll.
Doran: We have a bringing up grades honor roll. and what we’re talking about is it’s not just for straight As but it recognizes students for effort and improving their grades. If they have straight As and they keep them that’s great they get recognized but also how to improve it. Even a D to a C shows improvement.
Montani: I liked what I saw here at Denali, the display windows in the halls. That’s something I want to implement at my school so the students can display their work and it kind of helps in showing their math, their science work. Also the walk-throughs. I do that, but not in the way you do.
Lorenzon: I saw a lot of things that I can improve upon that I’ve learned here but one thing that I really want to fight about is better infrastructure. I believe we’re heroes for doing what we do with the little we have ... I don’t have a lot of discipline problems in my school, but one thing I saw here and I want to do there is bring the community into the school and have this integration (of parents and community in the school.
Doran: They’ve had a chance to meet quite a few of our parents, not only parent-teacher conferences but setting up for the halloween carnival and just as parents come in to pick up their kids, who visit or help out in classes.
News-Miner: Principal Doran, is there anything you’ve learned from the visiting principals that you might implement at Denali?
Doran: The big thing that struck me was a lot of the similarity in what we have, and each of these principals have been picked as the distinguished principal or school in their state and it’s obvious talking to them their passion and dedication for kids. And we share that passion ... Learning some of their challenges as we look at some of their challenges.
I’ve learned a lot about the Brazilian culture, things I did not know ... My picture of Brazil was more the Amazon. They’re in the south so there’s lots of farming and agriculture, they get the cool nights.
News-Miner: Since you all are returning to Brazil tomorrow do you have any plans while you’re still in Fairbanks?
Doran: (Mimes sleeping).
Rosatto: (Laughs) At this point we’re anxious, we learned so much, to go back to our communities, our schools, our families and just share a little of what we learned with them. This is a unique experience for us. It’s going to be a while once we can tell everything we’ve seen.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: