Leland & Gray hosts teachers, students from India, Pakistan


TOWNSHEND -- There were a few observations made by a teacher visiting Leland & Gray Union Middle & High School from India.

"This is such a beautiful place," said Rashmi Tandon. "This is like a green paradise."

She said the houses in Windham County looked as though children had drawn the lines. But her next observation was not as flattering.

The handwriting she witnessed at Leland & Gray would not be acceptable at her school in New Delhi. And she was talking about students and teachers alike.

"They scribble!" she laughed.

Twenty-five Indian and Pakistani teachers and several students spent a day at Leland & Gray on June 6 as part of a three week exchange program. This program is run by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by SIT/World Learning.

The purpose of the whole program is to strengthen ties between the U.S., Pakistan and India and foster the exchange of teaching methodologies and school programming ideas, a press release stated.

The teachers attended training workshops at SIT then went to the middle and high school to participate in collaborative workshops. They observed classes, after-school programs and a faculty council meeting.

Tandon told the Reformer that students in her region's public and private schools wear uniforms and there is not as much after-school programming as Leland & Gray. In New Delhi, students are not allowed to have food in class and if they want water, they require permission before drinking it.

Of the visit overall, Tandon said the school was very transparent. It was her first time staying in the U.S. and she thanked those who organized the school visit.

"I've been teaching for the past 30 years. I know it requires a lot of planning and you need to organize a lot to have visitors over. Sometime we do have visits from people and we want them for a few fours," she continued. "But to keep us for over seven hours, you have meticulously planned the day for us. Thank you so much. We do know a lot about American schools now."

Leland & Gray Principal Dorinne Dorfman also spent the week at SIT participating in workshops, which each had three or four group members from Pakistan or India and an American facilitator.

"I have been schooled that those places are very separate and different," Dorfman said. "Immediately, when they started talking about the foods they're eating and what their families are like, I learned it was essentially the same in both places."

In order to have peace in South Asia, Dorfman said it would take continuing talks with and educating the younger generation.

"War is not the answer," she added. "And young people don't want it."

Working in SIT's international development and exchange department, Lois Scott-Conley told the Reformer that the next stops for the program will be North Carolina and Washington, D.C. While the trip will be temporarily split up, they will all meet up and stay in New York City for a week. Six Americans will be going on these trips, including Dorfman.

"We've been doing activities for intercultural community building and looking at ways of fostering leadership, civil engagement and peace building youth," said Scott-Conley. "People are really impressed by the school, how active the students are, how much color there is and how strong the imagery in all the classrooms is."

Before a final gathering, the visitors were taking photographs of the hallways and classrooms as they were led to Dutton Gym. Legislators, such as state Sen. Peter Galbraith, state Rep. John Moran and state Rep. Carolyn Partridge, were there waiting for them.

"Knowing people on a very personal level is a good way to construct peace and constructive work in the world," said Partridge. "I'm delighted to see you all today."

Galbraith spoke of being a diplomat before becoming a senator.

"What we've understood is it's really one region and one culture," he said. "But we have now, I think, Pakistan going through a democratic transition. It's terrific and well overdue."

Mebram Zain, a sophomore from Pakistan, spent the school year at Leland and Gray taking classes as an exchange student. She arrived last August.

"I have been living here for nine months. I'm in love with this place. It's so pretty," she said. "I've made so many friends. I have a family here. I'm sad to leave next week but it was an amazing experience."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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