UW Center for South Asia sending 4 high school teachers to southern India

Support from the Center for South Asia (CSA) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison will enable four Wisconsin high school teachers to explore southern India for two weeks this summer to gather fresh knowledge, experiences, and perspectives to share with their students.

“When I survey my students’ prior knowledge about India they almost always refer to northern India,” says Lou Kindschi, who teaches social studies at Oregon High School. “They know of the Taj Mahal and Delhi, but they don’t know about southern India. I am eager to learn as much as I can to expand my existing curriculum and make it more representative and rich.”

The CSA has awarded scholarships to Kindschi and three other educators to cover the program costs for the July 19-August 1 excursion, which the CSA is offering in collaboration with GEEO (Global Exploration for Educators Organization), a non-profit organization that runs travel programs for teachers.

In addition to Kindschi, the participating teachers are: Teri Parris Ford, art teacher at Memorial High School, Madison; Kim Mayer, social studies teacher in Madison’s SAPAR (School Age Parent) Program; and Caitlin Farrell, special education teacher in the Social Studies Department, Middleton High School.

To help the teachers gain the most from the experience, CSA is providing a pre-trip orientation. During the trip, they will be accompanied by Miriam Thangaraj, from the UW–Madison School of Education, along with local guides arranged by GEEO.

Thangaraj is a doctoral candidate in comparative and international education in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. Her research considers how global education and development discourses on schooling, childhood and child rights shape the conditions and experiences of daily life for children and their families in South Asia.

The Center for South Asia, a Title VI National Resource Center funded by the U.S. Department of Education, has provided high-quality outreach and teacher training to K-12 educators across Wisconsin and beyond for 50 years. Funding for the teachers’ scholarships comes from CSA’s Title VI grant and other funds.

“This will be our second trip to India in collaboration with the travel group GEEO,” says Rachel Weiss, CSA assistant director. “Experiences abroad provide teachers with a deeper understanding of the complexities of the cultures and peoples of India – and enable them to better develop lessons for their students.”

“I hope to gain insight and access to artifacts and resources that will help me create a separate unit about southern India,” says Kindschi, who recently was honored as Wisconsin Global Educator of the Year by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.

She adds, “I hope to learn how the geography of southern India relates to economic activities. I am also very interested in social organizations, including family life, education systems, and religious pluralism and practices.”

Farrell sees India as “a fascinating country of beautiful contradictions,” with large, bustling and chaotic cities and remote villages “largely untouched by time and technology”.

“Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of India is its religious diversity and all of the daily rituals, traditions, and celebrations that accompany each religion. I look forward to witnessing how religion plays a role in the daily lives of the Indian people,” she says

“I am confident that this experience has the power to change and enhance my worldview and in turn the way that I teach,” says Farrell, a special education teacher with a dual certification in broad field social studies.

“I hope to gain a better understanding of the eclectic culture, how different national powers and religions have left their mark,” Mayer says. “I will be traveling with an open mind and I hope to return with innovative curriculum ideas and plenty of pictures.”

Ford, who views travel as enriching both personally and professionally as an art teacher, says “I hope to bring my experiences into my classroom and school community with a presentation in our school’s art gallery, with photos and artifacts from my trip. I plan to look for artistic examples to bring into my classroom, both physically (artistic purchases) and photographically (by taking photos).”

The teachers’ itinerary includes visits to palaces, historic temples, a 400-year-old synagogue and the oldest church in India – St. Francis Church. Places include Puducherry, once the largest French colony in India, and Madurai, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

They will have opportunities to see some of India’s endangered species, such as Bengal tigers, Indian leopards, and Indian elephants, and learn about the region’s spice and tea production.

Cultural opportunities include a performance of Kathakali (traditional dance from Kerala), visits to traditional markets, and a homestay with local families.

by Kerry G. Hill