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2020-21 MENA-SEA Program Fellows

Susan Bertoni

North Farmington High School
Farmington Hills, MI
Grades 9-12 ELL (English Language Learner) Education, World History, US History, Biology, Algebra

I help English Learners (ELs) understand the curriculum and class conversation better and help their teachers accommodate learning for ELs at various levels of language development. I also work with EL students’ counselors and families to ensure that their non-academic needs are well met. I am excited about this program because it will broaden my perspectives on the cultures and religions of the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. Specifically, I would like to know [how] various cultural groups within the regions self-identify and advocate for themselves and one another in different arenas - within family, community, [and] religious structures.

 In 2000, I taught at the American Language Center in Amman, Jordan. Most of my students were professional young adults taking English improvement courses. In August of that year, I jumped at the opportunity to work at the new Arab American University in Jenin, Palestine/West Bank. For about four years I was also affiliated with a local alternative organization, Al Muntada, to bring young students together to teach them more critical and creative methods of learning. 

From the seminars and the people whom I will encounter [in the program] I will incorporate [into my teaching] materials, historical and cultural knowledge, and most of all personal stories. Naturally, if I am able to embark on [an international GEEO ] trip, it will only further enrich classroom materials and perspectives. I hope that this [program] will impact not only our school staff, but the entire student body and their families as we continue to work on increasing acceptance of cultural and religious diversity.

Amy Frontier

Pioneer High School
Ann Arbor, MI
Grades 9-12 English Language Arts, World Literature

I am so excited to join the MENA-SEA Teacher Program. I look forward to learning about other cultures, understanding different perspectives, and hearing stories from other parts of the world. I believe that this program will give voice to these stories. I plan to share what I learn with my students in the hopes that I can dispel myths, generate excitement, and learn about the rich cultures of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. I first experienced international education when I studied Spanish in Costa Rica and stayed with a family. While this stay lasted only two short weeks, I was hooked. The immersive nature of the experience helped me realize how much we can learn from spending time with people, hearing about their experiences, and listening to their stories. I have also travelled internationally with educators as well as a friend who represents the international medical community. Most notably, I travelled to China with a group of Connecticut educators and was subsequently able to share my experiences via a Chinese poetry unit. Most recently, I travelled to Palestine with a delegation of educators, religious leaders, and community leaders. We learned about the richness of the Palestinian culture and the power of the people who work in schools, community center, economic centers, government, and refugee camps. It was an extraordinary glimpse into the Middle East that has and will shape my ability to understand and teach about this part of the world for many years to come. I look forward to participating in the MENA-SEA Teacher Program and believe that the more I can learn about a different part of the world, the more I can offer my students a window into another world. Even more important, I believe this program will offer me ways to help my students see how other cultures often mirror their own, since the more we learn, the more we realize that we are not so different from one another.

Barbara Gazda

Hartland High School
Hartland, MI
Juniors and Seniors AP US Government, AP Comparative Government, American Government, English 12

I am so very excited to be a part of the MENA-SEA Teacher Program and meet other teachers to share information and ideas. I want to learn more about modern Islam [in countries such as] Iran, about which I teach. The best thing about teacher opportunities like this one is that we get to create a "hive mind" where I always get so much great information. Another great bonus is that we get permission to steal from each other. I had the great luck to study abroad both in high school and in college. These experiences changed how I see the world. They broadened my thought process, opened my mind and eyes to the world around me and played a  significant part in how I teach today. I would like to present about what I learn in this program at future staff/department meetings in my school.

David Hales

Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency
Wayne, MI
Grades K-12 Social Studies

I am so excited to be a part of the MENA-SEA Teacher Program! Wayne County is home to 33 school districts and 108 public charters. As the K-12 social studies consultant, I interface with teachers, students, communities, and cultural institutions to support classroom instruction, curriculum, and assessment efforts. I am looking forward to better understanding the students and communities of Wayne County and being better equipped to serve them. I have already attended numerous professional-development trainings at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Thanks to the MENA-SEA Teacher Program, I will increase my own personal content knowledge and deepen my connections to culturally relevant pedagogy.

I have always been interested in international education. For instance, I have been an area representative for Youth for Understanding for some time, volunteering to support exchange students that are placed in Farmington/Farmington Hills schools. I also volunteer for the U.S. State Department-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program, which provides scholarships for secondary school students from countries with significant Muslim populations. I have also attended the German Transatlantic Outreach Program (TOP) with educators from around the U.S. for two weeks, focusing on curriculum and intercultural dialogue.

Karen Leland Libby

Interlochen Arts Academy
Interlochen, MI
Grades 9 & 12 Humanities

I teach 9th grade language arts and 12th grade Shakespeare and Middle Eastern Literature electives at a fine arts boarding school in a small Northern Michigan town. Before 2016, I was a novice in Middle East studies, so I'm really looking forward to experiencing the resources and community of the MENA-SEA Teacher Program. In 2017 I spent a month based in East Jerusalem, traveling throughout Israel and Palestine. After that journey, I'm interested in learning more about the Arabic language, the Abrahamic religions, ancient and contemporary writers of Arabic, and Arab Anglophone writers. I also hope to learn more about our local Arab American community. I've spent many summers teaching in an international summer program in southern Switzerland, where my classes often include students from several Middle Eastern countries. These small classroom communities have left me feeling that the world is closer to the Northern Michigan woods than it often seems! I hope to bring this feeling of connection to my students, whose main goal each semester is to create Middle East-inspired art and writing to share with their wider school community.

Ross Newman

Monroe High School
Monroe, MI
Grades 9-12 World History, U.S. History, and History vs. Hollywood

Underneath my rugged exterior beats the heart of a history teacher, a realization almost forty years in the making. Transforming my life’s passion into my life’s work brought me to the University of Michigan, The Leaders and the Best. 

As a curious scholar, athlete, and amateur adventurer my hobbies and interests tend to be academic in nature. Recently I took part in a study abroad program in Italy, focusing on power, place, and image in Rome and Florence during the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. Aside from the incredible academic experience, it provided an opportunity to explore the cities and satisfy my need for adventure.

The cultures of the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia have always intrigued me. Exploring the connections between Southeast Asia and the Middle East was a topic I first explored while teaching World History. So much of what we think of as “Western Culture” has its roots in the Middle East and North Africa. Diving deeper into these connections is certainly something that I am eagerly looking forward to. In the case of Southeast Asian cultures, my curiosity is equally peaked. Taking part in such programs enhances my teaching practice by integrating my experiences into my lessons. Immersing myself in different cultures -- [through] the MENA-SEA program -- broadens my horizon of what it means to be human. My students in turn, benefit from my experiences given that opportunities of this nature do not yet exist for them (something I intend to change).

When I’m not reading or studying, I enjoy a myriad of athletic and outdoor activities. Geocaching, sports, martial arts, and urban exploring are among my favorite past times.

Susan Syme

Troy Athens High School
Troy, MI
AP Human Geography and AP Seminar

I am excited to join the MENA-SEA teacher cohort for the 2020-21 school year and to learn more about regions of the world which do not always get the most emphasis in history and geography texts. Specifically, I am interested in learning more about their cultures and about how migration has changed the cultural landscape in the U.S., especially in the Detroit Metro area.

Since 2014, I have been leading students on educational trips abroad. As any of my students could confirm, I am extremely passionate about the educational value of travel. Pictures and stories from my travels are frequently part of my lessons. Through the MENA-SEA Teacher Program I am excited to gain more knowledge and ideas to add to my lessons. Even though I have been teaching for many years, l have much more to learn. I am thrilled to bring my experiences from this program to my students and colleagues.

Kymberli A. Wregglesworth

Onaway Secondary School
Onaway, MI
Grades 9-12 World History and Cultures, Modern U.S. History, Women’s Studies, Civics, Current Events

I am very excited to network and learn with like-minded, dedicated educators and experts in two fast-growing and very important regions of the world. As an undergraduate student, I traveled to southern India for a year to teach in a small, English-medium school. In addition to learning with students in Grades 4-7, I traveled to a variety of locations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, attended local and regional festivals, and visited the homes of many of my students’ families.
I also travelled with the Gerstacker Education Fellowship to Finland and Germany to study their education systems. Our group visited elementary and secondary schools, as well as a technical college and two universities. Both of these experiences changed how I view not only education, but also myself and the world. I have a much broader understanding that, although we have a number of differences of culture, belief, and language, we have even more similarities in our values and priorities. I am the only teacher who teaches my topics at a very small school. I look forward to gaining a better understanding of the cultures and religions of Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian communities. I also look forward to the opportunity to travel to one of these regions with my cohort group to experience first-hand all aspects of the culture.