Bexley High School art teacher Mabi Ponce de Leon has had much to tell her students about how she spent her summer vacation.

Ponce de Leon is incorporating lessons in the classroom that draw on her experiences in Ecuador and Peru while visiting in June and July as part of an international program.

Ponce de Leon was one of 12 educators selected from 80 applicants to participate in the Ohio State University's Latin American Studies Fulbright-Hays Study Abroad Program, Teaching the Andes.

The award included a variety of educational and cultural activities as well as funding for transportation, lodging and meals.

"We saw some archaeological sites. We experienced ceremonies, festivals," Ponce de Leon said. "You couldn't replicate that on your own. It's not something you could book with a travel agent."

Ponce de Leon and a group of educators led by professors Michelle Wibbelsman and Terrell Morgan participated in pre-travel workshops held June 14 and 15 at Ohio State.

The group arrived in Quito, Ecuador, on June 16. Over the course of a month, participants traveled to Otavalo, Ecuador, then to Lima and Cuzco, Peru. The group returned to Columbus on July 17.

The itinerary included visiting a school in Peguche, Ecuador, observing classroom instruction and interacting with teachers; participating in Otavalo's Inti Raymi festival, an annual celebration that takes place on the summer solstice; and journeying to archeological sites in Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes, Peru.

Ponce de Leon, who is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, said she spoke Spanish with residents but also learned about indigenous languages such as Kichwa, which is still spoken in Ecuador, and Quechua, which is common in Peru.

She also studied customs such as Sumac Kawsay, the Andean philosophy of "good living" and communing with the Earth and its inhabitants.

"We had a meal in a circle," Ponce de Leon said. "The idea of community is very strong in the Andes."

Ponce de Leon, who is working on her doctorate at Ohio State, said she has begun translating her experiences in the Andes to the classroom.

She teaches studio art and art history in Bexley High School's fine art department.

"I'm now working on an educational blog," she said, "and applying many of the concepts that I learned to my own high school curriculum."

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