Capital University education majors have the option of completing their student-teaching requirement abroad through the university's Intercultural Student Teaching program, and now they have a new option on the list of locations.
The university recently added the option for students to complete their student teaching in the Navajo Nation.
It is an addition to a list that includes participating schools and communities in Australia, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, England, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Tanzania or Wales.
Olga Shonia, an associate professor of education at Capital, said she started the IST program in 2011 and modeled it after Indiana University's Global Gateway for Teachers.
Indiana University, where Shonia completed graduate school, partners with Capital for placements. To date, nearly 70 students have participated.
"I always wanted to bring that opportunity for our students, too," Shonia said.
Last year while on sabbatical, Shonia said, she spent two weeks in the Navajo Nation, where she visited the schools and met with the professionals who work with and guide Capital's student teachers.
When Capital's IST program began offering the Navajo Nation student-teaching option earlier this year, "luckily, there was (student) interest right away," Shonia said. "No program can remain alive without student interest."
Reagan Stone is Capital's first IST program participant assigned to the Four Corners Region of northeastern Arizona. Stone has been spending the fall semester student teaching in the Navajo Nation at an eighth-grade social studies at the Pinon Accelerated Middle School in Pinon, Arizona.
Outside of regular class time each day, Stone spends a couple of hours tutoring students, she said in an email detailing her experiences. She helps supervise dinner and occasionally oversees recreational activities in the dorm, she said.
Stone said she has had many opportunities to share cultural experiences because she lives in a dorm at the boarding school with Navajo students who attend the school Monday through Friday, as well as three other student teachers from Indiana.
"I have learned so much about the Navajo culture and feel insanely blessed to have spent time out here," she said. "I have learned about some of their traditional beliefs, like getting up before the sun does and making sure your house is always clean. I have learned about their ceremonies and taken part in a few."
To prepare for student teaching abroad, IST program participants must take a class and participate in a workshop that Shonia teaches.
To prepare for her Navajo Nation assignment, Stone participated in classes offered by Indiana University via Skype and visited the university's Bloomington, Indiana, campus for a weekend of team-building activities and meetings with Navajo educators.
"I have new perspectives. I feel as though I have gained skills to be culturally responsive in my curriculum and in my interactions with people every day," Stone said. "Professionally, I could not have asked for a better student teaching placement. It took me out of my comfort zone, threw me into a classroom with a culture that was just as foreign to me as I was to them.
"Overall," she said, "I have learned so much from my cooperating teacher and my students (in the Navajo Nation) I don't know how I could not be a better educator and person from having known them."
Learning through service is an important component of the IST program, Shonia said, because it helps prepare student teachers for experiences they will encounter throughout their careers.
"We're very proud of this program. It's good for teachers to experience being a minority when they're placed in the Navajo Nation," Shonia said. "They get to experience the culture from within."