Student teacher

Hillsborough woman explores

cultures through world travel
By:Sally Goldenberg
   Diane Neal, a Matthew Road resident who teaches third grade at Woodrow Wilson School in New Brunswick, ventured to Costa Rica with 14 other teachers this summer as part of a fellowship to introduce teachers to different cultures.
   Ms. Neal was granted $1,100 by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown to participate in New Jersey Earth Education/Hands Across the Water, a program sponsored by the Educational Information and Resource Center in Sewell.
   Through the grant, Ms. Neal took off to Costa Rica to absorb a different language and culture — both in homes and classrooms — and bring some of that culture back to the United States to share with her own students.
   The theme of the journey was bird migration — a topic Ms. Neal said affects Costa Ricans and New Jersey residents alike.
   "What we did was try to get a glimpse of the culture, the educational system .. as well as the bird migration," she said.
   During the two-week trip, Ms. Neal taught several lessons about bird migration to Costa Rican students as she simultaneously learned from those students about the educational culture of Costa Rica.
   "I was sharing with the students information about the birds and they were helping me to learn the language and I was helping them to learn English as well," she said.
   In order to enhance their learning experience and incorporate her own students into the journey, she brought handmade medallions – created from computer compact discs – with pictures of and facts on birds. Her New Jersey students made the medallions in preparation for her trip.
   During the upcoming school year, Ms. Neal’s former third-grade class will continue a pen-pal relationship with the Costa Rican students she taught.
   "I think it opens up a whole new avenue for students to become engaged," she said of the extended opportunity her trip will provide for her students.
   Then, a Costa Rican teacher will visit Ms. Neal’s classroom during the year and teach several lessons in Spanish, she said. Her students are learning Spanish as part of New Jersey’s world language curriculum requirement and although she herself does not teach or speak Spanish, she said, the emergence of another language in her classroom motivated her to take this trip.
   She returned with a stack of Spanish letters from the Costa Rican students with whom she worked, which she will present to her former third-grade class.
   "I think it’s a very powerful teaching and learning tool to be able to come back into the classroom and be very excited about your experience," she said. "To broaden their horizons and open up the world to them."
   Ms. Neal, a teacher of 29 years, said she has journeyed throughout the world on various educational grants to absorb aspects of other cultures that she uses to enhance her scope of references when teaching.