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With Fulbright grant, Meriden teacher hopes to develop ‘culturally responsive’ curriculum

With Fulbright grant, Meriden teacher hopes to develop ‘culturally responsive’ curriculum

MERIDEN — A Washington Middle School teacher will take a trip to Morocco this summer after winning a Fulbright scholarship.

Sarah Stolfi, a social studies teacher at Washington for nine years, said she was intrigued by the University of New Haven grant that will allow her to travel to the North African country.

“It turns out that one of the things they emphasized was a ‘global classroom,’ and I like to think I already have that going on,” Stolfi said.

Stolfi will travel with 11 others in July to participate in UNH’s Global Classrooms and Cultural Connections for the 21st Century Learners: Morocco’s Bountiful Perspectives program.

She plans to use the experience to develop a curriculum that’s “culturally responsive,” focused on breaking down stereotypes and “bringing that knowledge back to the students of Meriden.”

Associate Superintendent Robert Angeli said that “only a handful” of Meriden teachers have been part of a Fulbright program in the past few years. “It’s a prestigious award for educators, and we’re very pleased that she’s been awarded the scholarship,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Stolfi, who heads Washington’s social studies department, has brought experience from other countries into her classroom.

She teamed up with the school’s media center specialist this year on a program called “ePals,” which connects students and teachers from different countries in a pen-pal network. Her students have ePals in France, Italy and England. Stolfi is working on a partnership with a school in Pakistan.

Though language might have been a barrier to the e­Pals, Stolfi selected overseas students learning English as a second language. Plus, “they all speak ‘teenager,’ ” she said.

“We’ve been able to form an amazing partnership, and to see their faces when they know they’ve gotten mail from one of these schools is great,” Stolfi said.

It’s that sort of collaborative learning that Stolfi hopes to continue with help from her Fulbright experience.

“The ability to bring back to Washington Middle School a Moroccan experience — that’s the goal,” Stolfi said.

Stolfi said the curriculum she develops based on her stay in Morocco will focus on the similarities and differences between cultures.

“I’d like to get a handle on it myself,” she said. “Learn about how they live their daily lives, their attitudes and perspectives on things.”

Aiding in that discovery will be the opportunity to stay with a Moroccan family for a while, right after the end of Ramadan.

As part of their preparation, Stolfi and her peers will learn Arabic, a process they’ve already started.

“I’ve already learned some consonants,” Stolfi said, “but you’re reading from right to left. It’s hard to train to your brain to go backwards like that, although I hope by the end to be able to read and even print in Arabic.”

Angeli said, “Teachers who immerse themselves in the subject matter the way she’s doing can really bring it alive for the students. Having Sarah go to Morocco will be an enriching experience for her, but just as great is that it should lead to some exciting opportunities for our students.”

For her part, Stolfi said that she expects to return with plenty to share. “One celebration isn’t going to be enough for me,” she said.

“The trip isn’t just for me,” Stolfi said. “I want my other social studies colleagues to be able to utilize the resources I’ve found, and tips I’ve collected on how to create a global classroom.”

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