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UW Early Childhood Students from Cheyenne Gain Insights, Experience in Nepal

July 6, 2016
woman blowing bubble for large group of small children in green area outside
Student Jasmine Bustillo, of Cheyenne, blows bubbles for children at Sanskriti International School in Kathmandu, Nepal, during her University of Wyoming internship earlier this summer. (UW Photo)

Four students from Cheyenne were among 12 students in the University of Wyoming’s early childhood education program who gained insights they say will help them become better teachers during a three-week visit to Nepal this summer.

Abbey Kercher, Jasmine Bustillo, Gabrielle Maas and Justine Johnson completed internships for their early childhood education and early childhood special education endorsements by teaching in classrooms in Kathmandu. This was the second group of UW students to make the trip to Nepal, following an inaugural visit by six UW early childhood students in 2014.

Kercher, who has completed her early childhood special education degree, worked at Kathmandu’s Special Education Rehabilitation Center (SERC), the only one serving special-needs children in the country of nearly 30 million people. She spent time in multiple classrooms, sharing ways to keep track of goals and deal with challenging behaviors.

“Through this experience, my life has been touched in many ways,” she says. “The people of Nepal can literally make anything that you can ever imagine out of things we throw away. The woman who started SERC has the biggest heart and the grandest vision for the children she works with and serves. She has shown me that will and determination can make a huge difference in the lives of others. Working with someone so inspiring has helped me to see that the sky is the limit, and that with determination and hard work anything is possible.”

Bustillo, who has graduated with her elementary education degree, worked in a kindergarten-age classroom at Sanskriti International School.

“Personally, I was proud that I was able to experience another country and culture firsthand,” she says. “Professionally, I was able to strengthen my cultural awareness and gain a perspective of early childhood education that I previously did not have. I enjoyed every moment I had in my Nepali classroom.”

woman and young person with heads together by a wall, smiling

Abbey Kercher, of Cheyenne, poses with a student at Kathmandu’s Special Education Rehabilitation Center during her University of Wyoming internship earlier this summer. (UW Photo)

The trip was arranged by early childhood faculty members Samara Madrid and Nikki Baldwin, who accompanied the students as supervisors after leading the first group in 2014. The students participated in a semester’s worth of study and dialogue before going. Supporting the group were the Cheney International Center, the UW Outreach School, and the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

“Our purpose was to provide College of Education students, many of whom have never traveled abroad, the opportunity to teach in early childhood classrooms in a completely different setting than those they may encounter here,” Baldwin says. “Teaching in a classroom with a distinctively different set of cultural norms and values allows students to look at themselves more closely. They come away with increased cultural understanding and the ability to question their assumptions. They need these skills in an increasingly complex teaching environment when they return home.”

The students were placed in four schools serving children and families from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds in Nepal -- including a school with high rates of poverty and homelessness; a preschool that might be considered upper-middle class; and a school that serves children of government officials, international families and private business people.

“These different placements provided excellent discussion points regarding similarities and differences between student experiences,” says Baldwin, who notes that the students participated in individual interviews and group seminars, in addition to completing teacher-journals reflecting their experiences.

Madrid and Baldwin plan to take another group of students to Nepal in two years. Madrid is researching the impact of the international experience on the UW students, with plans to publish results in the next year.

“There is very little published regarding international teaching in early childhood education,” Baldwin says. “We have established strong partnerships in Nepal that we will continue to cultivate.”

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