Our team of five Delawareans arrived in Helsinki without a hitch on Sunday evening. Our group is Dr. Lynn Okagaki, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development – University of Delaware; Dr. Shawn Joseph, Superintendent – Seaford School District; Susan Haberstroh, Ed.D., Education Associate, Legislative Liaison & Regulation Review – Delaware Department of Education, and Diane Albanese*, Teacher – Mariner Middle School in the Cape Henlopen School District. We joined 35 other people from across the United States, organized by a group called the National Public Education Support Fund.
We’ll be in Finland for the next four days visiting schools and talking with educational officials about what Finland is doing to help prepare its children to be amongst the best educated in the world. Our visit aims to synthesize what we learn and work together to apply it back in Delaware and the U.S. more broadly.
The city of Helsinki is beautiful. We are in the older part of the city surrounded by buildings built in the 1700s, yet it is populated by high-end shops. During the day, the streets and the park are filled with bikers and walkers. (With gas close to $8 a gallon, the number of bike riders makes sense.)
Yesterday was our first day visiting schools, and we started with early childhood providers. Our group split up and visited four schools. My group visited a bilingual immersion school. The children were a combination of Finnish and Swedish, and they were learning English. Three and four year olds were being taught at what looked like a typical high-end day care, but the instruction was all in English. The three year olds were clearly just learning the basics, calling out animal names as the teacher read to them. Yet, the five and six year olds were speaking short sentences in English and knew the days of the week, colors, etc. The instructors spoke to them in a normal conversational pace and tone, and the children seemed to be following along. It was clear that these children were on a path to fluency in what was likely their third language.
From a Delaware perspective, it reinforced my support of the bilingual immersion work being encouraged by Governor Markell and targeted districts and charter schools like the Appoquinimink School District, Las Americas Aspira Academy, and Academia Antonio Alonzo, respectively. Perhaps the most important take away for me after learning about all four schools was that they were all of the same high level. Individually, they were not dramatically different than our highest quality early childhood programs, but were different in their consistent high quality for every child. It was a great start, and our team looks forward to seeing some primary schools later today. I look forward to trying to relay what we see.
Please let me know if there are any questions you want us to explore while we’re here.
*Diane Albanese is also blogging during our trip. You can read her reflections and learnings, here.