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International Teachers Experience the Southern Appalachian Pioneer Life

The Center for Pioneer Life partnered with Participate Learning in 2019 to create a summer learning experience for more than 75 international teachers. The teachers hailed from Jamaica, Columbia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico, China, United Kingdom, and Venezuela. The fellowship allowed them to explore American culture while immersed in the 1850s life of the Toe River Valley of western North Carolina.

These highly selected teachers each spend up to five years teaching in American public schools. As part of their required training, they must engage in activities that help them understand American history and culture. This requirement encourages teachers to be more effective in their work in the United States, but of equal importance, they take this knowledge back to their native countries to share with their students.

The teachers trained at the Center for Pioneer Life in groups of 15 per week, ensuring an intimate and cohesive learning retreat. Grounded in the facts and history of the Appalachian people and their lives, the Center’s program shared with these teachers a more authentic picture of the people of the southern mountains than has been commonly depicted.







The distinctive tastes, sights, and sounds of the region were part of a curriculum designed to give teachers a visceral understanding of the area and whet their appetite for learning more. They were intended to leave with an enriched vocabulary, reference materials, lesson plans and creative exercises for classroom use as well. This experiential learning opportunity allows teachers to explore American culture in a unique and fun way while building community with other teachers.

Geraldine Plato, CEO and President of the Center, says she anticipates replicating this program for regional teachers as well. “We want teachers to leave with a memorable mountain experience and a deeper understanding of the parallels between the resilience the 1850 mountain settlers exhibited, and the kind of resilience required to meet our own 21st Century frontiers. And if we do our job right, they will also leave with a love for a place they didn’t truly know before."

“We were delighted to have access to the Center for Pioneer Life for our international teachers," said David Young, CEO of Participate Learning. "The U.S. Department of State requires that our teachers secure two cultural immersion experiences annually to renew their visas. We look forward to continuing a mutually beneficial relationship with the Center as they grow this unique on-site training program."  Since its inception in 1987 Participate Learning has hosted more than 30,000 teachers in the United States and recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

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