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An Exchange of Ideas

October 2, 2012

The South has always been known for its "southern hospitality." We're known for being warm and welcoming visitors to our homes, towns and cities. This hospitality was noted by recent visitors to Averett and Danville from Wales.

"The personal interaction has been amazing," said Dr. Russell Grigg, head of the South West Wales Centre of Teacher Education. "Everyone has been so accommodating. I was impressed by the hospitality provided last year by the University, and they've been equally wonderful with the students." Grigg was one of three professors from the University of Wales, Trinity St. David, who, along with 18 students studying to be teachers, visited Averett and the Danville area September 8-12.

While they were here, the students and their professors toured Danville, visiting the Crossing at the Dan, the Danville Science Center and several area shopping centers like Coleman Market Place and Piedmont Mall. But it wasn't all fun and games. They also sat in on several education classes and visited several local public schools including Grove Park Preschool, Northside Preschool and Brosville Elementary School. In addition, the Welsh students had several tasks they had to complete as part of the trip. One of those tasks was to study the environment they were in and to photograph different things, such as signs of childhood.

For Rachel Forster and Laura Thomas, who are both in their third year and wanted to find out more about the education system in a different country, the experience was an eye opening one. Forester described the experience as seeing "a different way of life."

"The special needs class (we visited) was fabulous," Forster said. "Here, the teachers try to get them in (to the classroom) faster so that there isn't a lapse in their learning process. Back home, it's a longer process."

Both ladies were surprised by the length of the school day. In Wales, students have an hour for lunch and are able to take several breaks. They were also surprised at the emphasis placed on testing — Virginia's Standards of Learning tests.

"(The students) have impeccable behavior and manners," Thomas said. "They're all so polite and well mannered," and she wondered if that was due to the structured environment the children have. She explained that in Wales, their school environment is more laid back and the children have more freedom.

Grigg further explained that in Wales, the curriculum is not compartmentalized and the environment is a big part of their curriculum. "I think it's important for our students to gain a variety of experiences, to experience firsthand the similarities and differences."

This summer, three students from Averett, along with Education Professor Dr. Pam Riedel, spent two weeks in Wales at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David. Both universities are hoping to send students across the Atlantic Ocean on a regular basis to study the education system of a different country.