Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Engaging with Fijian kava ceremonies. Exploring the startling beauty of New Zealand's Milford Sound. Stepping to the edge of the world in Antarctica. This is why many alumni call our programs the single most influential experience of their university careers.
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June 20th, 2017
Lauren Fenyes, the University of North Texas College of Education student blogger writes: Our first set of school visits was, in my opinion, quite successful! In our “Special Learners in Oceania” study abroad group, we bring a full range of academic and professional experience. Some students work on a regular basis in schools for students with Autism, some are employed by families of children with special needs, some have minimal volunteer experience with individuals with disabilities, and others have little to no experience with special learners at all. Most of us are education majors, some with a focus of special needs and one who intends to become a diagnostician. Four of us are audiology speech-language pathology majors and one student is a behavior analysis major with a focus on early intervention.
With this diverse group, we ventured out to the Mahinawa Specialist School and Resource Centre near Wellington, New Zealand. We were greeted by staff members and five students who sang songs to welcome us into the family of the school. We, in turn, greeted them with an introductory speech delivered by Cory, our sole male member of the group, and we performed a song for them in the Maori tongue (E hara i te mea). Then we shared the traditional breath of life, called the hongi, with each staff member and student to “induct” us into the family. We also enjoyed morning tea with the staff and I had the opportunity to speak with one of the school’s two speech-language therapists to learn about her role in the school and her background in the education system. The rest of the morning was spent observing the class sessions until the staff presented us with a wonderful spread for lunch.
During the first afternoon, I visited Room 1 with some of the older students at the school while they engaged in a science activity of making cheese and then completing an art project they had started earlier in the day. I talked with several of the students about some of their favorite activities, what Texas is like, and their interests in sports and music while we cut out and drew sea life silhouettes for the craft. It was quite difficult to leave the class at the end of the day because we were all enjoying these meaningful interactions so much.
On our second day, we had the opportunity to cheer on the Mahinawa students at a friendly, but competitive soccer game. We visited several other classes before returning to Mahinawa to celebrate and thank their support staff. This time as well as the various morning teas we had at schools, provided plenty of opportunity for our group to engage with the teachers to learn more about their roles and their personal motives for following their interest in special education.
By far, the most meaningful experience at this point in the trip happened on our third day when we visited the special education class at the Ngati Toa primary school. Upon arrival, I immediately connected with one of the students and had the chance to engage in the class’s activities throughout the morning. Being a part of the class alongside the students was a great way to observe how a functioning special education classroom operates. There are certainly some hiccups and obstacles that are bound to arise, but the hands-on immersion of this trip has already proven to be beneficial for our own expansion of knowledge!