Ambassador teacher program helps Prince Edward County schools

Published 2:15 pm Sunday, November 13, 2022

FARMVILLE – Claudia Uter’s love for teaching and learning has brought her many miles from her home in Trelawny, Jamaica. Uter has been involved with the Ambassador Teacher Program for the past five years after hearing about it while teaching at Warsop Primary and Infant School.

She decided to embark on the adventure to expand her professional skills and create new connections. That plan brought her to Prince Edward County Elementary School.

“I have been a cultural ambassador in the past, and I became optimistic about teaching in a U.S. school environment,” said Uter. “I was eager to broaden my horizons, so I thought of how the program will benefit from my contributions and how I will benefit from the program.”

Ambassador teacher program helps both groups

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Uter is one of several ambassador teachers here in Prince Edward County Schools. The program helps fill in some gaps for the district, as these teachers take over roles that had been previously open. The same is true for other districts across the state, with

“The teacher ambassador program provides PECPS a very seasoned pool of teachers,” said Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson. “They are highly skilled and committed to our children. We are fortunate to have the program as a resource for our PECPS community.”

The concept is part of the Participate Learning Program (PLP), an international-based company that seeks out teachers from different countries to foster cultural exchange in schools across Virginia, North and South Carolina. To be considered, prospective teachers apply and then go through a number of evaluations. That includes phone interviews, in-person assessments, a review of their digital portfolio and a presentation on why they would be a good candidate.

Then in turn, they receive a J-1 visa, good up to five years. That means they can stay in the country for a five-year period, before deciding, with the company and the school district, if they want to renew. And to be clear, each one is a licensed teacher. The PLP works with each state’s department of education to make sure they are accredited and maintain a valid license.

The focus of this program is to facilitate different cultural experiences in the classroom, allowing students to appreciate diverse perspectives.

Making the transition

There are many differences Uter has found during her time teaching in the U.S. One of the major differences is the resources available for U.S. teachers that most Jamaican teachers do not have access to. According to Uter, some Jamaican classrooms can have up to 60 students per teacher and classroom teachers are not provided with paraprofessionals above the kindergarten level. These teachers also teach in a group setting, without levels of differentiated learning. All students receive the same work.

“I enjoyed teaching here as I can gain access to classroom space, teaching aids/manipulatives, differentiated instruction and a greater use of available technological tools in the classroom that are more effective in the administration and in instructional delivery,” said Uter. “Teaching in the U.S. classroom has given me the opportunity to expound on my pedagogical skills through professional development and learn new concepts to enhance teaching instruction.”

With her time in the program coming to an end, Uter is excited to take the new skills and strategies she has learned back to her home. She plans to implement more game-based learning as she has seen how these games can motivate learning in her students. Her focus as she returns is mainly on reading and literacy.

During her time in the U.S., Uter earned her Master of Science Degree in Education, advancing in Reading and Literacy while also learning how to conduct guided reading groups and small group center rotations. She hopes to apply these new skills to help her students learn and grow in these fundamental academic skills.

“Participating in the Participate Learning Ambassador program allows me to advance my career, learn new skills, strategies and methodologies to implement and expand the minds of young students,” said Uter. “I gained first-hand experience of being in a diverse population where I learned about the diversity of cultures while teaching the Jamaican culture.”