Several Fulbright TEA experiences focused on the mental health benefits of nature. Researchers enjoyed a nature walk at Lake Atalanta in Rogers.
Educators from high schools around the world recently traveled to the U of A as part of the Fulbright USA Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program.
They returned home after the six-week immersive experience with more than just academic knowledge to help their students thrive.
The 19 teachers – originally from Tunisia, Venezuela, Chile, India, Nepal, Costa Rica, Panama, Jordan, Latvia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Ecuador, Vietnam, Armenia, Mongolia, Russia and Burkina Faso – also gained new approaches to addressed their students. ‘Mental health needs.
Faculty in different College of Education and Health Professions programs prepared courses for ESL educators in their respective schools. The goal of the Fulbright exchange is to develop the practice of educators so that they can bring knowledge, skills, and global perspectives back to their classrooms. Teachers receive academic seminars for professional development at host universities. In return, they observe classrooms and share their expertise with teachers and students at the host university and local high schools.
Faculty in the college’s counseling program were integral to the program, sharing mental health lessons with international teachers so they would be better equipped to help their students.
A teacher from Vietnam was grateful for the new ideas. He said mental health issues are a heartbreaking problem among Vietnamese students.
“A 15-year-old boy in Hanoi committed suicide by jumping from his family’s apartment last week,” he said. “This was the second student suicide in a month, shocking the public and sparking a fierce debate about how teenagers cope with stress, as well as issues of communication and interaction between parents and children, teachers and students.”
He said Vietnam’s schools do not have professional psychological counselors. Instead, they rely on homeroom teachers to function as advisors.
He was particularly moved by the sessions Associate Professor of Counseling David Christian taught on mental health in schools, and Cindy Rauth learned about using storytelling and the creative arts to improve students’ mental health.
“I’ll never forget what David said about the importance of listening,” noted the Fulbright teacher. “Although I’m not a psychologist, I can help my students by honestly listening to their stories and, in certain situations, bridging the gap between them and their parents. I will try to incorporate art and storytelling into my plans of learning. based on what I have learned”.
Another teacher appreciated the storytelling strategies and put them into practice soon after returning to his school. “I deal with my students’ stress during courses by letting them sing, exercise, tell a short story or listen to music,” he said.
Christian, director of the U of A Adventure Therapy Lab, also focused on the mental health benefits of nature. Some courses included hiking at Lake Atalanta in Rogers. He taught mindfulness sessions as an effective practice for reducing anxiety.
Christian and Jennifer Sugg, a school counselor at Har-Ber Middle School, taught additional mental health training, providing practical prevention and intervention.
Several teachers reported that the mental health emphasis helped them personally.
“I appreciate that there have been several sessions to look after the mental health and psychological well-being of my colleagues and myself,” said one teacher. “So many amazing lessons about learning English as a foreign language and being a better teacher, but those mental health sessions helped me deal with some of the baggage I’d been carrying around for years.”
At Har-Ber High, participants were asked to recall their saddest and happiest moments. One participant reflected on her father’s death and how it changed the course of her life forever. “When we were asked to go to our happy place, I thought about an ex-partner and how that time was the happiest we’ve ever been,” she said. “Those two peaks gave me insight and helped me put some things into context.”
She said the art sessions were also profound. “I started crying almost as soon as I started painting. I called the mask the ‘hidden face’, a kind of Janus. The inside was painted black and red, pain and insecurities. The outer, visible face was brightly colored. and all the ‘sass’ that I like to present to the world in my daily life,” she said. “To be sure, those sessions were important and crucial, holding up a mirror and helping me reflect in a way not done before, either because I didn’t know how to look or because I didn’t want to.”
Another lecturer said he appreciated the time to reflect. “Being a teacher is a 24/7 job. Even on nights, weekends or holidays, most of us keep working and working. Very little time for ourselves or our family,” he said.
A participant from Burkina Faso, who arrived late to the program due to social and political unrest, said, “[The Fulbright Exchange] it has positively influenced my vision for the future and increased my critical thinking.”
Another added: “During the mindfulness sessions, I had the opportunity to cry, think, breathe and work to set my mind on healing.”
The Fulbright Exchange was a collaboration between the U of A and the Spring International Language Center, a professional academic organization on campus that provides English language training and cross-cultural education. Faculty members from the College of Education and Health Professions; Fran Hagstrom, interim associate dean for international education; and Professor Chris Goering were instrumental in working with international teachers during their six-week visit.
Another highlight of the program included a trip to Little Rock, where the teachers met Governor Asa Hutchinson and visited the Little Rock Nine Memorial at the Arkansas Capitol.
of Fulbright Teacher Exchanges are sponsored by American state Department with funding provided by the US government and administered by the US International Research and Exchange Board. Programs are governed by policies established by the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.
Every year about 400 educators from more than 80 countries participate in these exchanges. These fellows teach a total of 75,000 students each year when they return home. If each colleague gives an average of 15 additional years, they will reach approximately 1.5 million students.