With the help of one camera, one teacher and several seventh-graders, Loudoun County Public Schools are going international in a big way.
During the week of May 16 through 19, Danish television reporter Mikkel Joensen visited two classrooms at Belmont Ridge and Mercer middle schools to turn his cameras on American schools for a news report that aired on Danish television Sunday, June 4.
Joensen learned about Loudoun’s schools through the experience of one of his fellow Danes.
Rikke Dehnbostel and her husband, Jan, came to Loudoun County with their 15-year-old son, Jacques, as part of the county’s Visiting International Faculty program. Dehnbostel teaches family and consumer sciences (FACS) at Belmont Ridge and Mercer, while her husband teaches German at Potomac Falls High School and Seneca Ridge and River Bend middle schools. Their son is a freshman at Potomac Falls.
“There are great benefits to the program,” Mercer Principal Ric Gauriloff said. “It brings real-life people, not pictures, into the classroom. There is a rich variety of culture here and the more we can bring to the students the better it is”
DEHNBOSTEL BROUGHT international coverage to her students quite by accident, however.
Since she has been teaching in Loudoun, several articles have been written in Denmark about Danish teachers working in the states. Then Dehnbostel was nominated as Cultural Educator of the Year.
“The news went back to Denmark and a TV reporter picked up on the story,” she said. “[Joenson] asked if he could follow me for a week.”
Dehnbostel said the decision to film her in her schools has very little to do with her and more to do with changes occurring in the Danish school system.
“The government wants to add more standardized tests in schools, more grades,” she said. “Denmark students are first tested in the ninth grade and they want to change that.”
The idea of bringing more testing into Danish schools is a big issue with Denmark’s teachers' union and citizens, Dehnbostel said.
Joensen’s goal with the program was to show the differences between the two schools systems.
“Classes are content and project based in Denmark and in America we are teaching towards a test,” Dehnbostel said. “[Joensen] was asking the question, ‘Is this where we are going in Denmark?’ He wanted to show what classrooms with tests were like.”
Belmont Ridge Principal Theresa Redd, who was featured in a follow-up segment, said she enjoyed talking with Joensen about the county’s testing practices.
“It was a wonderful experience to converse with someone about the concerns they have about testing,” she said. “It is no secret that we are SOL [Standards of Learning] based, but I think we take it to the next level.”
Redd said she has talked with Dehnbostel in the past about the concerns Danes have about losing the problem-solving aspect of their classrooms.
“We do deal with problem solving, we just start out by teaching the skills and then we build into concepts and problem solving,” Redd said. “I think that is important to understand.”
WHILE JOENSEN’S NEWS program was focused on difficult questions, the experience of filming was nothing but exciting for those involved.
“It was a fantastic experience. He was with me in all of my classes,” Dehnbostel said. “He interviewed students and teachers and my principals.”
Indeed, Belmont Ridge seventh-graders Caroline Synder and Alex Arbour were featured prominently in Joensen’s final product. The girls answered questions about how often they were tested, how it affected the rest of their lives and whether they thought it helped them learn and prepare for the future.
“[The girls] really grasp on the purpose of SOL testing,” Redd said. “Of course, I am sure they wish there were fewer tests.”
“The students were great,” Gauriloff said of his Mercer students. “Kids this age will do whatever it is you need them to do. They’re wonderful when it comes to things like this.”
Gauriloff himself was interviewed by Joensen, an experience he called “different.”
“He was a one-man show,” Gauriloff said. “He did the camera work and all the interviewing himself.”
Dehnbostel said the experience was the perfect end to a perfect year, even if it put her a little out of her element.
“The Danish are a very humble people,” she said. “The whole media thing is very new to us. But what an experience. It’s maturing all of us very much.”