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Bringing the World to the Classroom

Visiting international faculty provide cultural enrichment for Loudoun students.

From the moment he greeted his first woman in Virginia, Javier Covo knew he was in for a different experience than he knew back home.

"When in Spain, you meet a girl and you give her two kisses, one on each cheek," Covo said with a laugh. "Here I did that and realized that’s not a good idea."

For the next three years, Covo will be reconciling his traditions and culture with those of the United States as a Spanish teacher at Stone Bridge High School. Covo is one of 29 new international faculty members that will join the school system this year and one of three that will teach at Stone Bridge.

"We’ve have several teachers from other countries," James Person, Stone Bridge’s principal, said. "We live in a global society and it gives us a chance to enrich the fabric of our teaching staff."

Like many of the teachers that come to Loudoun, Covo, 28, will be teaching Spanish and he hopes to bring a different aspect of the language to his classroom.

"I studied history so I want to focus on that aspect of my culture," the former archeologist said. "When you’re bringing in lots of different aspects of a culture, it helps people to learn."

THIS IS THE fifth year Loudoun has had international teachers and this year’s group brings the total number of teachers in the county to 83.

"It really is a cultural exchange," Kristi Hurd, personnel specialist for Loudoun Public Schools, said. "We are broadening the cultural competency of our students."

The Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program, which brings over a majority of the teachers working in Loudoun, began in 1989, helping the teachers to get visas, which allow them to teach in the United States for up to three years.

Each international teacher must have a bachelor’s degree, but Hurd said most of the people working in Loudoun also have their master's degree.

"We tell VIF what subjects we’re looking for an they set up the interviews," she said. "[The teachers] put together an e-application packet and a video clip. We send the links to principals and then they can decide which VIF they would like at their school."

While the teachers must return to their home country after three years, many choose to return after spending the required two years away.

"Word has gotten out in different countries, so not only are different teachers looking to do VIF, but they’re hearing that Loudoun is a great place to work," Hurd said. "They are specially requesting Loudoun."

COVO SAID it was the idea of a passing off some of his culture and learning more about American culture that caused him to become part of the VIF program.

"I love traveling and it was a great opportunity," he said.

It was those same ideas that brought physics teacher Eric Maraon from his home in the Philippines. Maraon, 31, had already been teaching physics for five years in his hometown of Mindanao when he came to Stone Bridge three years ago.

"I came here for the experience," Maraon said. "Coming here was the first time I had been to the States."

Maraon said the biggest challenge when he arrived in Loudoun three years ago was conquering English.

"The first thing was to learn the language," he said. "And then I had to learn my students because we were raised differently culturally. I still work on that."

COMING TO understand their students and the language is only one challenge that international teachers face. They must also adjust to the teaching styles and requirements of the Loudoun school system, which tends to differ extremely from what they know at home.

"On one hand, we’re dealing with teachers who are new to the profession, but we are also dealing with a totally different school culture," Person said. "We have to have a lot of support systems set up for them. This can be very overwhelming if you’re not taught what to do."

Covo admitted he had trouble at the beginning grasping some of policies that he must follow as a staff member at Stone Bridge, but said he is getting a lot of support from Person and members of the school's language department.

"I think I can do a good job but at same time, I think it will be tough," Covo said.

Covo has been assigned a mentor at Stone Bridge, who Person said will help Covo to maneuver through the culture of Loudoun’s schools.

"We will get him whatever help he needs," Person said. "It is the same thing that any other new teacher has."

MARAON SAID it took him a couple of months to catch onto Stone Bridge’s policies, but that he continues to work on the American teaching style.

"If you know the students, you know how to teach them," he said. "Back home, if you don’t do hands-on work that’s OK. Here you need to be interesting and engage them. That’s how they learn."

Even though he has yet to teach a class, Covo said he is prepared for the differences he may face in the classroom.

"I know it is going to be different here," he said. "Back home, the professor teaches and the students listen, learn. Here the class has to be very dynamic. That is new for me."

WHILE COVO was nervous the first time he met some of his students during freshman orientation, he is looking forward to a successful year and believes everything will come together once he enters the classroom.

For Maraon’s part, he is preparing to build on what he has learned from his first two years at Stone Bridge and hopes to make the most of his last year in Loudoun. Due to his visa, Maraon will have to return to the Philippines at the end of the year. His imminent return to his home country does not deter him from wanting to teach in Loudoun.

"Hopefully after two years, I can come back," he said. "I like it here."