GULF SHORES, Ala. — Visiting teachers from New York City found a different world when they came to Gulf Shores High School.
But it was one they expected and hoped to find through the experience of seeing how colleagues in another part of the country approach education.
“I think that’s why this partnership is going to be a fruitful as it will be because there’s a lot we can learn from a school such as theirs that and we can also impart on this community,” history teacher Chris Birkel said. “We hope that we can share our vision for what we are doing with you. We hope this will last and just won’t be a flash in the pan.”
Birkel and fellow teachers Carine Darnell and Domenic Danza came from Gulf Shores sister school, the Cultural Academy of Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn. They were introduced at a City Council meeting on Feb. 25. Earlier in the school year four teachers from Gulf Shores visited their school.
“It’s a great partnership with the vision of the city, the vision of the schools and what we are doing with the National Educator Program,” Gulf Shores Principal Ernie Rosado said.
Local teachers Mechele Wilson, math, Susan Nelson, social studies, Lynn Lowell. Science and Nelda Reichley, English, ventured up to New York. According to the teachers there, the Alabama educators made an immediate impact.
“When Mrs. (Mechele) Wilson came into my classroom when the teachers came to visit I watched her engage some students that I felt I had lost a little bit,” Danza, a math teacher, said. “I listened very carefully to what she was doing so that I would keep them on track after she left. It was very, very helpful for me for her to be there.”
Danza said in just one day at Gulf Shores he found some amazing things happening in the classrooms here.
“Today as I came here I saw her and two other teachers doing some amazing teaching, really right-on teaching,”Danza said during his February visit. “I was able to walk around the room and look at the students’ books and watch the way they were doing their work and the way they kept their focus which to me was amazing to see.”
One thing that stood out immediately to Danza was the technology. Gulf Shores’ City Council voted in February of 2012 to give nearly $1 million to the high school with the bulk going for computers for every student.
“To watch them on the computers all day was really, really cool,” Danza said. “The work that’s going on in the classrooms here is really tops. Watching the students put their efforts out is really amazing. I’m looking forward to going back there and taking some of this stuff I’m seeing Mrs. Wilson and the other teachers here do so I can take it back with me and keep on going.”
Darnell, an English as a second language teacher, said the exchange is an important part of the relationship between the sister schools.
“Our name is the Cultural Academy,” she said. “We will exchange our cultural ideas and impart and take back the culture of the school, the culture of the community and will help bridge the gap for our children and our staff. I have learned a lot in one day from their faculty and students.”
Birkel said going to another part of the country is a key to making that exchange worthwhile.
“Even though we are very different I think that’s exactly what makes it a good partnership,” he said. “You can learn a lot from the school around the block, but you can learn a lot more from a school that’s going through a very different circumstances even though we share the same problems, we share the same goals and I think that’s what really matters and what we need to share and continue down the road.”
Mayor Robert Craft welcomed the New York teachers and the experiences they will bring to students in the city.
“One of the things we had hoped to be able to do with our focus on education in the community was to broaden our students and our kids and our community’s horizon,” Craft said. “Let them see the world in a broader sense. And this is exactly what we had hoped to accomplish.”