Photo: The 17-member delegation posed at the Hemingway Museum in Cuba.The Minnesota delegation at the Hemingway Museum near Havana

Hola, Cuba!

A delegation led by CEHD traveled to Havana in January for an international education conference

Joining more than 5,000 educators from across the globe, 17 CEHD representatives from three departments and the community attended the Pedagogia 2017 International Conference, Unity of Educators, in Havana, Cuba, in January. It was the largest U.S. delegation to travel to Cuba and present at a conference.

Photo: The delegation joined other educators at the opening ceremonies of the Pedagogia 2017 International Conference.
The delegation joined other educators at the opening ceremonies of the Pedagogia 2017 International Conference.

Associate Dean Deborah Dillon led the group, which included experts in reading and literacy, second languages and culture, language immersion education, bilingual education, special education, access and inclusion, multicultural education, immigrant youth, and pathways to diversifying the teaching force.

All the Minnesota presentations were delivered or translated into Spanish thanks to graduate student delegates Stephanie Owen-Lyons, Alexander Giraldo, and Julio Cabrera Morales. They not only presented their own work at the conference but translated others’ papers and also served as interpreters to aid interactions with participating scholars.

Associate Dean Deborah Dillon met with Cuban colleague Ana Sosa at the conference.
Associate Dean Deborah Dillon met Cuban colleague Ana Sosa at the conference.

Beyond the conference, the delegation visited schools and met with local educators.

“For me the most important part of the trip was visiting the schools,” said Karina Elze, a Minneapolis teacher in the delegation who got to observe preschool through Grade 2 and Grade 5 classrooms. She was interested to learn about different approaches and methods, such as kindergarten standards. Elze says she came away with new perspectives and appreciation of both the U.S. and Cuban models.

“There is a belief that teachers cannot succeed without the support of families—parents are considered the most important teacher in the child’s life,” Elze observed. “Families must sign up and be committed to help their children learn. The teacher is also a respected figure in society who brings knowledge to the students.”

Another highlight was visiting the National Literacy Museum, which documents Cuba’s 1960s campaign to boost literacy. The Minnesota delegation spent a morning with museum director Luisa Campos Gallardo and celebrated Cuban author Nancy Morejón. Now 73, Morejón was a teen in 1961 when she joined the literacy campaign. She was among 100,000 young people—volunteer youth from 8 to 18—who left their own families for a year and traveled to towns all over the island to live with families and teach parents and their children to read and write. The volunteers also worked on the farms, side-by-side with those they taught, learning about the lives and culture of fellow Cubans and connecting with them spiritually, emotionally, as well as intellectually. The effort brought Cuba’s literacy rate to 97 percent, among the highest in the world.

“We found the Cuban people welcoming and kind, open in sharing ideas, interested in our research and projects, generous with their time, and always expressing a desire to build relationships,” said Dillon. “I have learned and been changed forever by this amazing experience and the opportunity to share it with my valued colleagues and friends.”

Delegation members were faculty members Heidi Barajas and Laura Koch from the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development; Martha Bigelow, Blanca Caldas Chumbes, Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr, J.B. Mayo, David O’Brien, and Karla Stone from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction; and Panayiota Kendeou and Rose Vukovic form the Department of Educational Psychology; alumna Michelle Benegas, ’15; and in-service teachers Amy Hewitt-Olatunde from St. Paul Public Schools and Karina Elze from Minneapolis Public Schools, in addition to Dillon and graduate students Owen-Lyons, Giraldo, and Cabrera Morales.

The impetus for the trip came from State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, who contacted CEHD’s Dean Quam and Dillon, requesting that they secure a group of diverse scholars and practitioners from the college and community to make the trip. Senator Torres Ray planned to join the delegation but was unable to leave her work at the Capitol during the legislative session.

Story by Ellen Fee and Gayla Marty | Photos by David O’Brien | Spring/Summer 2017