By Kevin Fletcher

Junior Abby McCracken (far right) spends time with students (and Scooter!) from the school she taught at in Falmouth, Jamaica.

Dr. Sandra Hamar, Columbia College associate professor of Education, has taken the adage, “the whole world is a classroom,” to heart.

When Hamar was a professor at a previous school, she noticed that students in other majors – which often led to more-lucrative careers after college – had access to study-abroad trips, while her student teachers did not. “I got ticked off,” she says. So she approached her school’s administrators, who eventually allowed a study abroad trip. Her first sojourn to Jamaica occurred 10 years ago, and following her arrival at Columbia College last year, she didn’t miss a beat.

Last month, Hamar and a couple of colleagues took 15 Columbia College education majors to Falmouth, Jamaica, for the opportunity to teach in a different setting. Part of the purpose of the week-long trip is to help the future teachers understand different ways to educate students in ways they likely wouldn’t get through their normal student-teaching duties, and part is to broaden their view of the world.

“I was pretty impressed with Columbia College to let a first-year faculty member do something like this,” said Hamar, who credits Dr. Curtis Mason, Education program chair, as well as other faculty and staff across the college for embracing the idea so quickly and earnestly. “I thought I’d have to maybe earn some stripes or jump through some hoops, prove myself – and I was willing to do that – but they said, ‘No, that’s awesome, it’s a great educational opportunity. How can we make it happen?’”

It costs students roughly $1,500 each to make the trip, and they had several months to come up with funds to participate. Students were also able to defray much of the cost with the help of study-abroad scholarships the college offers. In addition, they brought luggage stuffed with donated school supplies and other items to benefit their less-fortunate Jamaican counterparts.

Columbia College students and staff say goodbye to members of the Jamaican team that assisted them during their time in Falmouth.

Dr. Lisa Ford-Brown, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, loves the opportunity these and other students get to study abroad. “Study abroad students learn a new culture, eat new foods, see a new countryside in ways that they haven’t before,” Ford-Brown said. “It’s just an all-around experience that makes them much more aware of differences and much more aware of what they have and don’t. These experiences teach us to be thankful, to work for change, and to see the beauty of what other countries have to offer.”

Abby McKnight works with children in the classroom during the CC student’s week-long trip to Jamaica

With American classrooms enhancing technologically over the last several years, this generation’s teachers are being reminded that throwback solutions still work. Abby McCracken, who will begin her senior year in the fall and just completed her second trip with Hamar to Jamaica, has taken the lesson to heart. “A lot of it is being able to use what you have and still get the same results. The school (in Jamaica) doesn’t have a lot, they don’t have the same manipulatives and different resources that we have in the United States, and yet the kids learn all the same things,” she says. “They make signs out of bottle caps and cardboard and can still get the point across without actually having the fancy things we are lucky to have (in the United States).”

McCracken also was thrown into the fire the way all teachers are at some point in their careers. One morning, her Jamaican teacher didn’t show up to school, so McCracken was informed she’d be substituting that day. “So I just had to pull from what I know and what I had seen the teacher doing earlier in the week. They kind of just threw me in charge of the class, which is kind of crazy, but that really helped me learn and grow. You learn so much from watching other teachers, but once you do it, it solidifies (your confidence that), ‘Oh yeah, I actually do know how to do this.’”

“This trip in just one example that this college is committed to what’s good for students and our future teachers,” Hamar says.