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Kuwait educators visit OCM BOCES program

     Twenty-seven education dignitaries from Kuwait traveled this week to Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortland to learn from high school seniors and staff about an on-site, hands-on program offered through the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Education Services (OCM BOCES).

     One of the visitors to the OCM BOCES’ New Vision program serves as second-in-command in Kuwait’s Ministry of Education. Assistant Undersecretary Fatma Alkandari took copious notes during the presentation and later used one word to describe her impression: “Amazing.”

     “She thinks it’s an amazing program where you prepare students for after-school life, whether it’s university or college,” said Suzan Al Bashiti, a Kuwaiti English language teacher and administrator who interpreted for the group, whose primary language is Arabic. “She will start contacting colleges and universities about doing something similar.”

    The visit from Kuwaiti educators came through Rick Beal, executive director of the U.S. branch of KOT Consulting and Training, which is a private education consulting firm based in Kuwait. Beal is also an environmental science professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.

    Beal said the group’s overall goal is to reform education in Kuwait because it is an “old-fashioned, chalk and talk” system with few changes since the 1950s. He took the educators – mostly principals and administrators – to schools in Syracuse, Marcellus and East Syracuse but wanted to wrap it up March 16 with the tour of OCM BOCES’ embedded program at Lime Hollow, which was surrounded by huge, sun-drenched snow drifts from the recent storm.

    “I knew they had to see New Vision,” Beal said.

     As they walked in and out of the nature center, the sharply dressed Kuwaiti educators took selfies in the snow, made videos, tossed snowballs and even sat and played in it. Many wore heavy coats, which Bashiti said the group might wear “maybe 10 days a year” in their mostly hot, desert climate back home. The Arabian Desert covers most of Kuwait, which lies between Saudi Arabia and Iraq in western Asia.

     OCM BOCES instructor Chad DeVoe explained to the group that New Vision is unique because it allows seniors from a variety of school districts to spend half their day at Lime Hollow, working in the outdoors and doing hands-on work, such as studying forestry and tapping trees to produce maple syrup. Students guide their own learning, enjoy a curriculum that integrates multiple subjects, take field trips, perform service work and even earn up to three college credits through Tompkins Cortland Community College.

     OCM BOCES students introduced themselves to the Kuwaiti visitors and explained how much they like the program, especially their outdoor classroom and the independence they feel as students. An electronic portfolio by Cortland senior Garrett Regan, for example, told the visitors that his involvement in New Vision “catapulted” his passion for environmental science.

    The connection to higher education, with the opportunity to earn college credits, seemed to interest the Kuwaiti delegation the most. They directed a slew of logistical questions to Phil Grome, director of Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs at OCM BOCES; Chris DiFulvio, the principal of CTE programs at OCM BOCES’ McEvoy campus in Cortland; and McEvoy CTE school counselor Becky Robertson.

    At the end of the stay, the visitors shared a traditional hot tea with the group and also presented gifts of Kuwaiti flags and pins. OCM BOCES treated the group, in turn, to cheese from Moravia and local Byrne Dairy products such as mint and chocolate milk and Greek yogurt.

    “This was a fantastic and amazing opportunity to meet educators face-to-face from such a distant country and culture,” Grome said. “We were truly honored to meet this delegation and share our successes with them.”

In the photos:
Interpreter Suzan Al Bashiti of Kuwait, who is also an education administrator, speaks to OCM BOCES students and interprets for her fellow educators.

Second from top: Educators from Kuwait fill the education center at Lime Hollow Nature Center.

Third from top: Fatma Al Kandari, far right, is the second-in-command in the Kuwait education system as the assistant undersecretary for general education in the Ministry of Education.

Fourth from top: Kuwait education dignataries share gifts with OCM BOCES staff. From left to right are OCM BOCES CTE teacher Chad DeVoe, CTE Director Phil Grome, Dr. Mohammed Taleb Alkandari of KOT Consulting & Training, Fatma Alkandari of the Kuwait Ministry of Education, McEvoy school counselor Becky Robertson, and McEvoy CTE Principal Chris DeFulvio.

Fifth from top: Kuwaiti education dignitaries snap photos and videos of the snow as they enter Lime Hollow.

Bottom: A Kuwaiti education administrator sits in the snow - on purpose - because it is non-existent in her home country.