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Educational Adventure

Summer break may invoke images of relaxing in the sunshine by a pool or tropical vacations but for three teacher education majors it involved traveling more than 9,000 miles to Cape Town, South Africa.

Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Ann Gillies, PhD, accompanied students Ashley Blankenbeckler, Lindsay Carpenter and Julie Boano, who are each members of the CMU Council for Exceptional Children Club, on the trip overseas this past August. The students presented on inclusive education at the Division of International Special Education Services of the Council for Exception Children.

“We listened to people from Tanzania, Russia and Germany present about their education systems. It was interesting to learn we (U.S.) face the same problems that every other country does,” said senior Blankenbeckler, who traveled outside of the U.S. for the first time on this trip.

There were hundreds of people from about 30 countries presenting 170 presentations at the 3-day-long conference. Blankenbeckler, Carpenter and Boano were a few of the only students present at the conference. The rest of the attendees were professors, researchers, administrators and doctoral students.

“Watching the three gals standing at their poster and speaking about their firm belief in inclusive education with professors from around the world was probably the best moment of the trip,” said Gillies.

After the conference, the group volunteered at The Aiden Rose Centre, which is an inclusive learning facility and daycare. The centre, established in 2012, caters to children with medical conditions, including spina bifida, anorectal malformation and feeding tubes, but it also includes children without disabilities.

“The centre was a beautiful example of inclusive education in another country,” Gillies said.

Once at the centre, the CMU team was able to work closely with Aiden Rose students for a couple of days and discuss strategy with the centre’s administration. The CMU students also assisted when the Aiden Rose Centre students attended hippotherapy, a form of physical, occupational or speech therapy conducted by riding horses.

“This experience reinforced all that CMU is teaching on how to create an inclusive, connected community in the classroom,” said Gillies. “The real-world experience is the best way for future teachers to learn and understand how to be professionals.”  

“I’m nervous for student teaching this year,” said Blankenbeckler. “But excited to use what I’ve learned in the classroom.”

During the three-week trip abroad, the group also went on a safari and toured the Cape of Good Hope.