A band of four Jordanian school principals have been touring local schools and colleges this week as part of a Fulbright Fellowship cultural exchange program.
The two women and two men from Jordan lead single-sex public schools, which is the custom in the Middle Eastern nation.
The group ventured through schools in the Gainesville and Hall County school systems, and also toured Gainesville State College, Brenau Academy and attended a Pioneer Regional Education Service Agency meeting during a nine-day visit that ends today.
Mary Lou Frank, associate vice president for academic affairs at Gainesville State College, and her husband, Ken Frank, professor of humanities at Brenau University, jointly submitted the application to the Washington, D.C.-based Fulbright Scholar Program to play host to the distinguished Jordanian scholars.
The Franks also submitted an application to the Fulbright Scholar Program last year and entertained four Brazilian educators in December as they toured schools with the aid of a translator.
The Jordanian scholars are fluent in English. As they toured Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, Gainesville Middle School, Gainesville High School, West Hall High and Johnson High, among others, they were able to interact with students and teachers without a translator.
Mary Lou Frank said the Brazilian exchange was so academically fulfilling last year, she and her husband invited and received four more international educators. She said the Fulbright Scholar Program typically appoints only one scholar to an applicant, but that the public-private partnership between Gainesville State College and Brenau University made their application particularly attractive.
"Their purpose is to understand more about us, and our goal is to learn from them," Mary Lou Frank said. "... Their educational system is really based on the American education system. It’s interesting to see their interpretation of that."
She said in part because Jordan uses a similar K-12 free public education model, the mostly middle and high school principals from Jordan wanted to tour the local colleges to see how American schools, public and private, educate teachers. The Jordanians toured K-12 schools to get a look at how the curriculum is implemented and instruction directed.
Khetam Al-Eiedi, who serves as principal of Al-Mazar Secondary School for 11th- and 12th-grade girls in Al-Karak, was one of the Jordanian Fulbright scholars who participated in the nine-day tour.
"You find here the teacher can choose the curriculum they use. There’s also a greater degree of freedom for students. I like that," she said.
Al-Eiedi explained that in Jordan, there’s a national curriculum. From subject to subject and grade to grade, students nationwide study the exact same material with the exact same textbooks. She said she liked the freedom local teachers have to help students explore their own curiosities in the classroom.
Nadia Obeidat, head mistress of Hubrass Secondary School for K-12 girls near Irbid, said students must attend school through 10th grade in Jordan. After that, students are guided toward different educations, either in the realms of science, literature or technical trade schools.
Ken Frank said his experience with the Jordanians has exposed him to the immigration difficulties Jordan also faces. He said refugees from Iraq and Palestinian territories have been flooding into the country, and the Jordanian government is seeking to provide them all with an education.
"There’s truly an effort in their country to educate everyone, whether they’re refugees or Jordanian people themselves," Ken Frank said. "I was really impressed with that."
Obeidat said her experience in Georgia has been very warm and welcoming, and she has gained much insight into the American educational system.
"I want to know about education all over the world. Through Fulbright, I have gotten that chance," she said.