Karina Escajeda

Cony Middle and High School, Augusta ME

Complete Arabic language & cultural immersion at The Arabic Language School in Dahab, Egypt, to improve family partnerships and refugee student engagement; create community workshops; and increase student understanding of the value peers emigrating from Iraq and Syria add to the school culture.

Where I've Been

  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Dahab, Egypt
  • Luxor, Egypt
  • Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

My Fellowship in Images

Hanging out at St. Catherine's monastery with my Bedouin friend, Jamal!
Experiencing a weekend of camping in the desert in Ras Abu Galum!
On the east side of the Nile in Luxor- the temple side (the west side of the Nile is reserved for the tombs, never the temples)
In Edfu, the hieroglyphics mostly don't make any sense, because the Greeks just put them up for show- not for information!
My 7th grade history teacher, Mr. Brown, would be so happy that I finally made it to the Aswan High Dam! We saw Philae as well here, but I had to post at the DAM!
A 15 hr train ride from Aswan to Cairo, then the amazing sight of the great pyramids to round off the journey. What an incredible feeling!

Igniting Personal and Professional Growth

What changed as a result of your fellowship? Why was it vital for you to pursue this particular opportunity/experience? What learning gaps (yours and/or your students’) were/will be filled as a result of your fellowship?

I have changed as a language teacher, through this experience. I speak Spanish and English already, but the experience of learning Arabic in Egypt has already informed my preparations for the beginning of the school year, and how I will approach the English instruction in my classroom in 2019-2020 and beyond. All of my English Language Learners are Arabic speakers; this experience brings me closer to them and their families, & helps me teach English specific to their linguistic needs.

How do you see your teaching evolving after your fellowship? Your students’ learning?

I intend to become much more experiential, immersing students in inquiry projects specific to their interests and the needs of our community. I recognize more the importance of getting out of the classroom as much as possible for language development. Within the context of engaging the senses and of forming memories by active participation, I intend to regularly use district vans and transport vehicles to continually engage in project-based learning with my ELL students, sharing with all kids.

What were some unplanned or unexpected experiences or outcomes of your fellowship?

This become equally about understanding the learning process and what it means to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, a bit too perfectionistic, and really hard on myself as a language learner. I realize more deeply how my students feel. I speak Spanish as well as English already, but it has been 30 years since I was at this point in the development of a new language. I also understand my students' parents and their age-related frustrations with learning English much better.

Impacting Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your students learn differently because of your new knowledge or skills?

I have a renewed drive to make sure that all language instruction is context-based and experience driven. Classroom drills were a big part of my Arabic instruction, and it did have it's place- but my clearest memories and sharpest language retention came from the times when I had to use the language in a participatory manner- really interacting with people while shopping, navigating the city, learning new social English, or getting to know the culture and music of Egypt.

What specific events, projects or deliverables will your students experience related to your fellowship?

My students were going to do a yearlong online collaboration with students at Futures school Dahab during the 19-20 school year. However, since I have also been fortunate enough to be selected for the 19-20 cohort of Fulbright Distinguighed Awards in Teaching Fellows, I will be in Greece in the 2nd semester of this upcoming school year. So, the Futures School and I have decided to do a Fall '19 collaboration, in which our students each present about their stories and their communities.

How, specifically, will your fellowship extend beyond your classroom? (e.g. families, school-at-large, afterschool groups, surrounding community, colleagues, etc.)

I have planned workshops with teachers district-wide to raise cultural awareness, and storytelling within the ELL community and to others using video production supports. I will be heading up a student interest group in Arabic language, in the hopes of spurring interest in an actual Arabic language offering for credit. In the fall, I will be sharing my experience in Egypt with elementary students as a presenter for several classrooms who participated in the journey by asking questions.

Inspiring the Future

Why was this opportunity transformative for your teaching on a macro-level?

This experience opened my eyes, again, to my interest in creating cross-cultural connections on both a local AND global level. It has been the foundation of my preparation for my Fulbright semester in Greece in January-June of 2020, studying effective refugee integration into learning communities and neighborhoods. I feel that there will likely be another change in my role as an educator coming up, after I return from my Fulbright experience, and Fund for Teachers has been important to that.

Why do students benefit from this type of teacher learning?

It is SO important for teachers to be engaged in rigorous inquiry that makes us experience frustration, but in a joyful way because it is learning that WE have chosen to do, not that has been assigned to us as part of our official duties. Students learn from people that they LOVE. That love only comes through authenticity, and teachers can't be authentic unless we are giving parts of ourselves that are REAL- our love for learning is reignited through funding to pursue our passions.

How would you describe to a friend or grant funder the fundamental ways in which your fellowship changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

Fund for Teachers has renewed my faith that there ARE organizations in our country that see teachers as educated professionals who know themselves and their communities well enough to be effective advocates for their own needs. The process of working on my inquiry proposal for FFT was the catalyst for my successful Fulbright proposal. I realized through FFT that I AM a capable expert educator that can contribute meaningfully to my hometown, region, and after FFT and Fulbright, who knows? MORE.