Thailand delegation visits Howard County school system

Howard County schools officials showcased the system's resources and educational approaches to a delegation of social studies and art supervisors from Thailand this week, joining officials in other local jurisdictions to welcome Asian educators.

The Thai group, led by Benjalug Namfa, the country's deputy secretary general of basic education, met with Superintendent Renee Foose and curriculum staff Tuesday and visited classrooms at Howard High School and Ellicott Mills Middle School on Wednesday.

Members of the Thai delegation said they want to learn how U.S. schools teach art and social studies and how those lessons prepare students to be productive members of society. It is also seeking to expand its approach to arts studies and marveled at how school system office walls were decorated with students' artwork.

"When our teachers talk about art, they say, 'You draw this, you sing this.' But what we see here is what is the meaning of art," said Namfa. "[Here] art is reinforced for students to talk about themselves and write about it. We want the art team to think and extend, go beyond the traditional art learning."

Marcie Taylor-Thoma, Maryland State Department of Education coordinator of social studies in the division of instruction, said that the state has become popular with educators from overseas because of its proximity to Washington and because of its top ranking in the nation for the last four years. She said that many embassies contact the state education department after reading about it in publications.

"They purposely seek out Maryland," said Taylor-Thoma. "We probably have 30 to 50 international delegations a year visit us at the Maryland State Department of Education. Part of the delegation's visit is to come here, to talk to state policy people and to have a sense of what happens to state curriculum and with the state policymaking entity, which is very different from their country's perspective."

Last month, a delegation from Singapore visited Anne Arundel County schools, whose MacArthur Middle School also recently signed a five-year exchange and curriculum agreement with a school in China.

Howard schools officials talked to the Thai delegation about the common core, a new set of standards for reading and math adopted by 45 states including Maryland and the District of Columbia, and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is creating new state tests.

Members of the Thai group said that in addition to Maryland, they will tour institutions in Idaho and Los Angeles. Its officials said that they're focused on America's approach to civic education and broadening its perspective of American democracy programs.

"What we heard is that Maryland is one of the top in quality education," Namfa said. "We chose Howard County because they have a lot of good practices in terms of how to maintain the quality and high expectations for that."

Ratree Sripraiwan, director of the Prayaprasert School in Bangkok, said that her 1,600-student school is in the process of raising its standards and that the facilities in Howard County "support everything that the students have to learn about art. Normally in Thailand the building is conformed basically to education. You can decorate something inside, but it must be in the same style of the building."

Min Kim, specialist of the Howard County office of international student and family services, said that this year the school system has had visits from delegations from Korea and Brazil. The system has partnerships with four districts in China and one in Korea.

She said that many visitors say that they are surprised by the school system's diverse student body, and "they're surprised that we're a very high-performing school system with the diversity that we have."

"Every delegation that we've hosted are very surprised that it is the teachers who move from class to class in elementary schools and not the students," Min said. "And the sheer size of some of our high schools, our facilities for gym, they're impressed by that, as well as our athletic fields, because many of the delegations don't have that kind of fields. They love the cafeterias, because many of the schools don't have the cafeterias we do."

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