Central Bucks West grad, veteran teacher learns lessons in UK journey
WednesdayAug 15, 2018 at 5:00 AM
In January, Angie Mikula and her family arrived in the United Kingdom with three giant suitcases, three carry-ons, and a duffle bag packed to the brim. They then traveled to the town of Grantchester just outside of Cambridge so Mikula could begin her Fulbright teaching adventure.
Angie Mikula is the art teacher you wish you had. Sheâs warm and kind, and would never dream of scolding a student for coloring outside the lines.
Mikula has been an art teacher for 25 years, and for 12 of them sheâs made a home for herself at the Delaware Township School in Sergeantsville, New Jersey, where she teaches art from kindergarten through eighth grade.
âIâve been doing it so long because I get to be around enthusiasm all day, the relationships I forge with students are absolutel y priceless,â said Mikula.
Mikula is a class of 1987 Central Bucks West graduate, who grew up in Doylestown.
Now, the teaching veteran resides in High Bridge, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Brian, and her 7-year-old son.
Six months ago Mikula swapped her cozy New Jersey town for the teaching opportunity of a lifetime across the pond. She took her love of teaching some 3,000 miles away to the United Kingdom.
In January, Mikula and her family arrived in the U.K. with three giant suitcases, three carry-ons, and a duffle bag packed to the brim. They then traveled to the town of Grantchester just outside of Cambridge so Mikula could be begin her Fulbright teaching adventure.
The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program is an international exchange program that allows selected U.S. teachers to collaborate internationally and build a sense of global competence.
Teachers are selected through an application process filled with es says, interviews and anxious anticipation. Once selected, they spend time observing classrooms and attending workshops in a country of their choice.
Mikula chronicled her six-month journey on a blog she began called âGoodnight Londonâ where she talked about conversations on trains and wrote letters to her students back home.
Her Fulbright journey began when she started to notice an unsettling trend among her students.
âI noticed students struggling with anxiety and depression, I was seeing so many bright students unable to attend school because they couldnât handle their stress,â Mikula said.
She continued, âIt broke my heart to see that, so it made me think about what I could do, how I could use art to address this growing problem Iâd been noticing.â
Mikula came across Fulbright during her search for professional development programs. She was seeking out programs to further explore how she could help to alleviate stress and promote char acter development in students through the visual arts.
After teachers have been selected, they make a list of the top 10 to 12 places theyâd like to visit, the list is then whittled down and teachers are assigned to a specific country.
Luckily for Mikula, her No. 1 pick ended up being her temporary home for six months â" a home where she could observe different classrooms to learn how she could better teach mindfulness and global citizenship through the visual arts in her U.S. classroom.
She explained that she chose the U.K. because she wanted to select a country that has a similar political climate to the U.S.
âWe just went through the election, they just went through Brexit, I wanted to see how the tension took a toll on students,â Mikula said.
The veteran teacher attributes growing anxiety in children to the politics that dominate headlines and social media feeds.
âRight now people are acting like youâre either with them or against t hem in terms of politics and itâs taking a toll on students, they can feel their parentsâ anxiety,â Mikula said.
âI think kids are overhearing unguarded conversations that their parents have, and then they bring them into the classroom.â
Mikula noticed this trend both here in the states and over in the U.K.
âTeachers are really on the frontlines of this never-ending battle, everyday theyâre trying to help kids learn how communicate and understand one another, that its OK for someone to think one way and for someone else to think another way,â said Mikula.
She insists that in order for kids to be able to communicate with one another, they need to understand their own brains first. An approach she holds in high regards, is MindUp, a program that's part of the Hawn Foundation.
MindUp was created in collaboration with educators for educators to improve student engagement in learning, academics and focus. The program has 15 lessons now b eing taught in 12 different countries.
âOnce they understand how their brain functions and why they feel the way they feel, they can then find ways to self calm and find the best coping mechanisms for themselves,â Mikula said.
She also thinks the best way to talk with someone you donât agree with is to start a dialogue on something you both can agree on.
âYou have to find the similarities in people you disagree with,â Mikula said.
And thatâs exactly what Mikula did when she was face to face with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.
Devos was visiting the U.S. Ambassador's house in the U.K. where Mikula was also invited on behalf of the Fulbright program.
âI know mental well being is one of her platforms so I built the conversation off that, I made sure to throw social justice in there too which I was pretty proud of myself for,â Mikula said with a chuckle.
Aside from dining with ambassadors and speaking with secretar ies of education, in her time in the U.K. Mikula also noticed another thing our classrooms share â" an emphasis on standardized testing.
Except in the U.K., standardized tests are even more stressful for students and teachers.
âIf you think it's bad here, it's even worse over there, teachers usually quit after their first five years, the expectations have been accelerated greatly,â Mikula said.
Mikulaâs son even felt the pressure of the countryâs academic expectations at the school he attended, Newnham Croft Primary School in Cambridge.
âThey were teaching him Italian, and they phrase questions like what is â " of 21 rather than asking whatâs 21 divided by 3,â Mikula said.
Although Mikula wasnât wild about the high expectations set for young kids, she was happy that her son made fast friends from all over the world at his new school.
Mikula made friends from all over the world as well, as she recalled one of her favorite moments in the U.K. was just sitting on a park bench with other moms from different countries.
âSitting there with them conversing about politics and globalism as we all watched our kids play together was pretty surreal,â Mikula recalled.
She urges students to have a larger world view.
âI like to teach through a lens of global citizenship so students can be aware that theyâre a part of something so much bigger than they could ever imagine, it helps students gain confidence knowing they count in the world,â Mikula said.
After her six-month international journey, Mikula is proud to admit that her school will be adopting and teaching the concept of mindfulness this fall.
âIâm so excited that weâre going to be a part of this piloting platform so that students can begin starting a dialogue,â she said.Source: Google News United Kingdom | Netizen 24 United Kingdom