New Zealand summer classroom for 203 teacher

School might be out for summer, but Peggy Kiefer made the world her classroom.

The 57-year-old parent educator from the Ann Reid Early Childhood Center in Naperville took a summer course in New Zealand, immersing herself in the country’s culture and educational system.

“The experience solidified my awareness of the impact of culture, values and traditions within a family and how we as educators, through a relationship, can work together with parents to support their child’s learning and school success,” said Kiefer, who has worked in Naperville School District 203 since 2004.

Kiefer was in New Zealand for almost a month through a program sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The course is designed for certified elementary and secondary school teachers who want to expand their learning through the study of educational systems of other English-speaking countries.

“(The overall goal is) to help develop a better understanding of the world from a new perspective,” Kiefer said. “Immersion in a different culture demonstrates different ways of doing, thinking, feeling and communicating, along with providing me with relationships with people whose values and customs may be different, but no less valid or normal.”

While there, Kiefer participated in what would be comparable to an American elementary school classroom, and visited teen parent high schools supported by the Ministry of Education, day cares, preschools and a special education center.

“There is a strong emphasis on promoting the indigenous culture of New Zealand, which comes from their Maori tribal families,” she said. “All of the schools incorporate Maori language, and many offer immersion program’s much like our dual language.”

Kiefer’s school — which is open year round — was across the street from the Ngunguru Bay.

“Much of the curriculum is based on the water, bush (type of forest), and overall environment,” she said. “There is an outdoor classroom that was built up in the bush, and the children have a very independent way of learning, a lot of team work and cooperation.”

Principal Tarah Allen said she isn’t surprised that Kiefer would use the summer to focus on learning.

“Peggy has relentless energy and passion for serving our at-risk young children and supporting families through her home visiting and developmental curriculum she teaches,” Allen said. “I am not surprised she chose to travel abroad to learn more about culture and how it impacts learning and child development. She is one of the most dedicated professionals I’ve had the privilege to work with.”

Allen said she’s confident Kiefer’s summer adventure will have long-lasting effects.

“She will use her experience and knowledge gained abroad this summer to enhance her work with diverse families, as well as share with the whole staff her experiences and new learning,” the principal said.

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