By Kristina Urboniene, Lithuania
I have been asking myself about what makes a person happy.
It is not easy to answer this question. Some moments in our lives help to identify the most important or even vital things that make our lives better and more meaningful. In my life it is the SUSI programme that is contributing greatly to my preparation for giving a course to my students on American Culture and Education. The more we know, the more interesting our lives become.
WELCOME TO THE CAPITOL
Our visit to Helena, the capital of Montana on June the 8th, provided all the scholars with the opportunities to explore different facets of state government and introduced to the educational policy as it is influenced at state level. We started our exploration from the most important and significant building – the state capitol, which is called “the People’s House” and the crown jewel of Montana architecture. As with all state capitols, the primary purpose of Montana’s statehouse is to facilitate the workings of state government. For more than eleven decades, this building has borne witness to the key political events that continue to shape life in the Treasure State. The capitol serves as both an icon of democracy and museum of Montana art and history.
We were welcomed by Ms. Siri Smillie, the Education Policy Advisor to the Governor, who told us about the current educational issues in Montana, such as curriculum design, accreditation of schools, testing and others. Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney discussed the history of Montana’s 1972 Constitutional Convention, during which one hundred grassroots delegates gathered to rewrite the state constitution. He also spoke about educational issues in Montana, specifically regarding Governor Steve Bullock’s education policy initiatives. The Governor made historic investments in public education, expanded dual enrolment opportunities, improved access to school breakfast programmes in Montana public schools, ensuring that 40000 more students start every day ready to learn with a healthy breakfast. Moreover, he secured funding to expand access to high-quality early childhood education in 16 Montana communities.
EDUCATION UNIONS IN MONTANA
During the second meeting we had a chance to talk to the representatives of Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, the Union of 17000 members most of them being teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school-related personnel. Mr. Eric Feaver, MEA-MFT president, emphasised the issues of education, such as teacher shortage (which is completely different for my country – we lack students), and the situation in native American reservations where 78% of population are native Americans. As the Constitution requires to teach them native history, culture and other issues, such schools need native American teachers to do this in the most professional way. Still, the number of such teacher is very low. This meeting also showed that educators all over the world have problems with their employers and they have to fight for their rights. Associations can help to negotiate and bargain requirements, rules, standards and regulations. The existence and successful work of such unions prove that everyone needs to be a part of something to protect what belongs to you, to have proper conditions to achieve your aim.
GATES OF THE MOUNTAINS TOUR
The third event of the day – a Gates of the Mountains Tour – impressed me most. We explored the Missouri River by boat and learned about the Western expansion through the travels of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The expedition started in 1805, when two explorers were moving upstream the Missouri River. They faced a lot of problems, the strangest of which was the illusion of rocks moving and opening or closing the gate in the mountains. This is the reason why this place is called Gates of the Mountains because at some point it seems that the way is blocked and you cannot move forward. Unexpectedly, when you move slowly closer to it, great stone walls open like giant gates. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson as the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. And again, even taking place more than two hundred years ago, this expedition proves the necessity of staying together and getting over difficulties and problems together.
After having seen, heard and experienced so much today I can say that
no matter where and when a person or a nation is or was, no matter what their nationalities are – people have to be happy. They cannot act alone, they have to be a part of something, whether it is a state, a nation, a union… People need each other if they want to be happy. Remember, united we stand, divided we fall.
I am so happy to be one of SUSI scholars! I believe this programme will help me to improve, to develop both personally and professionally to educate my students as global citizens with their own opinions and viewpoints, willing to co-operate and fulfil their dreams.