Santa Fe 5/6 Center teacher Maria Loewen recently returned from a trip to Paraguay with the Kansas Paraguay Chapter of Partners of the Americas.

Partners of the Americas is an organization with the goal of creating strong partnerships between its member countries. Educational exchanges like the one Loewen participated in are part of that partnership.

“There’s kind of a perception that we have a lot to offer other countries,” Loewen said. “I just really want to emphasize that other countries and other teachers have a lot to offer us. Trips like these need to be an exchange.”

Loewen’s trip lasted 12 days. While there, she was able to tour a variety of schools, including ones with different emphases, such as ecosystems or art. Loewen also participated in an iEARN conference. iEARN is a worldwide educational organization with a focus on classroom collaboration through internet and digital media. Loewen said she hopes she can bring some of the connections she made in Paraguay home with her. She plans on partnering with teachers she met at the iEARN conference to work on an international project with their students.

“A lot of students don’t have experience with cultures outside of the United States and even cultures outside of Newton,” Loewen said. “There is a lot to learn about similarities and differences across cultures, as well as empathy and citizenship skills, when you are doing a project together with another classroom from a different culture.”

Later this summer, another USD 373 educator, Kiley Nelson, will be participating in another exchange. Both women were able to make the trip because of a travel grant administrated by Partners of the Americas and funded by the Bureau of Education and Culture at the State Department. USD 373 board member and president of Kansas Paraguay Partners Steve Richards helped set up the opportunity for both educators.