WILKES-BARRE — A partnership between Wilkes University and the Republic of Panama is ushering in a new generation of Panamanian teachers and students who are given an opportunity to immerse themselves in American culture on the campus.
Wilkes’ Panamanian initiative, which will be featured among the vendors at the city’s inaugural Multicultural Parade & Festival this weekend, gives native Panamanians English-language learning and an educational experience while providing the Wilkes campus and Panama a bilingual culture.
University Senior Vice President and Provost Anne Skleder said the Panamanian government has committed to their end of the goal.
“We admire the commitment they’re making toward having a bilingual culture, and we want to to everything we can to help that,” she said last week.
The first group of teachers arrived on campus from Panama about two years ago, and the first group of 16 students was welcomed last January, Skleder said.
The educators then become the students, she said, learning teaching techniques and how to speak English so that they can return to their country with the skills to create a modern classroom setting.
The program, called the MEDUCA-Bilingual Panama program, brings educators to colleges and university in North America and the United Kingdom as part of an initiative to bring bilingualism to Panama’s public schools. More than 100 educators have participated in the program so far at Wilkes.
“They go back to their country and create a classroom that is now taught by someone who, while not born in the U.S., has studied and been immersed in an American school,” she said.
Students, meanwhile, also are introduced to an intensive English program. After the year-long program is complete, they enter the university’s undergraduate program. The students’ education is funded by Panama.
With the help of the initiative, Skleder noted, the demographic of Wilkes’ campus is about 27 percent non-white, which is on the cusp of their 30 percent goal.
The students, who were unavailable to speak with the Times Leader last week because they were on a trip to Washington, D.C. — one of several educational trips the students take in the eastern United States — have told university officials they’ve experienced a “welcoming” campus and community in Wilkes-Barre.
They have mentors, meet new friends, go to local churches, and often dine with Skleder and Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy so that the officials can gauge their experiences, Skleder said. They then have the opportunity to return to Panama with a degree and an American college experience.
“For them, it’s life-changing,” Skleder said.
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