By Willa Vigneault and Pearl Vercruysse
Three teachers from the Netherlands visited the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School last week. Corien Lammers, Martijn van Veldhuien, and Saskia Troost are all teachers in public schools around the Netherlands who were participating in an exchange to observe how schools in the United States vary from those in the Netherlands.
The exchange was through the Netherlands Fulbright Foundation in collaboration with the Institute for Training and Development (ITD) in Amherst. The trip was funded by Holland’s Secretary of Education.
There were 20 places available in the program and 93 applicants for the entire Netherlands. Ms. Lammers said, “I found it strange that more teachers didn’t apply; it’s such an amazing opportunity for personal growth and development.”
All the teachers expressed a different reason when asked why they applied to the program. Ms. Troost explained that in the Netherlands students are placed in high school levels based on their performance in their weakest subject. This results in classes with a wide range of student ability. Since schools in the US also have many classes with a range of student ability, Ms. Troost wanted to observe how the teachers deal with that and cater to the different needs.
The three applicants who visited the regional high school were hosted by Spanish teacher Cindy West. Ms. West chaperoned five students to El Salvador in the summer of 2014, with a program through the US State Department that was organized by ITD. “I had such a great experience in El Salvador; when ITD contacted me and asked me to host these teachers, I couldn’t say no,” she said.
The teachers were impressed by the quality of the school and the sense of ownership and pride students have towards their school, noting the message reading “This is Your Library” that greets students as they enter the space.
“In the Netherlands,” said Ms. Troost, “school is only for academics. When it ends at four, our students leave if they want to do sports or other activities.”
Mr. Veldhuien said, “Here, the school is a product of the students. They’re involved in everything, the clubs, the sports, student council. Even the way it’s decorated; it is student art on the walls.”
The teachers admired the murals on the walls and even answered the question on the library’s wall, “I want people to know…,” to which Mr. Veldhuien wrote “that Denmark is not the capital of the Netherlands.”
Mr. Veldhuien also admired the sense of community at the high school and how that sense manifests itself. Everyone is a part of the school and everyone contributes to the school.
Ms. Lammers saw her point even more broadly, in the context of the nation as a whole. She said, “It helps contribute to the feeling that ‘we’ as a whole are part of America, not just ‘I’ am a part of America. We are all one.”
The teachers were also impressed with how motivated the students are here. In the Netherlands, the students are placed in high school based on a test they take when they are 12-years-old, and only the students in the highest level high school go to University. However, if you are in that high school, you are guaranteed entrance to University so there is no motivation to work. Ms Troost said, “In classes you take things very seriously, like if the teacher asks you to discuss something, you actually do it. We went to Model UN and I thought it was crazy that students came back to school at 5:30. “If I asked my students to do that they would look at me like I had lost my mind.”