Fabiloa Menéndez Mena, an elementary-school teacher in Mexico, said she did not want to miss out on an opportunity to study in the United States, believing that what she would learn could help improve her teachings back home.
It was through a collaboration between the University of Arizona South and the Consulate of Mexico in Douglas that Menéndez — along with three other teachers, also from Mexico — was named a FOBESII Scholar. Her subsequent experience at UA South through the Education Unidos Internship Exchange program has helped to enhance her understanding of the value of multicultural education, Menéndez said.
Now she is applying creative techniques to improve instruction and other ways she interacts with her students. Ultimately, the UA program provided vital information and feedback on classroom aspirations, Menéndez said.
"The program in general was amazing, interesting, meaningful and helpful," Menéndez said. "I decided to participate in the program because I love my career and I love to teach. Not everyone has the chance to go for a semester to a foreign country, to interact with students and do research."
Melissa Silva, services coordinator at UA South, partnered to establish the program under the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research, or FOBESII. UA South's FOBESII scholarship program was announced in the fall as a "best practice" by the Secretary of External Relations in the Mexican Embassy.
"FOBESII's goal is to help both countries develop a 21st-century workforce for our mutual economic prosperity and sustainable social development, and to develop a friendship that understands the binational community in Douglas," Silva said.
The program complements U.S. President Barack Obama's "100,000 Strong in the Americas" initiative, which was launched to increase the number of Western Hemisphere students studying in the U.S.
As part of Education Unidos, the four Mexican teachers spent a semester at Douglas High School while also taking a UA South course to help develop teaching styles meant to better serve students in the border region.
"The border region is sometimes misunderstood and underappreciated, yet it supports major trading and combined co-production," said Etta Kralovec, an associate professor of teacher education at UA South.
"Initiatives such as Education Unidos provide the framework for academic mobility to better understand the inner strengths of both countries," Kralovec said. "Cross-national collaboration, especially in the border community, bridges economic, political, social and educational disparities."
In its third year, Education Unidos also supported Mexican teachers Martha Ingrid Gutierrez Román, Dulce Azucena Rodriguez Banda and Marlene Rojas González for an exchange, which ended recently.
During the internship, the four participants worked closely with Kralovec, who taught a course in pedagogy in which the teachers engaged in action-research in classrooms at Douglas High. There, the group was assisted by Andrea Overman, the principal, and also Ron Aguallo, the Douglas Unified School District superintendent.
"I learned the importance of multiculturalism in our schools, since this phenomenon is important to achieve educational success," Rojas González said. "This program gave me the opportunity to see ahead in my professional career, and gave me the inspiration to start working with students' voices to preserve their cultural identity."
For their research projects, the Mexican teachers focused on topics related to the experiences of binational people who regularly cross the border and Mexican-American students living in the border region.
Kralovec, awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation grant in 2016 to prepare STEM teachers for schools along the Arizona-Mexico border, said this work, as well as the program, is hugely valuable given the expanded emphasis on cross-border educational and research collaborations.
"The action-research project is designed to address and improve educational practices in the border region," Kralovec said, adding that it is "a true academic best-practices exchange."