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Seneca Valley teachers given their turn to travel to China to study

| Thursday, April 5, 2012

A pair of Seneca Valley high school teachers is gearing up for an educational trip to China after receiving scholarships from a study-abroad program.

Special education teacher Katie Smolter, 26, and English teacher Dan McKosky, 33, are the only teachers from Pennsylvania setting out June 26 on the 10-day excursion, joining 25 other high school teachers selected nationwide.

The two will receive about $3,300 from Education First of Cambridge, Mass, an international program that offers scholarship-funded educational opportunities to high school students and instructors. The money covers airfare, travel and food, said EF spokeswoman Katherine Schlemann.

The tour-guided trip includes visits to the Great Wall of China and the Terra-cotta Warrior tomb in Xi'an in Shaanxi province, which features more than 8,000 clay-molded soldiers standing guard over the grave of China's first emperor. The teachers will attend tai chi classes and visit schools.

Smolter, who teaches a senior modern humanities English class, said she plans to weave into next year's lesson plan the global perspectives she'll acquire on the trip.

"Everything that I'll be experiencing over there will literally fall into my curriculum," she said. "But what a great resource this is, because I'll have firsthand experience."

Smolter and McKosky applied for the scholarship in January after learning about it from high school Principal Mark Korcinsky. Winners had to write three essays conveying commitment to and expertise in spreading global education, said Andrew Hagopian, Education First's professional development coordinator.

"Our goal is to create a network of like-minded global educators," said Hagopian, who prepared the group's itinerary and lined up native-guided tours in various cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. "It's not just knowing the world; it's teaching kids to make connections in a global environment.

"China isn't that far nowadays from Pittsburgh," he added. "Even if (the students) don't travel at all -- which we hope they do -- they're still going to be working in a global environment."

McKosky, who leads a handful of documentary and video production classes and runs the districtwide morning news network, SVTV, is setting aside luggage room for camera equipment to chronicle his expedition. He said he hopes to share documentary clips over the network next school year.

"It would probably be a little nerve-wracking for me, but I hope to interview some people over there to see what they think about America," he said. "I'm most looking forward to getting out on my own and exploring, though -- I didn't think I'd ever get to Asia."

As the trip nears, Smolter and McKosky may take a Mandarin Chinese course online. And within a month of their departure, the two will rendezvous with teachers across the country registered for the trip in an online discussion forum.

"The support from the school and the community has just been awesome, reassuring us that this is going to be a good thing for the school and, of course, for the students," Smolter said.

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