Differences in language and culture have presented no obstacle to educators from Turkey and from Hope College who are committed to learning from one another how best to help children with developmental disabilities.
A visit to West Michigan during the first week of May by a group of teachers and administrators from Turkey will continue a relationship that began when two members of the Hope education faculty traveled to their institution in November.
Nancy Cook, associate professor of education, and Dr. Ronald Wolthuis, associate professor emeritus of education, spent a week at the Dr. Gunseli-Dr. Bulent School in Antalya, Turkey, last fall to learn more about how teachers there approached special education and to share some of their expertise as well.
"While there, we observed classroom programs, consulted with administrative personnel, teachers and specialists, met with parents, and provided several professional development programs," said Wolthuis, who has continued to teach at Hope part-time since retiring in 2002.
All conversation took place through interpreters, since Cook and Wolthuis don't speak Turkish and their hosts didn't speak English. Not everything, though, required translation--like the skill that Wolthuis observed in the classroom, and the commitment that quickly became obvious.
"They're outstanding teachers," he said. "I couldn't understand what they were saying, but I could see how effective they were with students."
"We learned a lot about the kind of dedication they have, the compassion they have and how generous they are with their time," he said.
From Monday, May 1, through Thursday, May 4, approximately half a dozen visitors from the school in Turkey will be in Holland and the broader West Michigan region, spending time on campus and observing a variety of sites in the area to see first-hand how children and adults with special needs receive help in the U.S. In addition to meeting with numerous members of the faculty and staff at Hope, the team will visit organizations and programs including Kandu, Pine Rest, the Gray Center in Jenison and the Ottawa Area Center, and will observe special education classrooms in several local school districts.
The professional connection began through a local church. Cook and Wolthuis are both members of Christ Memorial Church in Holland, through which they connected with a contact in Turkey who was aware of the school and the Turkish institution's interest in working with educators from the U.S. The trip to Turkey was led by Keith Van Zoeren, an administrator at Pine Rest who also is a member of Christ Memorial Church.
Wolthuis is hoping to see the relationship with the Dr. Gunseli-Dr. Bulent School grow, and perhaps even expand to other institutions, but in the meantime he is looking forward to showing the guests the same great courtesy that he and Cook enjoyed.
"We're eager to have them come here and reciprocate in a small way the hospitality that we enjoyed while we were there," he said.