Published on Nov. 12, 2019
Heba Zakaryia Abdelnaby, originally from Gaza-Palestine, is a Fulbright graduate student in the Department of Special Education, College of Education, University of Missouri
“Everything in this world can be robbed and stolen, except one thing; this one thing is the love that emanates from a human being towards a solid commitment to a conviction or cause.”Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian writer
Leaving Palestine, my home country and my comfort zone, and embarking on a new journey into the unknown is one of the hardest decisions that could ever be made. Living in Gaza Strip, a besieged and war-torn area, could not be the ideal description of a home, considering the outbreak of three wars within the last decades. Even in times of misery and while feeling that the earth is closing on us, I had a glimpse of hope deep within my heart in the chances of healing the pain and shining again. Working in the fields of social relief, English language content development and teaching for eight years at United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), taught me the power of knowledge and resilience to survive. Because of these experiences and I knew I had a lack of expertise in special education, so I decided to follow my heart and pursue a graduate degree in this area in the US, a pioneering country with an inspiring experience in this field and the world’s greatest cultural melting pot. In fact, my path was not paved with roses and I had to search and apply for different scholarships until I was granted the Fulbright, the most prestigious US exchange scholarship. Arrangements for leaving Gaza involved vicious circles of applications and piles of paperwork. After a prolonged process we obtained visas for myself and my family and finally, we landed at Columbia Regional Airport and headed to the University of Missouri, my final destination.
Acclimating in a new environment with my family of five was not an easy task. However, through the support of my colleagues in the Fulbright Student Organization, International Center, and Global Engagement Office at the University of Missouri and my dear academic advisor Dr. Delinda van Garderen, I was able to handle these challenges with confidence. The main aim of Fulbright’s program is to spread education and enhance cultural exchange around the world and with this huge network of support, I become capable of achieving that.
In addition to academic mastery, part of the Fulbright program aims at acquiring professional field experience in my area of interest. During summer 2019, my academic advisor Dr. Delinda van Garderen offered me the opportunity to participate in the Linking Science and Literacy for All Learners program. The program is a collaboration between the MU College of Education and the Department of Biochemistry.
This program is a novel research and academic initiative in terms of members, purpose, and content. The program team includes erudite researchers, laborious doctoral students, meticulous management and evaluation and great peer teachers working together on supporting participant teachers. Second, since our dedicated experts believe that “the child is the father of the man,” they worked relentlessly to transform scientific papers from highbrow materials into science anchor texts that are accessible for all American students at the middle school level while empowering teachers with strategies and tools to use the anchor text along with scaffolded texts and materials (e.g., video), a multi-modal text set, at schools and track students’ progress. So far, the project team has developed two multi-modal text sets based on published research papers: “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “Earth and Human Body Systems.” I believe these invaluable materials address critical environmental issues that play fundamental roles in the life of humans.
Witnessing the backstage process of the program has given me insight into the implementation process of scientific research beginning with setting goals and collecting data to the analysis of results. The weekly team meetings have been another window for learning, expanding my interpersonal growth and critical thinking skills. Observing the team members work collaboratively, assigning tasks, elaborating ideas and addressing challenges while developing multi-modal text sets and training materials and implementing tasks according to a tight time schedule has highlighted the US culture of cherishing the values of professionalism and teamwork. That inspires me to strive towards brushing up on my academic and professional skills to advance my future career and realize my goals.
July 2019 marks my best moments at Mizzou during the professional development week of the Linking Science and Literacy for All Learners program. The second cohort of fourteen teachers were selected based on their levels of experience and expressed motivation to help link literacy and science for all learners. The project management team designed a five-day comprehensive training where educators were introduced to different aspects of teaching text sets. On Monday, Dr. Torrey Palmer and Dr. William Folk trained teachers on multi-modal text sets along with using inquiry with a focus on science in terms of academic content and strategies of data collection and graphing. On Tuesday, Dr. Delinda van Garderen handled teaching science from an inclusive perspective and aided teachers with guidance and tools to make scientific texts within the reach of all learners using scaffolded learning strategies. Dr. Amy Lannin conducted the third day of training with a focus on effective reading strategies for scientific texts involving active learning, claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) and integrating literacy scaffolds in teaching science. Peer teachers Lori Pinkston, Jeannie Sneller and Grace Schauer, from the first cohort, also participated in guiding their colleagues on days four and five of training to develop lesson plans that incorporate the new strategies.
The PD week was an invaluable experience for me both professionally and personally. I had indelible moments profoundly from The Water Dance book presentation by Dr. Lannin, the chocolate box demonstration by peer teacher Grace Schauer, and eating popcorn during the ‘movie night’ while watching amazing video scaffolds collected by Dr. Folk. The training was a rich arena for cultural exchange; I had the pleasure to forge friendships with US teachers from different disciplines, have a better understanding of the challenges that face American middle school teachers and introduced my U.S. counterparts to different aspects of the Palestinian culture like education, customs, current challenges and food. To exemplify, through interacting with American teachers, I have been introduced to cultural aspects like the almanac, lesson planning procedures, integration of information technology like Google classroom, and news media in teaching science and literacy, and Larry Ferlazzo’s instructional strategies for ELL. On the other hand, I introduced the U.S. teachers to the education system in Palestine, teaching methodology, recent challenges facing Palestinians and even Palestinian cuisine. They tried some traditional dishes like “Zaater thyme,” hummus, tabbouleh, and falafel. I shared the recipes, too!
Growth can be measured by the people you meet rather than the years of age. This experience is my breakthrough as an international graduate student immersed in academics and who was ambivalent towards her future career into an aspiring global researcher with a distinct vision and mission to share my experience with my colleagues in my country and continue working on developing multi-modal text sets in the USA. This metamorphosis has come as a result of my great professors and team members who gently guided me in this professional journey towards establishing my academic networks and visualizing my future goals. Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese-American author, artist, philosopher and writer, described the wise educator as the one who “does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” In this context, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to my small lovely family and to my great big family of Linking Science and Literacy for all Learners program team, peer teachers and participating teachers of the second cohort. Dear family, professors, and friends thank you! Thank you, Mizzou!
A final word for my colleagues in the academic route:
Life is a challenge, accept it!
Life is a question, so answer it!
Life is a blessing, enjoy it!
And always remember that in spite of hardships and misery,
We have on this earth what makes life worth living.”Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet.