For the next month, Neal Elementary School fourth grade bilingual teacher Agustin Lara will be immersed in the culture of Argentina as one of 16 educators from across the United States selected for an international seminar.
The Bryan school district teacher was selected for the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program in April 2020; however, the trip was postponed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lara said he was worried they would not get the opportunity, but this week, the group of teachers, leaders and translators left out of Houston and arrived in Buenos Aires.
Throughout the month, the group will travel to five cities in the South American country and visit the countryside to learn from educators and also get to know the Argentinian culture.
“It’s not a vacation,” he said about the competitive U.S. Department of Education program. “It’s learning about history, education system, fine arts, geography, food, dances, just learning about everything from that country.”
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In addition to another teacher from Texas, the educators traveling with Lara are from Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and Washington.
Before he left, he called it an honor and a privilege to be part of the program, to have the opportunity to learn about a country he has never visited and to learn from American and Argentinian teachers. Upon their return, he said, each of the participants is expected to write a lesson plan that will be posted online for anyone to use.
Lara said he plans to focus his lesson plan, which will be presented in English and Spanish, on the Argentinian folktales, legends and stories he learns. As the director of Ballet Folklórico Los Altos de Jalisco dance group at Neal Elementary, he said he also plans to incorporate dance and other hands-on activities.
Lara said he hopes to develop a network of educators in Argentina and throughout the United States who he can continue learning from, even after they return from the program. Rather than comparing which system or model works better, he said, the program is all about sharing what techniques they use and learning from each other.
“I’ll be able to interact with bilingual educators,” he said, “and I want to know what techniques they’re using when teaching English language learners. I’ll be able to share also what we use in Bryan ISD, and I think that will be great.”
Only some of the educators are bilingual, he said, so translators will be with the group at each stop.
Throughout the month, Lara said he will be collecting artifacts and taking lots of pictures and videos to share with his students, co-workers, district employees and community members. In addition, he will be available to present to other schools outside the district.
“This international experience is going to empower my students, teachers, co-workers and my community because nowadays everything is global,” he said. “We have to think outside of the box. It’s not just Bryan, it’s not just Texas, but everything is global.”
A majority of students at Neal are in the free-and-reduced lunch federal meal program, Lara said, and may not have the opportunity to travel outside Texas. He said he hopes his students not only can learn about Argentina, but also can become pen pals with the students he meets.
Lara said he wants to inspire and empower students through learning. He moved to the United States from a small town in Mexico when he was 15 years old to work and enrolled in an English Second Language class in Killeen before enrolling in a high school program for working students.
He is the first member of his family to go to college, attending Central Texas College and then earning a degree in agriculture from Texas A&M University. He went back to school at Sam Houston State University to earn his alternative teaching certification and his master’s degree. Now, he is a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M.
“To be honest, I never dreamed in getting an education until I moved to the United States. I had to learn English when I was older, and, to me, it’s just a blessing,” he said of his educational accomplishments. “I want to share all of this with my students to let them know that anything is possible. Whenever they want to accomplish something, it will take a lot of hard work, discipline, a lot of dedication, but anything is possible.”