Teacher gives local students a taste of Thailand

MIDDLEBURY — Her family and friends in her native Thailand call her by her given name, Chavaran Sriyan.
But to her colleagues and students at the Bridge School in Middlebury, she is simply known as “Angie.”
Angie, 33, will be spending most of the 2012-2013 academic year at the Bridge School as a visiting teacher through the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program, known as ASOP. Angie is one of four Thai and three Chinese teachers who have been assigned to schools throughout Vermont as part of ASOP. One of the Chinese teachers, Xie Ting, is currently working at Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon.
While Angie has been at the Bridge School for only a short while, she is clearly impressed with her surroundings and the children and adults with whom she is interacting.
“I like this place; it is very beautiful and quiet,” said Angie, a petite, vivacious young woman with an infectious smile and quick laugh.
“And the trees are beautiful,” she added, noting the fall foliage display that is lighting up the Champlain Valley.
Leafy trees are but one of the contrasts that Angie has been noting during this, her first trip to the United States.
Angie is a physical education teacher at the Assumption Samutprakarn School, located near Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. It is a Christian, international school that places particular value on having instructors proficient in English. Angie had picked up some basic English skills during an extended visit to New Zealand several years ago. She jumped at the chance to broaden that knowledge through a trip to Vermont through ASOP, a program launched in 1994 by UVM with ongoing financial support from the Freeman Foundation. The program features a cornucopia of educational resources and is highlighted by annual visits to Vermont schools by Chinese, Thai and Japanese teachers and scholars. These visiting teachers help out in the classroom while providing Vermont students with direct insights into Asian culture and customs.
The goal of the ASOP, as reflected in its UVM website, is to “introduce Asian culture, history, teaching styles, art and more into American classrooms by providing teachers and faculty with direct interaction and experience with the Asian continent.”
“The purpose is to help Vermont students learn about Asia, and one way to do that is to bring teachers over here,” said ASOP Director Bill Williams. He noted that around 95 percent of the students in Vermont schools are of European descent. ASOP organizers hope to broaden the horizons of such children through exposure to Asian cultures that the visiting teachers demonstrate through exhibits, props, teaching lessons and their own life history.
Bridge School students have certainly taken to Angie, according to Kimberly Waterman. Waterman is a grade 3-6 teacher at the Bridge School, and her family is hosting Angie at their Weybridge home.
“They listen to her in a way they don’t listen (to other teachers). She has a very special gift with the youngest kids,” Waterman said of Angie.
“They are very respectful.”
Angie has been teaching the children about Thai culture, dance, sports and crafts, among other things. She also shares stories about her family’s farm in northeast Thailand, which produces rice and rubber. Angie sometimes wears traditional Thai clothing and uses a PowerPoint program to help in some of her presentations. Given Angie’s athletic talents, school officials are also enlisting her assistance with sports programs.
Communicating with the children is helping Angie improve her own English. Angie’s school will test her upon her return to determine the strides she has made.
Angie’s impressions of the Bridge School students: “They are brave. They are free-thinking and questioning. They have a lot of imagination.”
She’s pleased to be working in a small school with fewer than 100 students. Angie’s home school in Thailand has 4,400 students and her physical education class there routinely has more than 40 children.
Waterman said Angie is proving to be a great guest. She has been cooking some traditional Thai meals and teaching her host “sister” Thai crafts.
“She and my daughter have this beautiful relationship,” Waterman said. “We were like family right away.”
Angie will be staying in Weybridge and at the Bridge School until May. Along with her teaching duties, she will periodically join forces with her fellow Thai ASOP participants to reconnect and give joint presentations to other Vermont students and teachers.
When she gets back to Thailand, Angie hopes to put her polished English skills to work at school events.
“I want to emcee,” she said, with a smile.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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