College of Education juniors in the special education program traveled to Northern Ireland from Feb. 24 to March 11 as part of a pilot study to explore international practicum teaching experiences and learn more about the education system for students with mild and moderate disabilities.
Students Ashley Algard, Heather Aycock, Jaclyn Caryl, Allie Marinello, Logan Mosely and Alexa Weis along with faculty members Debbie Metcalf and Dr. Stacy Weiss visited four schools, a homework club, a center for students with significant behavioral difficulties and an after school program for students with autism.
The ECU students visited Lisneal College and Oakwood Integrated Primary in Londonderry/Derry. They also prepared presentations about writing strategies to share with educators at Lisneal College. In Belfast, students visited Blythefield Primary School in the Sandy Row community and Malone Integrated College.
Historically, schools in Northern Ireland provide separate schools for Protestants and Roman Catholics. The integrated and shared education schools the ECU group visited are examples of a community coming together after a long period of unrest to move forward in a positive way and better understand each other. Many of the challenges and approaches are similar to those in the U.S. related to inclusion of students with special needs in general education settings.
The students completed their practicum in the Belfast schools by observing instructional practices, meeting with staff about services for students with disabilities, assisting teachers in the classrooms, and developing, implementing and reflecting on supervised lessons related to written expression for students with disabilities. The group also enjoyed attending school assemblies, field trips, tea time and other events with students and staff.
The trip included visits to cultural sites including the historic city walls and the Peace Bridge in Londonderry/Derry and Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast. In Belfast, students toured the Titanic Museum, the Peace Walls and the Sandy Row neighborhood.
ECU students stayed in residence halls at Stranmillis University College, a College of Queen’s University Belfast, which specializes in teacher training.
Before the trip, students participated in a pre-course seminar with presentations on the history of Northern Ireland by professor Dr. Jim McKernan and Whitney Morris, coordinator of faculty-led study abroad programs at ECU.