AUBURN — After touring and teaching in northern Kazakhstan this past spring, teacher Erin Towns said she’s changed her world history curriculum in her Edward Little High School classes.

Her students are getting richer, more lively lessons, “more of a global view,” she said. They’re doing global projects with students in other states and other countries. They are hearing, and seeing, Towns’ firsthand experience in Kazakhstan, the teacher told the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday night.

After winning a U.S. State Department fellowship last year, Towns spent two and a half weeks in Kazakhstan in April. Kazakhstan is a large, landlocked country that borders Russia, Uzbekistan and China. Towns was among 84 of 300 teachers across the country selected for the fellowship. The goal is to encourage teachers to promote global awareness to students.

The trip did that, Towns said. “It strengthened the way I communicate with students, my ability to teach because there’s this link.”

Towns said she and a teacher from Tennessee were placed with a host teacher in a community in northern Kazakhstan near the Russian border. The host teacher kept them busy. “We were up at 7 a.m., home at 10 p.m. every night,” Towns said. She taught 26 classes to students from preschool to college. Sometimes she had no chance to prepare.

She recalled one time she was standing at a doorway not knowing what was next, when her host teacher introduced her to 200 college students, saying she was to lecture them about teaching methods.

“’Go,'” Towns recalled her host teacher saying. “You had to think fast on your feet,” she said. She also gave presentations to teachers and business and government leaders.

In this region, the schools and communities were clean and students were well-dressed in uniforms. Starting at preschool, students study three languages, Kazakh, Russian and English.

The school schedule was similar to Maine’s; students have summer vacations and breaks during the year around holidays. The school day was 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There was a heavy focus on math and science, on rote memorization. She saw preschool students playing chess. All students participated in band, and “theater was huge.”

Towns showed pictures of communities similar to the United States: desks with “Harry Potter” books, cities with Apple billboards, Snickers candy on store shelves, homes with fences.

She ate horse meat, which is popular in Kazakhstan. “It tasted like pot roast,” Towns said. She didn’t like horse sausage. “I stayed away from that.”

After her presentation, Edward Little student Riley McCurdy, a student representative on the committee, said she’s in Towns’ class. She loves it.

“I’ve learned so much more this year than I have throughout my whole history (classes),” McCurdy said. Towns’ class is engaging, McCurdy said. “We do so many different activities that help us retain information, rather than learn it, take the tests, forget about it and move on.”

Up next, Towns is planning to take a group of students studying Franco-American culture to Quebec City in February.


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