We were happy to host a unique group of visitors from Ukraine who came as part of the U.S. Congress’ Open World Program to learn about education and oversight of education institutions in the United States. They not only met with policy makers, educators, and professional peers, but they also had the time to truly immerse themselves in the local culture with plenty of cultural activities outside of the scheduled professional appointments.
For example after they arrived on Friday October, 12th, the visiting delegation was invited by the board of SACIV to a Welcome Dinner at SoLuna where they were able to discuss the exciting activities ahead and commence introductions. On Saturday, the group was busy seeing The Pearl, The Alamo, and the Riverwalk. In the evening, they headed to Bulverde where they were able to enjoy a Texas rodeo. The rodeo was a one-of-a-kind experience that each visitor found utterly enthralling.
On Sunday, the group ventured to Gruene away from the city of San Antonio. In Gruene, they explored the historic town center and enjoyed music at Gruene’s famous dance hall. For lunch, they were able to eat at the Gristmill and savor the view of tubers passing by on the river below.
On Monday, they started with another look at the culture of Texas at the Institute of Texan Cultures. They enjoyed seeing the museum and gaining some more insight into the peoples of Texas. Later that day, their professional appointments could begin. That afternoon, they visited Alamo Colleges and discussed with professors, administrators, and students their vocational programs, oversight compliance, and college readiness programs for local high schools.
The next day, Alamo Heights Independent School District opened their doors to our visitors. The fascinating discussion that developed there centered around the special education programs they offer and their unique methods of engaging the community.
After lunch, the group resumed their appointments at Trinity University where they learned how the educational system in the United States can differ at private, liberal arts colleges. Trinity’s unique educational approach, substantial endowment, and revised strategic plan were all of interest to the visitors. Also of note to them was Trinity’s renewed emphasis on experiential learning. After Trinity University, the group went to San Antonio Education Partnership to discuss ways of promoting and easing entry into higher education. The information, resources, and expertise they provide for underserved families looking to help youth get a college education was inspiring to see.
A day later, State Representative Diego Bernal came to speak to our visitors and the SACIV and World Affairs Council Offices. He shed light on the varying levels of education policy and oversight and also explained how he has seen policy develop as Vice Chairman of the Texas House Committee on Education. That meeting was followed by lunch and then a trip to the Education Service Center for Region 20. This center is part of a state-wide program to support school effectiveness by reviewing curricula, assessing health and safety, providing administrative and technological aid, and maintaining certifications and top-tier recruitment. The range of services they provide made this stop one of the highlights of the delegation’s time in San Antonio.
Before their Wednesday appointments concluded, the Ukrainians stopped at San Antonio College’s Victory Center, which supports veteran students by providing mental wellness programs, case management, Veteran Affairs services, and grants options. This offers a one-stop shop serving those who have already done so much to serve us.
The night was concluded with a fantastic reception at Bar 1919 where the visiting guests were able to chat with SACIV members and the San Antonio community. It was a great chance for the exchange to transcend professional appointments and create friendships in addition to partnerships.
On Thursday, the visitors met with representatives from Business Careers High School, a business magnet school within Oliver Wendell Holmes High School. The school allows students to pursue their specific interests and cultivate leadership and business skills with tailored curricula. The visitors from Ukraine were especially captivated by their conversations with students from BCHS. Later that day, they were able to explore UTSA’s Dreamers Center which provides unique information and resources to students who fall under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. These first generation immigrants can come to this Center on UTSA’s campus for more information about how their legal status intersects with their educational options at a public university.
The last day of professional appointments began with a great conversation downtown with Councilman Rey Saldana. With him, they were able to discuss the work of South San Kids First, a community action group that seeks accountability in the South San Antonio Independent School District. Their discussion on these issues in addition to talks about fostering local leadership left a lasting impression. Afterwards, they continued to the Northeast Independent School District to converse with Superintendent Brian Gottardy about the pros and cons of current standardized testing practices. The superintendent has been critical of what he sees as a reductivist form of oversight, and the visitors were glad to hear his views on necessary changes to evaluation methodology. While at NEISD, they also spoke with the NEISD Council of PTAs to discuss the role of parents and the community in supporting their institutions of education. This provided yet another perspective on education, which our guests truly appreciated.
The Open World selectees then concluded their appointments with a concluding dinner at Paesanos on the Riverwalk. This allowed them the chance to share what they had learned and found most surprising while synthesizing this information into take-away best practices. Those members of the San Antonio community who had been able to spend a great deal of time with them were also able to say their goodbyes at this farewell event.
Overall, the program had the time and community partners to explore education from a variety of vantage points and delve deeply into what works and what doesn’t. Visitors were also able to learn more about how government, community groups, and volunteers can aid their local educational institutions. Additionally, engaged members of San Antonio’s internationally-minded community were glad to have the time to spend with the Open World delegation at community activities around South Texas. Those from Ukraine and those from Texas were both glad to have spent this time together.