River Ridge High School teacher-librarian Sarah Applegate has spent most of her career teaching students how to conduct research and tackle major projects.
Now, she’s getting ready to begin practicing what she teaches.
Applegate, 40, of Olympia, is the recipient of a Distinguished Fulbright Award in Teaching. She is scheduled to leave next weekend to study Finland’s educational system for about four months.
Her husband, Rob Campbell, and their 3-year-old daughter, Marieka, are going on the trip too.
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“I’m really excited about seeing a new place,” Applegate said. “It’s really a chance of a lifetime.”
Sponsored by the State Department, the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching Program provides grants for semester-long educational exchange trips for 24 American and international teachers each year. Participating countries for this school year include Finland, Argentina, India, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
“There are so many things that she will bring back from that experience that will benefit teachers,” said Brian Wharton, principal of Yelm High School and a former administrator at North Thurston Public Schools. “That’s the expectation of a Fulbright: that you’re a better teacher and you’ll bring things back.”
Applegate will be based at the University of Helsinki, in the country’s capital city. She plans to study how Finnish students are taught literacy and research skills.
“They have one of the best educational systems in the world, and nearly 95 percent of the citizens use the public library system” she said. “But they don’t have many school libraries. I want to find out where and how information and literacy skills are taught.”
Applegate said one of the main reasons she chose Finland was because she wouldn’t need to learn a new language.
“Everyone speaks English beautifully,” she said.
Applegate and her husband also wanted a destination that offered plenty of recreational opportunities to enjoy when she’s not observing classes, serving as a guest lecturer, auditing university classes, researching her proposal or blogging about her experiences.
“We love to cross-country ski, so if you’re going to Finland, you might as well go in the winter,” she said.
The couple have wanted to travel and teach overseas for years, and now that the opportunity is here, they’re going for it. While in Finland, they will live in a 450-square-foot apartment owned by the university.
“This is definitely a risk in that I’m jumping into the unknown both as a teacher and a learner,” Applegate said. One of her fears is learning through research that schools don’t need their own libraries, and that could have a huge effect on her career, she said.
Applegate grew up in Seattle and moved to Olympia about 20 years ago. She earned her master’s degree in teaching at The Evergreen State College. She also has a Library Media Endorse- ment from the University of Washington and is a National Board Certified Teacher.
“Sarah’s the type of educator that I think always looks for that next challenge, so when it was the Fulbright scholars program, I thought, ‘Oh, of course,’ ” said River Ridge principal Karen Remy-Anderson. “It made sense to me that it might be the next step – the next adventure for her in education. I’m not at all surprised that she received it. I expected her to receive it.”
Marianne Hunter, a teaching-librarian at Timberline High School in Lacey, thinks the trip will give Applegate a wider world view to share with students and staff members.
“I think it will give her more confidence professionally,” Hunter added. “Sometimes you have to leave home to really see how good you are at something, and I think she’ll come back energized.”
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 firstname.lastname@example.org