Public school teachers often come up with creative ways to augment a district’s basic curriculum and broaden their students’ exposure. In Newburgh, where the districtwide motto is “We Are One,” a third-grade teacher with 21 years in the classroom is taking the message halfway around the globe in May. Kristine Campbell-Defoe has been invited to visit New Zealand next month, just in time to catch the end of autumn in that hemisphere. “It’s the trip of a lifetime. And I’m going to teach four days of lessons remotely to my class in Newburgh.”
The opportunity to bridge oceans in a cultural exchange came about when one of Campbell-Defoe’s students, third-grader Griffin Robinson, relocated to the island country with his family for the past six months. Griffin’s parents, Heather Christy-Robinson and Doug Robinson, have been longtime supporters of Newburgh schools. Heather has served as president of the PTA, and Doug, who is a professor at Mount St. Mary College, has brought some of his college students into the elementary school classroom for special presentations.
Griffin’s siblings, Corbin and Malia, are former Balmville School students of Campbell-Defoe; so the week promises to be a reunion for both families, including her three teens, Allie, Liam and Gabriel Defoe. “We’re reaching out with this amazing opportunity,” says Campbell-Defoe. “I’ll be livestreaming by way of Google Meet, a new platform. Our school district is a Google district, and all the kids have Google accounts. Every kid has a laptop right now. The teachers, too, through a huge grant from Google.
“Our fifth-graders are making a video for the New Zealand students, and our classes are making a quilt to bring over that highlights the history here. We’ll bring some of the richness of Newburgh to this beautiful place. We’re hoping it can promote peace. We’re also strangely connected by gun violence. If you’re local to Newburgh, you know the history here. In New Zealand, that horrific incident happened last month.
“I feel like there’s a mission of connecting people around the world: We’re all the same. It’s good to know other cultures. It will be cool for the kids; I know they have recess on the beach there! It will be great for us to see how other people in different parts of the world go to school and spend their days.”
Some of the teaching opportunities Campbell-Defoe has planned include a question-and-answer session with New Zealand’s Parliament members; a visit to Griffin’s elementary school in the town of Nelson; a field trip with ornithologist Doug Robinson, who is working to save native birds from an invasive weasel that’s killing kiwis and others; a tour of the Nelson Provincial Museum; and as much fun as the innovative teacher can generate. Her big hope is that prime minister Jacinda Ardern will be in Wellington when they visit Parliament. “Our kids can livestream and ask questions: It will be 7 a.m. there on May 21 and 3 p.m. on May 20 here.”
Campbell-Defoe’s adventure is set for May 18 through 27. She has mounted a GoFundMe campaign to help defray some of the travel costs, such as airfare, two nights of lodging in Wellington and ferry and airfare for the Robinson family, who’ll join her on their visit to Parliament. Any additional proceeds will be donated directly to the Newburgh Enlarged City School District PTA to fund future opportunities for students and teachers. To donate, go to https://bit.ly/2Vbr1W5.