2016-12-22 / Front Page

'Changing the Dialogue of Rogers'

By Betsy Sherman Walker


Staff Cmdr. Ghassan Al-Ghadhban, Iraqi navy, gives a presentation about the country of Iraq to students at Rogers High School (RHS). He is a current student at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC). He volunteered to speak to the class as part of the International Studies Program at Rogers. The international programs at RHS and NWC directly relate to strengthening global maritime partnerships, one of NWC’s core missions. 
(Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jess Lewis) Staff Cmdr. Ghassan Al-Ghadhban, Iraqi navy, gives a presentation about the country of Iraq to students at Rogers High School (RHS). He is a current student at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC). He volunteered to speak to the class as part of the International Studies Program at Rogers. The international programs at RHS and NWC directly relate to strengthening global maritime partnerships, one of NWC’s core missions. (Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jess Lewis) It’s not often that a crystal ball makes an appearance at a Newport School Committee meeting.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, Coleen Kiernan Hermes, a history teacher at Rogers High School, and Capt. Mark Turner, director of the Naval Staff College at the Newport War College, met with the committee to seek support for their proposal for the International Studies & Leadership Program (IS&LP). Launched at Rogers in 2014 as a history elective, the program, according to Hermes and Turner, has been so successful that they want to take it to the next level.


Capt. Mark Turner and history teacher Coleen Hermes with some of the students who participated in the International Studies Program at Rogers High School. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy) Capt. Mark Turner and history teacher Coleen Hermes with some of the students who participated in the International Studies Program at Rogers High School. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy) Their goal: To turn the class – which began as an innovative pairing of students with an international cluster of Navy officers – into a four-year, state-approved college pathway program.

In a follow-up phone interview, Turner elaborated, “We want to teach kids about the rest of the world. We want to take what we’re doing now and expand it way beyond what it is. We want to create a separate pathway, but equal to PTECH.” Newport is one of three school districts in the state to house the PTECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program.

Their presentation was like a sermon to the choir. When it came time to comment, committee member Sandra Flowers said, “We have talked about bringing joy back into the classroom,” a reference to a recurring theme of One Newport, the district’s new strategic plan. “You are integrating all your content areas,” she added.

The presentation was a discussion item on the agenda, with no formal vote. But Rebecca Bolan spoke for the panel when she said that while “funding right away might be difficult, it fits right in with what we’re trying to do. We have to find a way to make this happen. I’ll fight for this. It’s amazing.”

Turner replied, “This will be an opportunity to change the dialogue of Rogers. It will enrich the entire school district.” The estimated price tag is $250,000 a year for five years. In their proposal, which Hermes emphasized was “just a draft,” the program was presented as “a collaborative venture [that] would provide a unique educational experience, enabling high school students to gain a head start on learning vital lessons in cultural diversity as well as the foundational leadership skills necessary to compete in a globally connected environment.”

This is a tale of yin finding yang. Hermes, who graduated from Rogers in 1990, has taught history there for the last 17 years. In contrast, citing his 30-year career in the Navy, Turner told the committee, “I’ve been all around the world. But I’ve never had a chance to be part of the town.” He oversees the global roster of his War College officers, “66 global leaders from 53 different nations,” and relishes the notion that they are throwing down roots in the community, however briefly. His goal is to give them an “understanding of our nation’s institutions,” he explained, “and the opportunity to allow an understanding of America.”

In turn, Turner has brought to Hermes’ students unprecedented global exposure and a sum total of years of combined experience. These officers, he explained, are “hand-picked to come here. They truly are the next generation of global leaders, and they are who we place in front of the Rogers students.” This year, they are from Bangladesh, Colombia, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Singapore, and Poland. Already during the fall semester, these global leaders and thinkers have engaged Hermes’ students in a spectrum of issues, from water conservation and South American drug cartels to nation building and ISIS and criminal justice in other parts of the world.

According to both Turner and Hermes, the program offers learning experiences – for both sides – that are unequaled. Turner related one such experience, at the most recent International Cuisine night, where their students had a lengthy conversation with the former head of the Colombian navy “who happened to have helped take down” Pablo Escobar.

What they call a “classroom in a bus” curriculum includes an incentive based field studies program with trips to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Quebec, and visits to the Pentagon and the U.N. As envisioned, IS&LP will meet all state Department of Education requirements and offer students entry to advanced placement classes, an IS&LP designation on their Rogers diploma, and the opportunity to earn college credits. For Turner, an important aspect will be instructing them on effective leadership.

The program will provide financial assistance to qualified candidates. Students who are accepted into the program will be required to maintain a 3.0 or better average in all IS&LP classes and complete 40 hours of community service. Turner has done his research: one of his suggestions, he told Newport This Week, was for the IS&LP students to volunteer as reading tutors to assist with the district’s participation in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR), a national movement to enhance literacy.

Hermes calls the program a “game-changer.” She is hopeful, she said in an interview, that with all their grant-seeking legwork, funds will be found. “You never know in Newport – if somebody likes the idea.”

And when education, vision, and the proper resources rise together, the future beckons.

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