Language teacher Monika Emeran is going places and she’s taking some of her students with her.
In the last five years there have been trips to Italy, France and Greece. The proposed next stop: South Africa.
Travel is nothing new to Emeran, who describes her own life route from Europe to St. Thomas and to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School as a circuitous one.
“I was born in Poland and raised in Poland,” she said. Then she moved to France to study French and earned a degree to teach it as a second language. She worked as a librarian in a parochial school outside of Paris, then taught in a junior high school. In 2002, she moved to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe where she taught for a few years.
Emeran said she saw a job listing for a French teacher on St. Thomas and decided to apply for it because, “that would be one step closer to my parents,” who by that time were living on the U.S. mainland. She started at IEKHS in 2011, after first teaching junior high school.
Besides French, English and Polish, Emeran said she knows Russian, although she seldom uses it. “It’s my inactive language – like a volcano” and she can understand Spanish, though she is not a fluent speaker.
“To me, when you learn a language, traveling to the country of that language is very important,” she said.
Her first trip with IEKHS students was to France. Six students spent two weeks there. The first was devoted to sightseeing and, for the second week, they attended a host school and stayed with French families. It was similar to a student exchange program, except there was no reciprocation on St. Thomas.
“I wanted students to be more immersed in French and French culture,” Emeran said.
Travel is not only a learning tool for language studies, however. Emeran promotes it as a broadening life experience.
That’s why what started as the “French Club” at IEKHS is now the “French/Voyage Club.”
Some parents have also joined in on some of the trips.
Therese Huggins and her son Vincent, now an 11th-grader, traveled to Greece and France.
“Of course, France was more exciting,” Huggins said. But she liked the serenity of Greece. For Vincent, who is in his second semester of French, she said it was “like the textbook coming alive.”
Emeran said she works with Education First, a company that arranges school related trips. Students and their families pay for the travel, but typically the students do some fundraising to supplement the cost. In the past, there have been school cake, food and bottled water sales, as well as sponsor solicitations. Some Economic Development Companies have contributed and, for one trip, the V.I. Lottery sponsored a student.
The trip to South Africa will cost about $5,000 per person, she said.
“That’s the most expensive trip that the EF offers,” she added. She’s planning it for 2018 to give interested travelers time to save for it. So there is no trip scheduled in 2017.
Just recently she has begun to expand her efforts to promote international learning by organizing a group called Language Beyond Our Borders, which is intended to assist V.I. students in studying abroad. Together with a school administrator, the parent of one of her students, and a young man who is a successful product of the public school system, she has incorporated the organization as a nonprofit.
It does not yet have the 501(c)(3) designation from the Internal Revenue Service that allows tax deductions for donations. However, Emeran said she thinks she can work through the Education Department, which does have the necessary tax status, to accept donations. She has also approached some senators to lobby for an appropriation.
The intent, she said, is to place one or two students from the Virgin Islands with a host family in another country where they can attend school for an extended period of time.