A group of five educators from the Ukraine is in Frankfort this week, looking at rural schools in the U.S. for strategies they can take home.
Ukrainian school administrators, two interpreters and American volunteers toured Elkhorn Middle School Tuesday, armed with digital cameras and notepads.
They met with Superintendent Harrie Buecker about government funding, taxes, grants and curriculum and asked EMS Principal Willie Bartley about fundraising and busing. They observed classrooms and ate lunch in the cafeteria - they wanted to see the real thing, they said, not eat in a quiet room.
"Of course, we see the culture on TV, but we understand it's not the same," said Tetyana Kolomak, a director of preschool education in Donetsk, Ukraine.
"We want to understand what it's like."
The visitors were in Frankfort as part of the Open World program, an international exchange sponsored by the Library of Congress through the Open World Leadership Center. They will tour schools in Indiana later this week, and meet with representatives of the YMCA, parent-teacher organizations and Junior Achievement.
The World Affairs Council of Kentucky/Southern Indiana, based in Louisville, hosts the visitors locally. The Kentucky Department of Education was also involved in organizing the trip.
Matt Madden, program manager for the World Affairs Council, said it's important to get visiting educators into Kentucky schools - especially ones outside of Louisville.
"It doesn't make sense to send them to some gigantic school where they don't face those issues," he said. "We want them to see something similar to what they have at home."
Through an interpreter Tuesday, the educators said their schools face some of the same issues as ones in the U.S.
Ukrainian schools have plenty of computers, but not enough Internet access.
There's no lack of teachers, but there aren't enough males in the schools, and turnover is high because pay is low.
"I think as educators we always like to share ideas and what we're doing, and one of the most powerful professional development tools we have is to visit other places," Buecker said.
"We honored their request to come and talk to us about how we do things in Franklin County schools, and we were most happy to share with them some ideas that maybe they can take back home with them."
Kolomak said she is most interested to learn about early-childhood education.
Preschool is compulsory in the Ukraine - unlike in the U.S. where it is voluntary - and families can choose from a large network of preschools, she said.
Children between the ages of 2 and 6 are eligible to attend, and they must show they're ready to move on before leaving. Kolomak said 95 percent move on successfully.
"That proves that preschool education works quite well," she said.
Like the other educators, Kolomak also wants to study busing. In the Ukraine, transportation usually falls on parents, she said.
Vira Sitalo said her hope for the trip is to see how American schools organize their extracurricular activities, how they get students interested in joining, and how parents and schools cooperate.
Sitalo is director of the Youth and Sport Department for her school district in the Okhtirka region.
During the Soviet era, there was just one youth organization, she said. But in recent years, groups have sprung up, and extracurricular activities are becoming more popular.
Sitalo also wants to figure out how after-school activities and clubs improve classroom learning.
Someday she would like to cooperate with the U.S. on an exchange student program to diffuse stereotypes. She said her own visit has given her a better understanding of American culture than anything she could hear secondhand.
"Through this kind of exchange, kids could get to know each other better," she said.
One of the group's interpreters, Mariya Moskovko, was an exchange student herself. In high school, she studied in York, Penn., and it inspired her to work toward a master's in international relations in her hometown of Kiev.
Madden said building relations is a goal of the program. The educators live with American families during the 10-day trip.
"It really does change how people view Americans," Madden said. "It's a public diplomacy initiative, but at the grass-roots level, it's a citizen diplomacy initiative."