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Suomi visits South Range

March 21, 2012
By STACEY KUKKONEN - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

SOUTH RANGE - South Range Elementary School students are taking learning to a new level.

And where better to educate children than from students who have learned in a country that arguably has the best educational system in the world.

As part of the "Hei Suomi!" program, third-grade students at South Range Elementary School are participating in a month-long learning project, taught by University of Lapland students Eeva Holappa and Sanna-Mari Suopajarvi.

Article Photos

Stacey Kukkonen/Daily Mining Gazette
Eeva Holappa and Sanna-Mari Suopajarvi, student teachers from the University of Lapland in Finland, stand before Steve Aho’s third-grade class at South Range Elementary School Tuesday. The student teachers are visiting for a month as part of the “Hei Suomi!” program.

"We only have two weeks left," Suopajarvi said to Holappa Tuesday morning. "Can you believe it? Time has passed so fast."

The duo, who met for the first time at the beginning of the program, spent Tuesday morning at the school uploading fables the students had written the day before. Later in the day, they would be back in the classroom setting, in Steve Aho's third-grade class, where they were to show a movie.

"Hei Suomi!" is a collaborative project between the elementary school, Finlandia University, the Finnish American Heritage Center and the University of Lapland.

The aim of the project is to enable the elementary school students to learn about contemporary Finnish culture and language, building on the strong Finnish heritage in South Range and surrounding areas. The Finnish teachers' objectives are to explore Finnish culture, geography, history, nature, language, traditions and Finnish children's everyday lives.

"People have been very welcoming here," Suopajarvi said.

But one would say it's been a whirlwind ride from the beginning for Suopajarvi and Holappa, who arrived to the United States later than expected because of bad weather. However, days later, the temperatures skyrocketed.

"We didn't have any summer clothes," Holappa said.

The students settled in the residence hall at Finlandia University and quickly got to work at the elementary school.

This week, the student teachers are presenting videos and will make a video postcard with the students. The video shows Finnish children's lives, something planned in the lessons for weeks now. Although the lesson plans have morphed slightly, there is a special importance placed on Finnish culture and lives, nature and traditions and Finnish geography.

"We skipped some history and are trying to introduce more culture," Suopajarvi said. "We try to think about what the kids like."

The student teachers said coming to the U.S. to teach, specifically to an area rich in Finnish culture, was not so much of a culture shock as visiting somewhere like Spain, which is closer geographically.

"When we arrived, kids were so excited to learn Finnish," Suopajarvi said.

They include a few basic Finnish word lessons, such as names for animals and colors, and how to say hello. They even gave the children Finnish versions of their names.

"It's part of the language," Suopajarvi said.

There are a few similarities between Finnish and American elementary schools, Suopajarvi said, but the main difference is Finnish students don't take standardized tests. Finnish school days are shorter, the students have little homework and a longer recess period, yet the students do better academically than most students in the world.

Suopajarvi said so far, they perceive the children as being all alike, the teachers more laid back and the school setting less strict, but something she said may be a little better than what she's used to.

"In Finland, the school environment is a little more stressful," she said.

Suopajarvi said perhaps the children in Finland thrive because there are no standardized tests, but in the U.S., students seem to want to be in school.

"I don't know if in Finland, they are learning more difficult stuff, so it's not that much fun," Holappa said.

In Finland, the teachers do the evaluations of students and are also evaluated, themselves, Suopajarvi said.

"You have to be a master of education," she said. "They are doctors."

Despite the differences, the duo said they are enjoying learning about American schools.

Holappa, a student in the class teacher training program, and Suopajarvi, a student in the media education program, said they were in disbelief when thinking about the time that has passed. In just two short weeks, they will be homeward bound, hopefully with a better understanding of the United States.

"This is (an) easy place to be for us," Suopajarvi said. "It's so welcoming. The U.S. affects our lives so much because of the movies and the music."

In fact, it was only what they saw on TV before coming to the U.S. for the first time, and both agree, they have adjusted well and are glad they signed on for the program.

"We got to go snowboarding at Mont Ripley," Holappa said.

The students asked Paivi Naskali, a professor of women's studies at the university who has been visiting in the local area as part of the Fulbright Scholar program, if they could take part in the program. Naskali, working with Wade Tillett and others from the Finlandia University, came up with the idea to host the program.

"This is like (an) internship," Holappa said. "I learned the word yesterday. We have to do programs like these required by our university."

And the "Hei Suomi!" program will count toward the students' internship credits.

For the rest of their time here, the students plan to finish their lesson plans and get to know the local culture a little bit better.

"It goes by fast," Suopajarvi said.



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