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Fulbright scholars seek to bridge the gapEducational nonprofit targeting low-income students opens second chapter in Jeju City
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승인 2013.12.12  15:30:30
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▲ KBI seeks to provide education opportunities to Jeju youths who might not otherwise receive support. Photo courtesy Kristen Bialik

“I wish I go to Europe”

“I want to be an industrial designer.”

“Handsome husband.”

These are some of the dreams students in the Korea Bridge Initiative (KBI) mapped out on their dream boards for the program’s opening class on Saturday, Nov. 9. The scene was a flurry of writing, cutting, and drawing, as students looked 5, 10, and 20 years into the future and analyzed what is or will be most important in their life.

KBI is an educational nonprofit organ-ization that aims to provide educational opportunities, and extracurricular aca-demic mentoring for students from low-income families. The program was founded by two Fulbright grantees on Jeju, Jessica Zucker and Thomas Wilson, who established the first branch of KBI in Gwangju last year. The inspiration for KBI was the students themselves, when Zucker and Wilson realized that, despite the Korean education system’s achievements, there are many talented students who fall between the cracks.

Zucker taught at an all-girls vocational high school in Gwangju last year, where many of her students faced family problems at home or couldn’t afford to pay for extracurricular private institute, or hagwon classes. It occurred to her that students from these low-income families had greatly reduced chances of attending or even applying to a university. “Out of 600 students in the 3rd grade, only 12 of them were taking the suneung [college entrance exam],” Zucker explained. “There were a few students who have exceptionally high English abilities and received fantastic grades in school, so I was really perplexed as to why none of them had college on [their] radar,” she added.

To help students see their abilities in a new light and take action in achieving their dreams, the KBI curriculum focuses on three tenets: English language skills, creativity, and global citizenship. “We really hope to empower students, to give them outlets for self-expression and to realize the power of their own voice. We hope they see themselves as engaged Korean citizens and citizens of the world,” said Zucker. Students will have the opportunity to participate in pen pal projects with high school students in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Other class topics include creative writing, professional networking, international journalism, and human rights advocacy.

Zucker and Wilson serve as the program’s teachers along with other Fulbright teachers on Jeju. Mentorship is also a key component of the program; both the Gwangju and Jeju branches have partnered with local universities to provide mentorship and additional tutoring from Korean students studying English education at the university level. Jeju National University volunteer Kim Chung Hyeon said, “Twelve years ago when I was in high school, there was no program like this, so it was so surprising for me. [The students] can think about their future positively. Before coming here I thought high school students were only stressed, but now I think maybe I was wrong.”

The KBI Jeju fall program serves 24 students from three Jeju City schools. Participating students were selected from a pool of highly motivated students from disadvantaged families by the Jeju Provincial Office of Education and the schools’ English departments. The program has partnered with Fulbright Korea, the US Embassy in Seoul, and the Jeju Provincial Office of Education to provide students with resources they may not otherwise have had access to, and in doing so help narrow the achievement gap for low-income students. Dr. Im Ae Duck and the Ewha Womans University Jeju Alumni have also pledged support of the program.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to serve students in the Jeju area and hope the program will continue to grow so that more students can feel empowered,” said Thomas Wilson, “We’re so grateful for the immense support we’ve received from Superintendent Yang Seong-Eon, Moon Hong Cheol, and everyone else at the Jeju Provincial Office of Education. Without their help and the support of Dr. Im Ae Duck, the Ewha Jeju Alumni, and the Korea Fulbright program, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing.”

KBI meets on Saturday afternoons at the Jeju City Foreign Language Education Center, Jeonnongno, Samdo 1-dong. Those interested in getting involved with KBI should check out the website at bridgeinitiative.us or contact Jessica Zucker at jessica.zucker1@gmail.com.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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