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Freeport teacher hopes to bring Turkish culture to classroom

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Freeport teacher hopes to bring Turkish culture to classroom

FREEPORT — A two-week-long, guided 2000-mile road tour of Turkey is not a typical summer trip for the average high school teacher. And for Freeport High School social studies teacher, Karen Massey, it was anything but average.

"It's amazing to go to the place where you've been teaching about for years," she said at her Yarmouth home as she recalled visiting the Fertile Crescent. "I've traveled a lot and this was one of the best experiences I've had."

Massey was one of four Maine teachers, three high school and one middle school, and more than 70 other teachers across the country, who applied, and were chosen for one of three trips to Turkey this summer as part of partnership with the Turkish Cultural Foundation and the World Affairs Council of America.

The program is designed to give teachers the opportunity to incorporate Turkish history and culture into their curriculum, said Amy Holland, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Maine, a nonprofit educational organization.

"What we've heard is that teachers are not teaching Turkey in their classes," she said. "The purpose of this program is engage teachers in a conversation about Turkey."

On the trip, the teachers toured around Turkey in a bus, traveled down the side of western province of Gallipoli, followed the coast south, before they cut across the center of the country. The teachers not only stopped at historical tourist sites, but also met with Turkish teachers and their students, all the while listening to a lecturing tour guide and watching documentaries. 

"There wasn't a moment when you were not learning something," Massey said.

Massey said she hopes to weave what she learned on the tour into two of the classes: the freshmen core course, Global Studies, and an upper-class elective called Contemporary Global Issues.

"I hope it enhances what I teach and enhances people's understanding and interest in Turkey," she said. "Not too many students know much about the Middle East and Turkey. It's an opportunity to bring them beyond the headlines."

The program, called Spotlight on Turkey, is three phases. It began with the application process and the tour and will be bookended with the final phase where the teachers showcase turkey and Turkish culture this fall through activities, such as book groups, discussion sessions and food tastings, said Ian Byrne, communications and development officer for the World Affairs Council in Washington D.C.

The council is a national organization that has member councils across the country. The member councils act in coordination with the national organization, but are independent in operation, Holland said. 

The trips are paid for in large part by the Turkish Cultural Foundation, with the teachers paying about $600 of the total cost.

This year's program included 23 different councils from around the country. The Maine council had 13 teachers come to the initial workshop and a total of eight applications, Holland said.

The program, which is only offered to high school and middle school teachers, had three teachers from Maine attend last year's tour.

Massey, who had never been to Turkey, said she was always interested in visiting and thinks her students would be surprised at how similar the country is to other western nations.

"Turkey today didn't seem exotic. It's not stranger than going to Paris," she said, pointing out the similarities in architecture and style of living. "The economy is growing fast. You can see it everywhere."

In her classes she said she wants to put more of a focus on Turkey and the Middle East, specifically on the Neolithic Revolution and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

"Most teens don't have an interest in the outside world," she said. "My job is to spark that interest."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.