Education Program Caters to Returning Peace Corps Volunteers

Posted: November 20, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Freeman

When it began in 1990, George Mason’s FAST TRAIN program in the College of Education and Human Development trained foreign affairs spouses to become qualified candidates for teaching positions in international schools.

Over the years, the program expanded to reach a broad range of international teachers and students, and for the last six years has been an approved site for the Peace Corps Fellows/USA Program.

The Peace Corps Fellows/USA (PCF/USA) Program at Mason offers an MEd option for returned Peace Corps volunteers, with a Virginia state license allowing them to teach elementary education or English as a Second Language (ESL) in multicultural settings in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

George Mason is part of an exclusive group of about 40 schools participating in the program. The Fellows/USA program is a way for the Peace Corps to assist returned volunteers with financing their graduate education. About two-thirds of those schools offer an education program. In the Washington, D.C., area, Mason is one of only two schools to offer a PCF/USA program in education.

“We intentionally limit the number of schools in an area that offer the same program,” says Julie Driver, Fellows/USA marketing specialist. “All universities involved in the program have exceptional programs, and we don’t want the schools to be competing for these students.”

It appears, though, that the choice to attend Mason was clear for several students who recently attended a reception with Peace Corps leadership.

“I knew before I left that I wanted to take advantage of the Peace Corps Fellows program, and when I returned from my assignment, I knew I wanted to be in D.C.,” said Greg Clark, a current student in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, who served in Nepal with his wife.

“I consistently heard great things about the program at Mason from other returned volunteers and that they had a strong program in both domestic and international training, which was important to me.”

Student Amy Dong, who left a career in asset management at Goldman Sachs in New York City to join the Peace Corps, echoed Clark’s sentiments. “The international aspect of the training was important in case I wanted to take the opportunity to teach overseas again. The curriculum is also practical and hands-on instead of just being based on theory.”

Mason’s PCF/USA program, which currently has eight students and is adding three more in the spring, requires that students make a commitment after completing the program to serve in area schools that are multicultural and schools that have significant numbers of economically disadvantaged students.

According to Sherry Steeley, field coordinator and faculty member in FAST TRAIN, there is a shortage of teachers with strong cross-cultural skills. Returned Peace Corps volunteers are a natural fit for this work in part because of their sense of service and their experience.

“Returned volunteers who go through the Peace Corps Fellows program are well equipped to take on the task ahead of them,” notes Driver. “They go into the schools with their eyes wide open. They are used to working in underserved, under funded and underappreciated areas.”

The fellows have the support of the Peace Corps even after they return to the United States. Every two years, members of the Peace Corps management team visit with current and past students of the PCF/USA program at Mason. They make a day out of visiting schools and seeing graduates in action, talking with current students and also speaking with program administrators to discuss ways they can assist.

As Driver notes, “Once you are a member of the Peace Corps, you are always a part of the family.”

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