The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 16, 2011

East teacher Mary Draper embarking on tour of South Africa

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

— Yesterday, Mary Draper felt overwhelmed.

Now, she’s getting excited.

But in three weeks, when she returns from her tour of South Africa, the Mankato East Junior High teacher said she’ll be feeling the pressure to make the experience worthwhile.

“I want to make something of this,” said Draper, a family and consumer science instructor who is among 24 educators from around the country selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Education-funded study tour.

“I want to make this meaningful for Mankato students.”

Draper made her remarks as she prepared to leave for Washington, D.C.,  today where she and fellow teachers will receive a cultural orientation prior to spending two weeks in the Republic of South Africa. They return Aug 1.

The tour, which is co-sponsored by the National Council for Economic Education, focuses on the delivery of economic education to students and building an understanding of the global economy. Since 1995, the council has sponsored 144 trips to several countries and has held teacher workshops around the world.

While in South Africa, Draper and her colleagues will meet with governments economics officials, attend university lectures and visit several schools to observe economics lessons.

“I never thought in a million years that a (family and consumer science teacher) would be chosen,” Draper said. “When I read that I was accepted, I could hardly believe it.”

Despite what some may think, Draper said, economics makes up a significant portion of her classroom content. Most of her junior high courses involve some aspect of finance education, from personal budgeting to lessons on saving and setting goals. Draper also uses a financial simulation in which students are assigned a family scenario and asked to make choices about spending.

Even so, Draper said she asked the organization before sending her application if it was appropriate for a non-economics teacher to apply. She was given an emphatic yes.

Apparently, the end of apartheid — the system of legalized racial segregation that ended in South Africa in 1994 — also signaled a need for financial education. Many families and children who had once lived in abject poverty with no budget to speak of, now are in need of lessons and advice on personal finance.

“I asked if I even had a chance,” Draper said. “She told me, “Don’t hesitate.’”

Upon returning, Draper said she’ll begin working on her ideas for incorporating the trip into her classroom.

She’s taking video in South Africa and hopes to use them to build a lesson around global education. She’s also hoping the trip will prove informative as the junior high family and consumer science faculty revise curriculum to include topics such as green energy and fair trade products.

In addition, Draper said the trip could yield further service-learning opportunities for her students. In recent years, students have knit caps for infants in impoverished countries. In 2007, Draper accompanied a student to Bangladesh to deliver some of the caps.

During her trip to South Africa, she will also bring a number of gifts, including pens and flash drives donated by South Central College.