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MICHELLE PATERICK, Finland, 2018-2019

Fulbright Year: 2018-2019
Country: Finland
Proposal Type: Study/Research
Field of Study: Master’s degree in Education and Learning at the University of Turku
Title: The Craft of Education: Finnish Public School and U.S. Montessori Programs
UGA Undergraduate Major: Psychology
Graduation Date: Spring 2013
Hometown: Cumming, Georgia

With the long-term goal of establishing a public charter school in her home state, Michelle Paterick has two objectives for her Fulbright year in Finland.

Michelle will pursue a master’s degree in Education and Learning at the University of Turku and will conduct a study comparing 15-year-old students in Montessori programs in the U.S. and public-school students in Finland.

Prior to moving to Honduras four years ago (working for the last three years as country director for Real LEDGE Honduras, which trains teachers to become classroom facilitators), Michelle worked as an assistant teacher in a stateside Montessori school and sees a considerable difference between a Montessori and public-school education.

“Montessori is a child-centered educational method that was developed in 1907 through scientific observation on the natural learning process,” says Michelle, who also taught at a Montessori preschool in Peru and provided free English lessons to children in La Esperanza in the Dominican Republic. “It was intriguing for me to see how involved students were in their education. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing for my time in the public education system in the United States.”

Recognized as a worldwide leader in the education field, Finnish students consistently perform higher than students in the U.S. in traditional education programs in math, science, and reading and score higher on levels of life satisfaction and sense of belonging at school. But when it comes to schoolwork-related anxiety, students from the U.S. score higher.

Michelle points out the many similarities between Montessori and the Finnish education system, adding that because the Finnish system is based on student and teacher wellbeing, it “most resonates with my values and beliefs,” due in no small part to its comprehensive schools and classroom culture.

“The outcome of the study will provide me with insight on strengths and weaknesses between both models,” she says, pointing out that there are about 100 Montessori high schools in the U.S. “Montessori and Finnish education share many common core beliefs. They aim to increase student self-esteem and independence through experiential education and strongly emphasize problem-based learning.

“They encourage peer coaching, and students tend to have more freedom within the classroom than they would in a more traditional setting. Both promote collaboration over competition, and neither use high-stakes standardized testing as a form of measuring students’ progress.”

In addition to her studies and research, Michelle plans to volunteer with the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC), which works in environmental awareness and preserving cultural heritage.

“It is not only work I consider to be very important but it will also be a great way for me to learn more about Finnish culture and collaborate in the community,” she says. “FANC currently needs assistance in publicizing their events through photography and videography, both of which are passions of mine.”

At the completion of her Fulbright year, Michelle says she will return to the United States to work with a nonprofit dedicated to education research or a higher-education institution conducting education research.

“I will dedicate at least five years to comparative education research and would like to start a charter school in an underserved area in my state,” she says.