Sunday, May 27, 2012

Just Felt Compelled to Write

A few weeks ago there was Op/Ed article in one of my favorite newspapers The International Herald Tribune (The Global Edition of The New York Times) by columnist and author Thomas Friedman. Mr. Friedman's piece was entitled, "Teacher Soldiers" and the article resonated with me because Mr. Friedman wrote about a program that is very similar to one that I am currently involved with at my school. So, I felt compelled to write a reply to Mr. Friedman's article with the hope that my piece would be published in The International Herald Tribune or The New York Times. Unfortunately, my piece was not published, but I decided to post my reply below on my blog so that family and friends could read about the program with which I am involved.  As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog, Ryan.

Dear Mr. Friedman,

My name is Ryan Haynes and I am the High School Counselor at The American International School of Muscat (TAISM) in the Sultanate of Oman. TAISM is a U.S. Embassy sponsored school in Oman. I recently read your Op/Ed article (“Teacher Soldiers,” May 3) with rapt attention because I am part of a program similar to the USAID scholarship program that you described in the article and the name of the program that I am affiliated with is the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The MEPI program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and it was the brainchild of former ambassador to Oman Ret. Gary Grappo. The MEPI program is designed to bring top students from local Omani schools (through a rigorous selection program in cooperation with the Oman Ministry of Education) to TAISM beginning in grade 7 through the completion of high school. All MEPI Scholars are given a full scholarship to attend TAISM for the duration of their schooling that covers the cost of tuition, books, uniforms, supplies, and extracurricular activities. The goal of the program is to provide local Omani students with exposure to a U.S. based education system with the hopes that they may want to pursue post-secondary studies in the U.S.

There are currently 12 MEPI Scholars in the High School in grades 9 to 11. As the High School Counselor, I serve as the MEPI Coordinator. I am responsible for checking with the Scholars regularly, communicating with their families when need be, and with providing them with the resources they need in order to ensure academic success. For example, I have assisted with procuring laptop computers for those Scholars who had limited or no access to a home computer and I have secured psychometric testing for a Scholar who was suspected of having a mild learning disability.

As the MEPI Coordinator, it has been great witnessing the growth and maturation of the Scholars, especially the first cohort of Scholars who are currently in grade 11. To see shy students, who initially were not comfortable communicating in English (especially the girls), blossom into confident outspoken leaders (especially the girls) with a good command of English who will be enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) classes next year and looking at a variety of post-secondary education options has been a rewarding experience.

It has also been a thrill to see the MEPI Scholars partake in extracurricular activities, which are such a rich part of the U.S. High School experience. MEPI Scholars have participated in some of the following extracurricular activities: Track and Field team, Volleyball team, Global Issues Network, Drama, Band, and Choral productions. Through the above activities, the Scholars have had the opportunity to represent TAISM at a conference in Abu Dhabi (Global Issues Network), a band trip to Bangladesh, and an Honor Choir performance in Belgium. These excursions further enabled the Scholars to broaden their horizons.

The past two years, I have also enjoyed serving as a chaperone to the now annual MEPI Leadership Conference. In addition to TAISM, there are four schools who also participate in the MEPI program: American Community School (ACS) Amman (Jordan), ACS Beirut (Lebanon), Rabat American School (Morocco), and Schutz American School (Egypt). ACS Amman hosted last year’s inaugural MEPI Conference with the primary focus on the conference being, what makes an effective leader and the secondary focus being on what are the top attributes U.S. colleges are looking for in a high school student; retired provost, Dan Saracino formerly of Notre Dame University led this session. This year’s conference was hosted by Rabat American School. The highlight for me from both conferences was seeing all the MEPI Scholars from the different schools and backgrounds connect. The Scholars recognizing that they shared more in similarities than in differences and also recognizing the opportunities being afforded to them by being MEPI Scholars.

TAISM MEPI students participating in the 2011 MEPI Leadership  Conference in Amman, Jordan

TAISM MEPI students participating in the 2012 MEPI Conference in Rabat, Morocco

My school, TAISM, will host the 2013 MEPI Leadership Conference. Mr. Friedman, I would like to extend an invitation to you to attend the conference so that you can see first hand the impact the MEPI Program is making in the lives of Omani students. Thanks in large part to the vision of one man and the generosity of a government with the foresight to recognize that it is better to build bridges than to bring them down.


Ryan Haynes

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