Education Adventures in Idaho (and Peru)
Even before 2015/16, Mary Lee Ruch had seen plenty of twists and turns during her career as a professional educator. However, her experiences were taken to another level as one of the NEA Foundation’s 2016 Global Learning Fellows. That recognition brought with it some amazing opportunities, highlighted by a trip to Peru with 32 other teachers to visit schools and collaborate with educators in the South American country.
Ruch was invited to participate in the project as the IEA’s nominee to the NEA Foundation Teaching Excellence Award after receiving the IEA’s Marsha Nakamura Teaching Excellence Award in 2015. The NEA Foundation award perks included an-all expenses paid trip to Washington, DC for the NEA Foundation Gala, as well as classes and webinars on global learning in advance of the Peru excursion. “The global citizenship aspect of this really intrigued me,” says Ruch. “People are more alike than they are different, and it is important that we recognize that.”
The group spent 10 days in Peru during June of 2016, getting two totally different experiences by visiting the capital city of Lima, which has a population of more than eight million, and the small village of Cusco. The village dynamic was especially interesting for Ruch. “Even though they were in a rural, impoverished area, they had the same concerns about kids and learning that we do,” she says. “The kids there had big plans for furthering their education and then going back to the village and changing things for the better.”
Part of the global citizenship aspect of the trip included delivering a huge collection of books, as well as building a greenhouse with clay bricks in Cusco. Ruch and the other teachers also found time for some sightseeing, highlighted by a visit to the iconic Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. “That was an experience that I will never forget,” she says. “Being a history buff, it was very cool to see how that civilization lived.”
Ruch has been a fixture in classrooms and in the Coeur d’Alene Education Association since she and her husband first moved to North Idaho in 1979 following a vacation to the area. She grew up in Detroit, Michigan where she graduated from Wayne State University. She taught briefly in California and New Jersey before finding a home in the community and schools of Coeur d’Alene.
It was a friendship with former IEA Executive Director Jim Shackelford that jump-started her involvement with the Idaho Education Association. Shackelford’s daughter was one of her students, and he became a mentor for Ruch on union activities. “The IEA is the organization that takes care of me,” she says. “I’m not just a teacher, I’m part of the education community and I feel strongly that we need to be active and involved.” Ruch spent several years on the IEA’s Board of Directors on behalf of Region 1, and is now a board member elected from the ranks of retired members.
Retirement from the classroom after 38 years certainly doesn’t mean stepping away from her role helping children and families. Ruch now works part time as the Outreach Coordinator for the Coeur d’Alene school district, helping to provide wrap-around services that bolster the IEA/NEA vision of educating the whole child. “We try our best to remove barriers to education,” Ruch says. “It is very hard to learn when you are hungry or worried about where you are going to sleep, so we set up food pantrys and make clothes available, along with training teachers and counselors on how to recognize problems and help kids in need.”
For more information about the NEA Foundation’s Global Learning Fellowship program, visit http://www.neafoundation.org/pages/global-learning-fellowship/.