More than 40 educators from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are making a temporary home in Athens for the next year. Also called the “Khbrat” (or “khebrat”) program, which means “expertise” or “experience” in Arabic, the Building Leadership for Change Through School Immersion program is an annual program through which the Saudi Ministry of Education (MoE) sends educators to various places in the world to immerse themselves in high-performing educational systems.

Here in Athens,  Ohio University is hosting the OHIO Experience “Khbrat” Program, a collaborative effort involving the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE) in the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Education, according to a news update on the College of Arts & Sciences website.

“The program is designed to strengthen the values, skills, knowledge and attitudes of Saudi teachers through professional training seminars, English language classes, and structured immersion in outstanding Ohio K-12 school systems,” Dr. Gerard Krzic, director of the OPIE in the Office of International Training and Development, is quoted stating in the article. 

Krzic is the principal investigator for the program, and told The NEWS via email last Friday that the university was invited to submit a proposal for the program in 2017. “OPIE is also a longtime member of the University and College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP) Consortium,” Krzic said in the email. “Select UCIEP members with extensive experience in teacher-training programs were invited to attend a webinar about this program in order to submit a proposal.”

Additionally, Krzic said that OPIE and OU in general have had a longstanding relationship with the Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission (SACM), which he said organizes the program along with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education. OU was one of 12 to 15 universities chosen to host the program this year, Krzic said in an email Tuesday.

This is apparently the second year of the program, according to Krzic and several news reports from various other institutions, and is the first year OU has been able to participate. A self-identified participant in the program at Kent State University wrote in a column on the KSU student newspaper’s website about his views on the program.

“The MoE is committed to transforming the education system by strengthening the attitudes, values, skills, and knowledge of teachers, counselors, and principals via systematic immersion in high-performing Anglophone K12 school systems. KHEBRAT is the realization of these goals,” wrote Yahia Alayyafi in the column.

According to Alayyafi, Saudi teachers who participate in the program spend a year in one of seven countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the U.S. The program, he explained, “is equipping Saudi cadres with the necessary leadership skills required to modernize the education system of the country… KHEBRAT provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Saudi teachers to absorb (a) modern education system and implement it in Saudi Arabia,” something Alayyafi said that the country “needed badly.”

Originally, OU officials submitted a proposal requesting to host 51 educators, Krzic said, but 42 ultimately participated in the local iteration of the program. “It is not unusual in these types of programs for the participant number to fluctuate due to changes in participants’ personal and professional situations,” Krzic explained. 

Since the program operates on an annual basis, Krzic said the university will have to submit another proposal in order to participate next year. “We plan to do so,” he said.

Athens City Schools Supt. Tom Gibbs confirmed in an email last week that the district has “seen an increase in our EL (English Learner) population due to an educator exchange program through the Ohio University College of Education.”

Though Gibbs said he couldn’t share much due to student privacy rights, he did confirm that the district hosted a special registration event for families in the program earlier this month in which elementary, middle-and high-school staff and administration showed up to assist parents with completing paperwork, getting copies of necessary documentation, and answering questions about students’ scheduling.

“Our transportation department logged addresses so as to make necessary adjustments to routing,” Gibbs said, adding that many of the school district’s administrators, teachers and parents “have attended various open houses and welcome events over the past few weeks” to engage with the visiting families from Saudi Arabia.

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