About five years ago, Colombian teacher Katerine Franco Cardenas traveled to the United States to study English at the University of New Orleans.
The opportunity came her way as part of a collaboration between UNO and the Centro Colombo Americano in Medellin, Colombia, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to strengthening cultural and academic links between Colombia and the U.S.
Franco Cardenas was already considered one of her city’s best instructors at the time. But when the University and the Centro Colombo Americano offered her nine months of English language instruction in Medellin followed by a two-month, all-expense paid training session at UNO’s Intensive English Language Program (IELP) in New Orleans, Franco Cardenas says, it changed her life.
“It is the best thing that happened to me,” she said.
Now, Franco Cardenas, a primary school teacher who teaches information and communications technology in Medellin, has been named one of 50 international finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, an honor that comes with $1 million to one outstanding teacher to be named in March.
The Varkey Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that aims to improve educational standards for underprivileged children globally, created the prize in 2014 to raise the stature of the teaching profession worldwide.
The foundation commended Franco Cardenas for her work helping students create audio and digital stories, cartoons, newspapers, letters and an online TV channel. Students in her classroom connect with others in the U.S., Chile, Malaysia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Ecuador.
“Attendance has improved and literacy and communication skills have developed considerably compared to students not taking part in her projects,” reads her finalist profile on Global Teacher Prize website. Her students are also scoring well on the nation’s standardized tests, it says.
“My experience in IELP was great because it was intensive and let me grow as a person and professional too,” Franco Cardenas said.
UNO’s IELP program is designed especially for non-native English speakers who plan to study at American universities or those who want to improve their English for professional or personal reasons. Each session is eight weeks and consists of classes in grammar, writing, reading, listening and speaking. It also gives students opportunities to explore the city through organized tours and activities.
Prior to receiving the scholarship to attend UNO, Franco Cardenas said she had very basic understanding of the English language. She said the intensive instruction she received at UNO so improved her command of English that she is now able to interact with other teachers around the world to create collaborative projects that enhance her students’ studies.
Alea Cot, assistant provost of international education for UNO, said she was thrilled to get news of Franco Cardenas’ recognition. “It is an honor for her and for UNO that we were able to assist her in her journey as a teacher and professional,” Cot said.
Cot said UNO was pleased to collaborate with Centro Colombo Americano. The partnership both enabled the University to increase its visibility in Colombia while also rewarding outstanding educators, she said.
Franco Cardenas, who reached out to UNO to share news of the honor and to say thank you, said that she has another goal ahead.
She wants to improve her English fluency to the point at which she can describe herself as fully bilingual. In her best-case scenario, that includes returning to New Orleans for more instruction.
“I never can forget all that UNO brought me as an international student,” she said.