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Alumni Educate Children with Autism in Abu Dhabi

October 13, 2016


(Pictured above: Samantha Bolivar '14 and Christine Martinelli '14 at the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE)

As Curry College students majoring in special education, Samantha Bolivar '14 and Christine Martinelli '14 gained a wide variety of experiences through relevant classroom exercises and years of valuable field placements in Boston-area schools.

But little did they realize that they would soon be putting those skills to good use on the other side of the world.

Today, Samantha and Christine are teaching students with autism at a school in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Both were hired by the New England Center for Children-Boston shortly after graduating from Curry, but in the summer of 2015 an opportunity arose to teach overseas at an NECC partner school in the Middle East.

They both jumped at the chance.

"Working with children to improve important life skills like social interaction and communication is very rewarding," says Christine. "But working abroad, with a population of children that are all second language English learners (their first language, primarily Arabic), is an incredible experience.

"The children we work with are so diverse and they all come with their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the best feelings in the world as a teacher is introducing a skill to a child that they will use over a lifetime, and then seeing them complete those skills independently."

Not only do their pupils have diverse learning styles and backgrounds, but their colleagues hail from all corners of the globe, including the Middle East, Europe, and Central and South America, bringing a variety of different teaching styles with them.

"All of the teachers at the school bring unique teaching strategies and experiences that help us educate one another on best practices. It motivates us to learn new approaches for teaching a wide variety of learners."

And many of the proficiencies Samantha and Christine bring to the mix at NECC-Abu Dhabi were acquired nearly 7,000 miles away, while students at Curry College - both in the classroom and in the field.

Christine cites her 'Teaching of Reading' course with Professor Donna Rousseau and Sam praises her 'Advanced Curriculum and Assessment for Advanced Learners' course with Professor Joanne Seltzer as experiences from which they still draw knowledge from to this day.

They also credit their combined four years of on-site teaching experiences with a variety of students, including those with autism, as setting them up for continued success.

"During my many field placements through the Curry education program, I worked with students who had several different needs in a variety of subjects and settings," recalls Samantha. "These are skills that I currently employ now, including using student interests to motivate learning, behavior management strategies, reading assessments, and applying ESL strategies, which are helpful in working with individuals who struggle to speak English and/or Arabic and may have a weakness in the area of communication."

Aside from the professional benefits of being able to make an impact in the classroom, the pair has enjoyed the opportunity to experience a whole new culture.

"Working in a country whose culture prioritizes religion over government can be much different than living in the U.S.," says Christine.  "Traditional standards of Arabic and Islamic culture are more conservative in dress and in conversation."

But life in Abu Dhabi can also be very similar to life at home in Boston. There are shopping malls, movie theatres, amusement and water parks, nightlife, gyms, hair salons, you name it. Our experience here has been nothing short of wonderful."


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