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My story - Skogfjorden and CLV: An Investment in Our Global Community by Amy ‘Beate’ Hewett-Olatunde

Published: August 20, 2017

Beate's students at LEAP

Å så heldig jeg er, som kan være her med deg. For anyone who has been a part of Skogfjorden, these song lyrics mean something special. They are part of a tradition that happens every morning with the whole camp. Sitting near the water mid-morning, Tove in front of all of us, we sing. We sing together and our voices join as they echo out on to Lake Mjøsa. This time for me solidified that I was part of a strong and invested community. We came from different walks of life, parts of the country and countries, belief systems, and social structures, but we were united.

As I gear up for my 19th year of teaching high school English learners at LEAP in St. Paul, I prepare my mind for the 200+ students I will welcome into my classroom over the course of nine months. What you may not know about these students is that they aren’t your average high schoolers. They all come from countries around the world where they could no longer live. From refugee camps, war, gang warfare, political oppression, from inequity and social injustice. I need to prepare them academically and linguistically, but more importantly, I need to build a community with them.

As a young woman in my early 20s, I believe that Skogfjorden found me. I always felt like I didn’t belong wherever I was until the summer of 1997. For the next five years, my summers called me home to the northern woods of Minnesota. Home was where I could be myself without being judged, where I could take risks, and where I could exhale. Learning Norwegian, even though I had lived in Norway twice, came far easier for me in this environment. As a teacher and mother, I can now clearly see why CLV is so magical not only for the deltakere, but also for the ledere. As a teacher of English learners, CLV takes language and makes it accessible and equitable for all who come. And this is what I have done in my classroom for the past two decades. I have taken what I learned from those five years and I have transferred it to my classroom.

Beate upon being named Minnesota Teacher of the Year

I look back over my life and my career and where they have taken me. I grew up on the prairies of Canada, lived in Norway twice, and landed myself here in the US. I have worked in most facets of education at one point or another and continue to do so serving English learners. The most important work I do outside of the classroom is advocacy in the political arena and I never could have pictured myself here a couple years ago. But two years ago, something happened that changed my life, I won the 2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year four days after defending my dissertation in education. I was forced into the spotlight, which is something I have never been comfortable with. Looking back at what I have done in these past two years, I can contribute in part to my experiences at Skogfjorden. They helped shape how I teach, how I contribute on a global level, and how feeling a sense of belonging is something we all deserve.

Whether you learn Norwegian or any other language, it changes the way you see the world and how you fit into it. Your cultural competency and your global citizenship, not to mention the cognitive benefits to it will expand your world. When we look at today’s political climate in this country, we have to hold fast to appreciating what our forefathers went through when resettling in this country with little to no English skills. We need to respect and honor the risks they took in order for the privileges we have now. When we look at today’s immigrants and refugees, they are not so different than those who came a century ago. The thread that connects me to my students today is woven back through the past to my great grandparents who began a journey that was no less than heroic.

Hender som kan gripe, øyne som kan se, føtter jeg kan slå følge med, ører som hører deg nynne og le, å så heldig jeg er som kan være her med deg.

Å så heldig jeg er, å så heldig jeg er, å så heldig jeg er, som kan være her med deg.

Lukt av blomster, smak av bær, mil etter mil med grønne trær.  Regn mot hud i rufsevær, å så heldig jeg er!

En stjernesol, et univers, en hellig jord, et skaperverk.  Hvite hull, sorte hull, melkebru, En…evighet, to tre fire fem.

These song lyrics remind me of some of the richest and most beautiful memories but they also carry me forward to unforgettable memories I am bound to have each and every day with my students. I use this song in my class today as we explore the importance of our native languages and how culture is something that can never be taken away from us. Tusen takk for alt Skogfjorden