Retirement Might Have Been Consideration, but not Reality

When Emily Wood retired from her position at Eisenhower International School seven years ago, she thought she had walked the hallowed halls as a teacher the last time.

Then how is it an 80-year-old is back on the job helping students stay immersed in Spanish and French courses?

How is it that Wood is working hard to coordinate student exchange programs between Eisenhower students and their fifth grade counterparts in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and Amiens, France?

Answers are simple, one answer actually.

Wood has the knowledge of bringing programs together that links the three cities and students get an opportunity to be immersed in cultures and to participate in a global community.

Tulsa’s immersion program started as an experiment 16 years ago at Elliott Elementary School with the focus on Spanish based on a concept introduced by then Tulsa Superintendent Dr. Bruce Howell.

It grew and was moved from Elliott to a Eisenhower Elementary which had been closed. The superintendent’s vision was to make Eisenhower an international school.

Howell moved Wood, then teaching at Patrick Henry Elementary, to a new assignment. The choice was made because of her work in various international programs in Tulsa.

‘‘This school really was Bruce Howell’s vision,’’ Wood continued.

She wasn’t certain if a predecessor, Dr. Larry Zenke, originated the idea.

Wood was called out of retirement last year and found herself in the familiar building. This time one room in the school had been named in her honor.

Little else had changed, she said. The forms that she used prior to retirement were still in use. Friendships she had established San Luis Potosi many years before had been maintained so that part of the transition was easy.

The French curriculum was introduced while she was retired and she found that transition a bit more difficult.

Second languages are becoming even more important as the world and its businesses continue to shrink, Wood continued. One graduate currently is studying medical interpreting at Tulsa Community College and is looking at getting a job in a hospital helping bridge the language barrier between medical personnel and patients.

One student who was in the early immersion class at Elliott, in entering the Harvard University Law School.

Even with past successes, Wood is working to get six Tulsa students ready for an eight-week exchange program in San Luis Potosi.

That means raising funds for the trip. Parents help pay the costs for chaperones.

This year’s class is the smallest that has been sent to the exchange program in Mexico, she said. There has been as many as 12 students.

Interest in the immersion and exchange programs in Tulsa is growing.

Holland Hall has an exchange program and Zarrow International School is starting this year.

Students love the program and have developed long-lasting friendships, Wood continued. Those participating in the exchange program undergo an intense training program that helps them overcome any homesickness they might experience. They also learn about food, culture — and how many times the can call home.

The also learn about how much luggage to take.

The Tulsa-San Luis Potosi exchange program has drawn attention from other schools interested in similar projects.

Wood recently took a call from Iowa wanting to find out more about schools in Mexico.

‘‘Our students go to an exclusive private school in San Luis Potosi,’’ she said. Communication through email has made the program so much easier.

Wood also introduced the ‘‘Culture Box’’ program.

These boxes — now representing 36 countries — are large plastic containers containing items from various countries throughout the world. They are checked out to Tulsa Public School teachers wanting to enhance the curriculum of a particular lesson.

While many items are donated, funding also comes from the Schusterman Foundation.

‘‘When my husband (Tulsa City Auditor Phil Wood) and I travel, we often find items for the culture boxes,’’ she said. ‘‘There are times when Phil will go to meetings and I will go shopping for something for the boxes.’’

Emily Wood is enjoying herself as she comes out of retirement and now is a ‘‘new Tulsa Public School employee.’’ She hopes to continue the work and helping children learn languages that will bridge difficulties and perhaps lead to world peace.

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