Summer 2020 Virtual Educators Workshop: K-14 Education during COVID-19 in the U.S. and Abroad

By Stephanie Porter (Outreach and Programming Coordinator, REEEC)

On July 28-29, 2020, the area studies centers of the Illinois Global Institute (Center for African Studies; Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies; Center for Global Studies; Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; European Union Center; Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies; Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center) hosted a summer virtual educators workshop, “K-14 Education during COVID-19 in the U.S. and Abroad”. The workshop was designed for primary and secondary school educators, community college faculty, and librarians. Illinois educators could earn up to 6 professional development hours for attending.

With almost 120 participants from all over the world, the workshop incorporated interdisciplinary lectures, roundtables, and vibrant discussions about online educational resources, tips on teaching with technology, assessment, and perspectives from educators (both in the U.S. and abroad) about teaching during the pandemic. Presenters ranged from University of Illinois and Parkland College faculty, K-14 educators in other states, to educators from countries like Brazil, Poland, and Peru. Participants were especially impressed by the ingenuity of teachers working in areas where most of their students do not have access to widespread, stable internet connections. Many recounted how difficult the sudden shift to online learning was on themselves and their students, especially on those students with less resources and support at home. 

Throughout the 2-day workshop, participants and presenters touched on questions of social justice, student engagement, teacher support, and the digital divide – all topics that were relevant to educators from different countries. They noted the many similarities and differences in their experiences, and actively used the chat feature on Zoom to communicate with each other – frequently providing feedback and suggestions.

Despite the uncertainty and challenges for the academic year ahead, the workshop participants appreciated the professional development opportunity of connecting with their counterparts from many different countries, reflecting on the past year, and learning about tools and approaches for effective distance learning from other educators’ experiences.

Stephanie Chung Porter is the Outreach and Programming Coordinator at REEEC.

Community Outreach: Russian Language and Culture Lessons at Leal Elementary

By Serenity Stanton Orengo

This spring, I had the opportunity to do twice-weekly Russian language and culture lessons at Leal Elementary School in Urbana as part of their after-school program. Each Tuesday and Thursday, I worked with a group of 10-12 students ranging in age from kindergarten through fifth grade. Because some of the students were very young and still learning to write in English, we focused on oral repetition for speaking. Each day had a theme, and we would cover vocabulary or phrases related to that theme, look at a slideshow with relevant pictures or watch a video, and then do a related craft. One day, for instance, was “St. Petersburg and Moscow Day.” We looked at pictures from the two cities, found them on a map, learned basic city-related vocabulary, and the students made onion-dome cityscapes out of construction paper. Other themes included Russian Holidays Day (learning months and listening to the Russian birthday song); Colors and Numbers Day; Russian Souvenir Day (students made their own matryoshka nesting dolls); and Cheburashka Day (we watched an episode of the Soviet cartoon). By far, everyone’s favorite theme was Fabergé Egg Day. After learning the history of the eggs, viewing pictures, and guessing their worth, students made their own Fabergé eggs out of construction paper which they decorated with stickers, gems, and markers. The students look forward to continuing these language and cultural lessons once they are able to return to school.



Serenity Stanton Orengo is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on medicine, women’s reproductive health, and transgressive motherhood in nineteenth-century Russian literature. 

Publicly Available Online Curriculum from REEEC

Looking for activities for children who are home from school? Learn about Russia, eastern Europe, and Eurasia! REEEC has publicly available curriculum on our region for students ranging from pre-school age to high school:…/k-…/curricula-and-lesson-plans/

To access each curriculum, please fill out a simple webform for our grant reporting records. Once you submit the form, you will gain access to the requested curriculum. For example, the link to access our Head Start curriculum (learning about a country and a hands-on craft) for pre-school students is…/headstart-curriculum-form/. For high school students, our “Rivers of Siberia and the Russian Far East” is a popular social studies/geography curriculum module:…/rivers-of-siberia-and-the-r…/.

Most NRCs (National Resources Centers) on campus have similarly available curriculum online. Please visit the curriculum and resource pages for the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, Center for Global Studies, and the European Union Center for more information.

If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie Porter, REEEC Outreach and Programming Coordinator, at

Carrie Busey Elementary School’s International Night

On March 5, Stephanie Porter (REEEC Outreach and Programming Coordinator) participated in Carrie Busey Elementary School’s International Night, along with the other area studies centers’ outreach staff. At the REEEC table, students made paper matryoshka dolls and played with the dolls from REEEC’s collection. They especially enjoyed taking the dolls apart and finding the tiny doll inside. In addition to the REEEC table, the students and their parents (some wearing the traditional clothing from their countries of origin) enjoyed visiting other tables representing different countries, making crafts, and sampling foods. There was even a performance of dances and music from around the world. Everyone had a lot of fun and is looking forward to next year’s International Night!