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Peace Corps
With Betsi Shays,
Assistant Director of Domestic Programs

Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Peace Corps volunteers back from developing countries will put the cultural skills they gained to use in Mongtomery County as part of a project announced this morning aimed at helping schools with high immigrant populations. (Read the article.)

About 50 onetime Peace Corps volunteers have signed up to help at two Montgomery schools where the majority of students are immigrants and many are poor. The volunteers will help in a variety of areas, such as providing translations for parents and counseling, mentoring and tutoring for children.

Betsi Shays, the assistant director of domestic programs for the Peace Corps, was a volunteer teacher with the Peace Corps in the Fiji Islands from 1968-1970. A teacher for 27 years, she now directs the Coverdell World Wise schools for the Peace Corps.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Betsi Shays, thanks for joining us today. Can you start by giving us an overview of the program in Montgomery County?

Betsi Shays: Community Bridges is an innovative program designed to connect valuable resources to a challenged community. It's a unique partnership with Peace Corps volunteers, community and immigrant organizations, businesses, and students, parents and faculty of both Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College.

The program is designed to be a bridge between immigrant families new to the area and their community.

Santa Monica, Calif.: What kinds of skills do Peace Corps Volunteers learn abroad that are applicable here in the States?

Betsi Shays: What a great question!

Peace Corps Volunteers learn a lot - and bring even more back home.

Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) work shoulder to shoulder with people of the host country to accomplish a common good. To do that well, they have to learn how to live and work respectfully and effectively in another culture, speak the host country language, and become proficient in the development work you're going to be doing.

Wheaton, Md.: With all the talk of violence in schools today, how do you see the Peace Corps helping to bring cross-cultural (both other cultures and subcultures) understanding into American classrooms?

Betsi Shays: Thanks for your question. Every incidence of violence in our schools makes me wonder if the stories would have been very different if kids better understood and appreciated
one another.

Peace Corps' World Wise Schools has innovative, free resources designed to help U.S. students better understand the world, themselves, and others. You can find them at www.peacecorps.gov/wws

Washington, D.C.: Peace Corps has been around for 40 years, and this is, I understand, the first time such a partnership has been formed. Betsi, how did this project come about, and how do we in other jurisdictions in the D.C. area and in other parts of the country enter into the same sort of relationship with Peace Corps? Montgomery County is not the only place struggling with these issues.

Betsi Shays: Appreciate your interest. This partnership is a first for MCPS and for Peace Corps World Wise Schools. In the next year, we hope to learn a great deal about how to make this work well enough to invite other partnerships!

In the meantime, check out our web site: www.peacecorps.gov/wws. You will find some terrific, real world resources that will help kids 'get real with the world'. Perhaps most important of all, look for Culture Matters. This primary source document is used to train new PCV's about living and working effectively and successfully in another culture. MCPS will be using this as the launching point to train their teachers to work with kids from so many diverse backgrounds.

Adams Morgan: Hi Betsi!

I'm an returned volunteer, and would love to do something like this in my neighborhood, one of the most diverse in the city. Are there any plans to start a similar program here?


Betsi Shays: Hi RPCV in Adams Morgan!

The program in MCPS is the first of its kind. I'd suggest you contact Raymond_Bryant@FC.MCPS.K12.MD.US or phone me at 301-279-3604. He'd love to hear from you and any of your RPCV friends!

This is a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to bring home all you've learned from your service abroad!! Keep that Third Goal alive!!


Washington, D.C.: Where do Peace Corps volunteers serve when they are overseas? Which of those countries overlap with immigrant populations in this area?

Betsi Shays: Thanks for asking. Here's a list of countries with the largest student representation in the two Community Bridges 'target' elementary schools:

Washington, D.C.: Hi Ms. Shays,

Thanks for all this great information about the Peace Corps! How does a person become a World Wise Schools teacher? It seems like a fabulous way to share overseas experiences with American students.

Do I have to be a former Volunteer to participate in the program? Does WWS have a Web site I can visit?

Betsi Shays: Becoming a member of World Wise Schools is easy! If you want to join the correspondence match, send us an e-mail

Everything else is available online!

Takoma Park, MD: Has the Community Bridges program been tried in other school districts? If so, did it have a measurable impact on teacher satisfaction, student learning, etc. A second question, is there a plan to expand the Community Bridges program to other schools in Montgomery County that have a significant proportion of newly immigrated students?

Betsi Shays: No! This is a first. All involved expect it to be a successful and dynamic first!

Washington, DC: Which languages are people using in this program? I was a volunteer in Guinea, West Africa and speak French and Malinke. Thanks.

Betsi Shays: MCPS has 16,000 international students from 151 countries. 130 languages are spoken. I would imagine French would be one of them and quite possibly Malinke.

Ann Arbor, MI: Betsi:

I was just wondering if you could explain a little bit about the Third Goal you mentioned in your response to Adams Morgan. I'm really interested in the Peace Corps, and would like to know about it's goals. Thanks!

Betsi Shays: So glad you're thinking about Peace Corps. It could be two of the best, most important years of your life.!

Peace Corps exists to do three things:

. send skilled Americans to help people in other countries accomplish development work
. help people in other countries better understand Americans
. help Americans better understand others

Chevy Chase, Md.: Ms. Shays --

I am a returned Peace Corps Volunteer living in Montgomery County, and I am excited about the opportunities this project has for our community and the rest of the nation. Do you believe that this partnership has the potential of making a dent in the lack of understanding about immigrant children and their families in the U.S.? What do you see as the major benefit that will come from Peace Corps and Montgomery County's partnership?

Betsi Shays: Absolutely!

Peace Corps knows a tremendous amount about the world, it's peoples and cultures. PCV's are expected to continue to serve and share what they have learned when they come home.
RPCV's will be working with kids as well as their families to transition into a new place, a new culture.

Somewhere, USA: Can you please explain why the Peace Corps will not accept people who have previously worked in the intelligence community? Thanks.

Betsi Shays: The intelligence community's work is entirely separate from the work of the PC. Both work to keep it that way.

Rockville, Maryland: Betsi, As the point contact for Montgomery County Public Schools, if there are RPCVs interested in the project, have them contact me and I'll hook them up with our joint efforts. They can reach me at Raymond_Bryant@FC.MCPS.K12.MD.US or phone me at 301-279-3604.

Thanks for supporting such a wonderful partnership.

Betsi Shays: Hi Ray!

Thanks for putting your contact info out there for whoever's interested. May you be FLOODED with calls and e-mails from RPCV's eager to support this innovative and wonderful bringing together of many communities for a common good!!


Washington, DC: I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco from 1993 to '95. I lived in the mountains and spoke Berber, an indigenous language with thousands of different dialects. I'd be surprised if there were any immigrants that I could translate for. It's also been many years. Can I still be of use to the program?

Betsi Shays: Of course! You bring so much more than your language skills! You bring your love for and understanding of people from other cultures. You bring your sensitivity to what it's like to be the 'outsider' - until you learn the ropes in a new culture. You bring your desire to serve. That makes you of great interest to the Community Bridges program! Contact Ray!!

Falls Church, VA: What kind of funding does Community Bridges?
sources? Volunteers? Tangible resources? Thank you?

Betsi Shays: I don't know! Peace Corps is not involved in the funding process in any way: either giving or receiving funds.

Potomac, Maryland: Hi Betsi,

I am an RPCV from Niger 1998-2000. I thoroughly enjoyed my exchanges with two WWS classes and the programs at Broad Acres and Rolling Terrace sound so worthwhile and interesting. How can I help?

Unfortunately I can't be at a computer between 11:30 and 12, though I assume all responses will be saved so I can read them later. Alternatively, I can be reached by email at NoelleinAfrica@yahoo.com

Thanks so much,
Noelle Summers

Betsi Shays: Dear Noelle,

Wonderful to hear from an enthusiastic World Wise Schools participant!!

Contact Ray! Let him know you're eager to be involved. He'll welcome you with open arms!


VA: Hello. I would like to work for the CIA/DIA/NSA after the Peace Corps. Do you have any specific rule? And if I worked for the intelligence agencies, can I go work for the Peace Corps?

Betsi Shays: Sorry, but I just don't know the answer to your question. You might want to contact a PC recruiting office and/or someone at the intelligence agencies of interest to you.

Hope you get your answer.

Rockville, Md.: I just want to say that this is a brilliant idea, that being of coming full circle as an international community. Joan Harlin

Betsi Shays: Dear Joan,

It really is a FULL CIRCLE of continuous service . . . what a great Peace Corps thing to do!!

Your enthusiasm is deeply appreciated!


washingtonpost.com: That was our last question today. Thanks to Betsi Shays for joining us!

Betsi Shays: Thanks for the opportunity!

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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