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Teachers who hail from abroad bring the world to local classrooms

Pablo Giudici of Argentina teaches first-graders at Potomac View Elementary School in Woodbridge, Va. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Many of the students at Potomac View Elementary in Woodbridge hail from Guatemala, El Salvador or Mexico, sometimes showing up at school within days or weeks of their arrival to the United States. The adjustment — to longer school days, to a new language and to new friends — can be difficult.

There is one teacher who understands that more keenly than others. Pablo Giudici moved from Argentina in the fall, leaving behind a long teaching career and transplanting his family from a suburb of Buenos Aires to Prince William County.

So, Giudici tells his first-grade class, he gets it: “I understand what you feel.”

Giudici is one of 56 teachers in Prince William who came to the county’s classrooms through the Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program, which brings teachers from around the world to work as world-language and general-education teachers for U.S. children. The teachers are able to work for as many as five years before they return home.

Giudici is helping to fill a critical need for teachers of English-language learners at Potomac View, where the population of students learning English has exploded during the past decade. More than two-thirds of students are English-language learners, with most coming from Latin American countries. Giudici rotates among classes, teaching small groups of students who often need extra attention.

He worked with several squirmy first-graders Friday, teaching them a lesson about insects. They read books about the critters, and Giudici asked them to share what they learned with the group.

“So some of them can fly?” he asked the students, who eagerly waved their hands to be called on.

“Some live on the ground!” one girl said confidently.

“Some eat — what’s it called? — other insects,” another girl chimed in.

“Some are ugly!” another girl said, cracking a sly grin and sending the group into laughter.

First-grade teacher Caroline Mazzotta, who co-taught the insect lesson that day, said students are drawn to Giudici because of his energy and enthusiasm.

“The kids adore him,” Mazzotta said.

David Young, chief executive of VIF International Education, said the program was designed with the idea that students — even those who may never travel outside the United States — should be exposed to global perspectives. The company was inspired by Young’s parents, who grew up in rural North Carolina, met in college and later moved to New York City, where they were exposed to a vast array of cultures.

“That kind of led them to make this lifelong commitment to multicultural learning,” Young said. His father, James Fred Young, went on to become the president of Elon University.

The company has brought more than 12,000 teachers from 77 countries to U.S. schools over the past three decades.

Young said he hopes VIF teachers, in turn, gain skills and knowledge that will help them when they return to their homeland, bringing U.S. perspectives to their students and colleagues.

Liza Bacuyag came from the Philippines to teach second grade at River Oaks Elementary School in Woodbridge. She has taught for nearly three decades in public and private schools in Manila and Saudi Arabia. But, for her, teaching in a U.S. school has been an education in itself.

One method she hopes to adopt for Filipino classrooms is “guided reading,” a technique of grouping students according to reading ability and tailoring instruction and material for each group. Many of the classrooms where she has taught lack the resources to do that kind of instruction, but she thinks she can replicate it by creating the books herself.

Darlene Faltz, supervisor of recruitment and specialty programs for Prince William County schools, said bringing in VIF teachers helps the school district work with English-language learners but also gives the students something they may not otherwise get in a Northern Virginia classroom.

“It promotes our goal of providing our students with a global education perspective,” Faltz said.