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NISKAYUNA: Exchange program gets boost

The world is more interconnected than ever before, and that changing environment makes it essential for people from different parts of the globe to better understand one another's cultures, histories and ways of thinking. That simple premise is at the heart of an international exchange program being led by Stephen Schechter, a local Niskayuna man using his position as a professor at Russell Sage College to take the cause of international understanding to a whole different level.

Breaking out of the traditional classroom, the $3 million Civics Mosaic program Schechter has designed connects area teachers with their counterparts in Russia, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Armenia, the Republic of Georgia and other Eurasian nations. This year, it will cover the cost of sending abroad three Niskayuna teachers and five from the South Colonie school district. That will be done during local school breaks, and teachers will also be brought in from overseas so they can see how an American classroom works.

Once the local teachers return, they will put their new knowledge to work in the classroom and be part of developing a workbook that will encourage greater understanding of global conditions. We live in a region generally, and particularly along the axis of Route 7, that is becoming increasingly internationally conscious, Schechter said. "To remain competitive in a world that is becoming more interdependent, it's important for our young people to have a better understanding of how people from different parts of the globe think."

Starting on Oct. 1, the latest round of the Civics Mosaic program is the second phase to gain funding from the federal Department of Education. Focused on enhancing ties to Russia and its immediate neighbors, the program has the added benefit of encouraging the development of democracy in nations that have sometimes had difficult relations with the United States.

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