Mount Made: From P.S. 1K to South America
Alumna Completes Fulbright Program to Expand Educational Opportunity
We first met Christina back in 2019—right as she announced that she was selected as the recipient of a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Grant. Now, almost three years later and after a couple of hiccups set in place by the COVID-19 pandemic, Christina was eager to share with us that she finally made it abroad! We had the chance to catch up with her and see how her Mount Made journey has continued to flourish.
Christina Mesk ’04 starts most days before the sun even has the chance to shine.
Arriving at work by 7:00 a.m., Christina takes a few moments of quiet to prepare her lessons as a fourth and fifth grade special education teacher at Brooklyn’s P.S. 1K, The School of Leadership and Creativity—where she’s worked for the past 18 years. She enjoys a few moments of pre-dawn peace and solitude before the hustle and bustle of the day—which usually begins as 12 eager students greet her at her classroom door. Inside the classroom, Christina works with learners with special needs, including students with specific learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, emotional disturbances, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and other health impairments.
Her passion for education began at the Mount, where Christina was mentored by caring and dedicated professors. She still keeps in contact with many of her professors, including Professor Emerita of English Sister Anne Denise Brennan and Associate Professor of Education Mary Ellen Sullivan, who not only instilled in her the values of service, but also supported her endeavors both within and outside the classroom. Today, Christina serves as a new teacher mentor at P.S. 1K—bringing her journey as a student and teacher full-circle and calling upon the guidance she received from her professors.
When we first spoke with Christina in 2019, she was eager to tell us about her award of a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Grant—where she would have the opportunity to travel abroad and expand her educational influence way beyond the walls of P.S. 1K.
“I was very overwhelmed when I first learned I was selected for this Fulbright, and even to this day it feels very surreal that I was chosen for such an amazing opportunity,” reflected Christina.
Since 2017, Christina has been a partner educator with Reach the World, a nonprofit organization that pairs travelers with teachers across the United States. Through this collaboration, Christina witnessed the power of global education in the classroom and was first introduced to the Fulbright program. Through Reach the World, students are given the opportunity to video chat with travelers and explorers in locations from Bolivia to Mongolia to Antarctica—engaging in deeper conversations about the culture, transportation, geography, and history of foreign nations.
“Global education is based on the Four Domains of Global Competency,” explained Christina. “These four domains are: Investigating the World, Recognizing Perspectives, Communicating Ideas, and Taking Action. Every classroom is different, but I firmly believe that all students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds can become global citizens.”
With her Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Grant—which equips teachers with the training and resources needed to bring an international perspective to their schools through global collaboration and an experience abroad—Christina had the opportunity to bring that global educational experience directly to her classroom.
Her work as a Fulbright scholar began with an online graduate course on global education and a global education presentation at a national symposium in Washington, D.C., and was set to conclude in Summer 2020 with a two-week immersion trip to Colombia—where she would gain the opportunity to be paired with a teacher in a local school and collaborate on best practices for teaching, learning, and professional development.
Of course, there were a few setbacks along the way (thanks, COVID-19…). Christina was unable to leave the States to visit Colombia in 2020 as originally planned. But, we’re proud to share that finally—after years of patiently waiting—Christina flew across the globe to complete her field experience in Colombia this past July.
Christina spent two weeks in Colombia—mainly in Bogotá—visiting schools and speaking to students, teachers, and administrators while immersing herself in the country’s culture. She was lucky enough to travel with a group of 15 other grantees from all over the United States.
“As part of our Fulbright funding, each grantee had to formulate a different research question to drive our projects,” Christina explained. “I focused on comparing how the United States and Colombia ensure equity and access in educational settings so that all students develop agency and independence.”
To summarize her findings, Christina created a digital Global Education Guide for members of her community that provides resources for teachers to incorporate global education into their classroom culture. The website includes answers to key questions such as “What is global education?” and provides unit and lesson plans for teachers. Incorporated in the guide is Christina’s reflection on that research question we mentioned above and entries to a blog she created to share her experiences from her trip to Colombia.
“Through my experiences as a Fulbright scholar, I learned that global citizens are flexible problem solvers who don’t see obstacles as a reason to quit. Global citizens see these obstacles as reasons to grow—to ask questions and keep conversations going. Those are the students I’m molding in my classroom.”
Links to the guide provided above are public and Christina plans to update and add to it as she continues to incorporate global education into her classroom. She encourages teachers and educators to explore her guide and consider incorporating the themes of global education into their teaching. By the end of September, Christina’s guide will be reviewed by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX)—a global development and education organization—and she will (hopefully!) receive official word that she is a Fulbright alum.
Receiving a Fulbright award is no easy feat, but the experience Christina received abroad benefited both her and her current and future students. Christina’s time at Mount Saint Vincent taught her both a commitment to human dignity and greater cultural awareness—qualities which certainly deepened during her trip to Colombia.
“The Mount is a catalyst for individuality,” said Christina. “It was there that I found my passion for teaching, and I’m reminded every day of the important work I’m doing in the classroom.”
Christina works diligently to promote both academic and social-emotional growth among all her students. Doing so means countless hours in the classroom both before and after school, weekends spent researching the latest strategies in positive behavior support systems, and volunteering to offer professional development seminars and curriculum planning workshops to her fellow faculty members.
“I believe that children will grow and achieve their goals if they have a voice in their education,” continued Christina. “As their teacher, I’m able to bring those voices into greater conversation with my colleagues in order to develop the best practices for instructing our students.”
As a Mount alumna, educating the whole person is something Christina knows all too well.
The service-driven culture and liberal arts experience at Mount Saint Vincent embedded in Christina a belief that true education extends far beyond textbooks. Taking what she learned from her Mount professors and mentors, Christina is committed to stepping outside her comfort zone to bring the latest and best global educational practices to mold well-rounded, caring students for years to come.
Her recent trip to Colombia only affirmed that commitment.
“It takes a lot of work to create a classroom with this kind of culture, but it is absolutely worth the effort,” says Christina.
Now that she’s returned to New York, we have every confidence that Christina will be transforming her firsthand travel experiences into engaging and creative lessons for her students at P.S. 1K. The only question left on the minds of her students is: where in the world will Ms. Mesk travel to next?
Are you Mount Made? Do you know other alums carrying out the mission of the College? Let us know—we’d love to share how the Mount helped launch your career. Contact us to be featured!
About the College of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the College of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational, and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for lives of professional accomplishment, service, and leadership in the 21st century.