The British Schools Experience (BSE) is an early field experience internship for students majoring in elementary and early childhood education. The program is a collaboration between the Childhood Education department and the Cambridgeshire Country Council in England. The students travel to Cambridgeshire, England for four weeks of residency each June and July to teach in primary schools in England. The BSE program began in the mid-1990s under the guidance of Dr. Ron Linder. Initially, it featured some schools in the London area and in Brighton but since 1998 the BSE program has operated from Cambridge with six different faculty members involved at different times.
During this Level II internship, students prepare and implement original lesson plans, and keep a reflective journal focused on their experiences and cognitive dissonance related to customs and culture. Upon completion of the internship, students prepare a diagnostic portfolio based on the Florida Accomplished Practices which includes their journals, lesson plans, a photo documentation of their experiences, and the narrative from faculty observations.
The British Schools Experience program can be described as an “intense” experience for both students and faculty. Preparations begin for faculty in September with recruiting sessions for interested students. Seminars for the students are held in the spring prior to the summer program, and cover all of the topics ordinarily addressed in internship seminars such as teaching practices, classroom management skills, and lesson content. In addition, these seminars help students to prepare students travel to and within the UK by discussing cultural issues, and possible curricular points of difference (such as England’s National Curriculum). While in Cambridgeshire, students and faculty share accommodations at a guest house, where they are able to work closely with each other and discuss issues related to the experience on a daily basis.
Faculty members have found that students have expressed a high level of satisfaction regarding their experience abroad. Students have written in their reflective journals that the cultural experience helped them to see teaching in a new light and that they find that they have learned a great deal about their American perspectives. Students also have written that the intensity of the experience, which requires them to work daily with children, better prepares them for their final internship experience back in the U.S. The host teachers affiliated with the partner schools in Cambridgeshire have indicated that the USF students are well prepared and make meaningful contributions to the learning environment during their time in England.
The faculty members who serve as program directors to the BSE program commit to a two-year term. This allows them to be mentored by experienced faculty members in the first year, and to in turn mentor a new group of professors who will have future involvement in the program during the second year of their commitment. As a result of this faculty mentoring model, the British Schools Experience has become a “team” effort involving several professors who have had experience hosting the program. The British Schools Experience program is not only an asset to our students’ professional development, but also to the faculty’s development as well.