Vast Distance Can't Separate English Teacher from Her Students

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 5, 2001 | Go to article overview

Vast Distance Can't Separate English Teacher from Her Students


Byline: Joan Broz

Think of Germaine Olson as the Pied Piper of new or gently used children's books.

The Lisle resident searches used book sales to buy quality books that tell simple stories about American customs, historical places, everyday things, animals and family life. She looks for delightful story lines and rich use of language in easy-readers, but also for simple word usage and strong visual images in picture books.

Book by book, Olson continues to educate even though she retired from a 44-year teaching career. The books are not for students at Lyons Township or Trinity high schools, where she honed her skills as an educator. Rather, the books are for students and their teachers a world away in Trencin and Nemsova, Slovakia.

A small landlocked country, Slovakia borders Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. The country's numerous mountain barriers have not isolated the country from a history of strife and invasions.

When the nation was part of Czechoslovakia, Adolph Hitler and then Soviet communists invaded, meeting any form of resistance with swift and vicious retribution. The people endured decades of religious persecution and a tightly controlled economy.

When Slovakia regained its independence in 1989, its agricultural economy lacked the diversity of its Czech neighbor, Olson said.

"Because of the poverty of the country, many of the fields are planted by oxen-pulled wooden plows and seeded by persons hand- spreading seeds left to right," Olson said.

"The rural country is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined," she said. "Small in quantity, but it has quality in its people and deserves the best."

Giving it her best is what linked Olson to Slovakia.

In retirement, Olson investigated ways to share her enthusiasm and love of academics. She felt she had the stamina and willingness to give herself to a task where she was needed.

Olson treasured growing up in Minnesota and reading every book in the local children's library. With her first degree from the College of St. Catherine's in St. Paul, she began to teach second grade. She intended to teach every grade up the ladder to learn how best to share her excitement in learning and discovery with students.

Olson eventually settled into teaching high school honors and superior-level students during the day as well as a junior college class one evening a week. The combination gave her the opportunity to experience the full range of educational development in students.

During a year of prayer and personal reflection, Olson methodically considered her options. She felt that perhaps a foreign county would be a place to serve others. …

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