“Jose turned into an instant rock star. The kids loved him,” said school counselor Tim Watson after Vitale’s recent presentation about his native Venezuela to students from Crellin and Yough Glades elementary schools.
Vitale, who is studying business at Garrett College, told the students that people in Venezuela have some different customs, food and culture.
“But I think you’ll see after my presentation that we are basically the same,” he said.
Watson said that point became clear when students asked what games Vitale played as a boy in Venezuela.
“They were very surprised, especially how similar his childhood was to theirs,” said Watson. “When he said he played ‘Tag’ and ‘Hide-and-Seek’ growing up, our kids said, ‘We still play those games!’ It showed we are all pretty much the same.”
Vitale’s presentations were part of an initiative to expose Garrett County Public Schools students to diverse cultures. Watson said Vitale’s presentation did just that in a way that captivated the students.
“Jose’s slide show was very engaging,” said Watson. “You could tell all the students were really interested in seeing how life is different in other cultures.”
Watson is working with Garrett College staff to bring all or most of the nine international students from seven different countries into the county’s schools to interact with students.
“I’m proud that our international students are excited about serving as diplomats in the classroom,” said Dr. Richard Midcap, Garrett College’s president, adding that admissions coordinator Melissa Wass and assistant athletics coordinator Eric Hallenbeck have been spearheading the project from the college’s end.
Vianne Bell, chair of the Garrett College Board of Trustees, has also provided leadership for this initiative, including attending Vitale’s presentations on behalf of the college.
“We have students from Canada, Morocco, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Lithuania, the French territory Reunion, and Venezuela,” Midcap said. “I think this program enriches the experiences and expands the horizons of both our students and the elementary school students.”
Watson said his students were very interested in the differences in Venezuela’s climate compared to Garrett County.
“The kids were shocked that Jose had never seen snow,” Watson noted, but added that the schoolchildren were equally surprised to learn everything kids everywhere have in common.
“It’s really a small world,” said Watson. “Now when our kids hear anything about Venezuela, they will have an immediate connection. Jose was the perfect diplomat to start off this program.”