Finnish culture taught in Copper Country School

SOUTH RANGE – Third-grade students at South Range Elementary School enjoy learning about Finnish culture from a native Finn, as part of a program sponsored by Finlandia University.

“Our area, and our school in general, is very rich in the Finnish culture, so the relevance is very real for our students,” said Principal Kim Harris.

Their teacher, 26-year-old Kaisa-Marie Poikela, has come all the way from Rovaniemi in northern Finland, near Lapland University, where she is pursuing an education degree. Oddly enough, she is learning a lot about her own culture in the process.

“I don’t get to teach Finnish culture in Finland,” Kaisa said. “This is really different. I learn a lot myself.”

The Hei Suomi program began in the spring of 2012 and has hosted four sets of student-teachers.

“Our students are super-excited,” said Charley Heltunen, a third-grade instructor at the elementary school who works with Poikela. “It’s outside the norm,” he said, which naturally inspires the children, many of whom are of Finnish descent.

“Students in South Range are exposed to a fascinating and relevant curriculum they would ordinarily not receive, the student-teachers are exposed to an intercultural teacher training experience, connecting with American practices in teaching and learning, and of course, the teachers of South Range also benefit similarly from the exchange,” said Hilary Joy Virtanen, Ph.D, assistant professor, Finnish and Nordic Studies at Finlandia University. “It is a great pleasure to be a partner in this program.”

Finlandia provides room and board and a car to the students who stay here for about two months.

Another Finnish student, Eetu Ahola, had been working alongside Poikela but was called home for a family emergency.

“It has been a real pleasure to spend time with our current instructors, Eetu and Kaisuli (Kaisa),” Dr. Virtanen said. “It provides me the opportunity to practice my Finnish, of course, but it also allows me to show them aspects of our local American and Finnish American culture that they might not otherwise get to see. They have engaged thoroughly with our students at Finlandia and with my own family. It has been a complete cultural exchange for a number of people, and that really lies at the heart of what Hei Suomi is all about.”