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Missoula International School's new teachers are wide-eyed and eager for the school year – and shocked by how friendly everyone is.

Miriam Usero said she knows all of her neighbors, something that never happened back in Spain, and she's been in awe as people wave to one another on the street.

But she didn't want to come to Missoula initially.

Usero was living in London, and wanted a place with good weather and a beach. Instead, she fell in love with Missoula International School, and then Missoula.

"For me, it's a wow place," she said. "It's peaceful."

Usero is one of five new teachers at MIS this year. Four are from Spain – Usero, Andrea Ferrer, Barb Vicetto and Ana Martinez – and one is from Venezuela: Ibrahin Mena. There are also two interns from Spain – "Spain is taking over," Vicetto joked.

The teachers are here on J-1 cultural exchange visas. To get this type of visa, you have to have a degree in education and three years' teaching experience. The visas last for three years, but can be extended another two.

Of MIS's 26 teachers, half are from the United States. Of the preschool through fifth-grade teachers (the years of Spanish immersion at MIS), only one is a U.S. native. Everyone else comes from Mexico, Guatemala, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru.

"My hunger for learning brought me here," Martinez said. "I wasn't sure about Montana or not, but I wanted the USA.

"When they showed me the school, I was convinced I wanted to come here."


Montana's Office of Public Instruction has limited information on teacher diversity, since it's self-reported.

Based on U.S. Census data, though, Missoula County was 92.5 percent white in 2014. Montana was 89.4 percent white and 3.2 percent Hispanic or Latino.

"You don't see a lot of diversity in the population broadly," said MIS Head of School Julie Lennox. "Largely, our (Montana's) teachers are Caucasian, with some Native American, though we would like to see that grow statewide."

Having a native speaker in the classroom changes student outcomes in the language, the teachers said.

That's obvious in Vicetto, whose English is nearly perfect (though all of the teachers have a good grasp of the language). American or British teachers taught her English starting when she was 7. She spent her high school senior year in Wisconsin.

"And my mom, she was a visionary, she thought traveling was very important," Vicetto said. "The most important thing a kid or anyone should have is to be open-minded. There's much more to see than what's across the street."

Usero learned English from a native Spanish speaker. When it came time to talk with English-speaking people, she said not having a "fluent tongue" became apparent.

"We don't have a local crop of teachers that meet that criteria," Lennox said of native Spanish-speaking teachers in Missoula.


All five found their jobs through Visalista, an online job posting service. Usero submitted her resume through Visalista, and MIS Assistant Head of School Jeff Kessler reached out, asking her to consider Missoula.

She was struck by MIS's non-traditional ways. It's a Spanish immersion school and an International Baccalaureate world school.

"Their ideas are really fresh," Usero said. "They're teaching them how to be in the future, how to be a person.

"This is not a normal education system. For this reason, we are here."

It's a good fit for Vicetto, who wanted to help her students back home break out of the drag of "monkeys typing" and regurgitating what they learned on a test. So she taught them about Pink Floyd's "The Wall."

"What I want to teach you guys is to break through that wall," she told her students.

Soon, she'd created a class of rockers, the kids singing Pink Floyd in the hallways. "The other teachers stared at me," she said, laughing.

Mena is the first Venezuelan to teach at MIS.

"MIS is a hidden treasure," he said. "It may be a little small, but there are fantastic things you can find here."

Vicetto came here a month ago. Mena and Martinez just got here last week. MIS has welcomed them into the family, they said, ahead of the first day of school on Tuesday.

"I've traveled several countries and cities," Mena said. "I think Missoula is one of the most friendly places, one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen."

Vicetto knew of the outdoor adventures that awaited in Missoula. At Celtic Festival Missoula, she entered a raffle and won.

"I just clicked my heels twice and I got a kayak," she said.

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