From Rovaniemi to South Range

SOUTH RANGE – Ekku Toivanen was having to quiet a few of the students in Steve Aho’s third-grade class at South Range Elementary School Wednesday, but most of them were interested in the slide show about Finland being presented.

Toivanen and Tinja Mtt are students from the University of Lapland in Finland. They are teaching in Aho’s third grade class for the month of April.

Aho said this is the third year for the program, which brings Finnish university students to South Range Elementary for a month. The idea for the program came from a professor from the University of Lapland, who was visiting Finlandia University in Hancock.

“She was living in Toivola, and her two daughters were coming to school here,” Aho said of the professor.

The program is coordinated through the two universities.

There is an obvious connection between Finlandia University and Hancock with Finland, but Aho said there are many people with Finnish ancestry in South Range, also. Of the 33 students in his class, 18 have Finnish last names or some other family connection to Finland.

“In our whole school, we have a strong Finnish connection,” he said.

Aho said in third grade, Michigan students study Michigan history, including the copper mining era in the western Upper Peninsula.

Many copper miners came from Finland or were descendants of people who came from Finland in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Aho said each year two Finnish university students come to South Range Elementary. One student is a media major, and one – Toivanen this time – is an elementary education major.

Aho said he hopes the Finnish visiting-teacher program can continue.

“We would like it to,” he said. “It’s really been a good experience for our kids.”

Toivanen said he did some assistant teaching with special needs students in Finland, also.

“I’ve done plenty,” he said.

He decided to take part in the program at South Range Elementary, Toivanen said, both to see the United States and to experience the American education system.

“This is an experience I … need,” he said.

The elementary systems in Finland and the U.S. vary mostly in the curriculums, Toivanen said.

“It’s pretty similar,” he said.

Mtt, who did the slide presentation about Finland, said students in Finland don’t start until they’re 7 years old.

Toivanen said although preschool isn’t required, most parents send their children to preschool.

“Almost everyone does it,” he said.

Although many educators in the United States cite the Finnish education system as the best in the world, Toivanen said teachers in Finland aren’t particularly well compensated or well thought of.

“They are not as respected as you’d think,” he said.

He isn’t getting into education for the money, Toivanen said, but rather out of a sense of duty.

Toivanen said he’s in his fourth year at the University of Lapland with one year to go. However, finding a teaching job may be a challenge, because most positions in the larger cities are always filled.

“Students tend to stay in the city where they were studying,” he said. “You have to look hard and you have to look at the smaller cities (to find a job).”

Mtt said although she isn’t going to be a teacher, she is learning about the American education system and the U.P. version of American culture.

“I like it,” she said.

Both Mtt and Toivanen are living in Finlandia Hall at Finlandia University. There are other Finns there and Americans who speak Finnish, so the culture shock isn’t too great.

Toivanen said he’s also enjoying his time in the Copper Country.

“It’s going very well,” he said. “This has been a very, very great experience.”