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From Howell to Helsinki: Asst. Principals ‘eye-opening’ Finnish Experience


Howell High School assistant principal Mr. Brian McCarthy bridged the geographical gap between the United States and Finland by attending a program through the Fulbright Finland Foundation. The educational-based trip to Finland focused on how education works in Finland and becoming more aware of global education. 

“I had never been to Finland. It was incredible and quite beautiful.  It reminded me a lot of northern Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.  It was just absolutely gorgeous, like beautiful frozen lakes, and awesome architecture,” HHS assistant principal Mr. McCarthy says.

Renowned for its insightful program, it’s no easy feat to be selected for this annual trip. The process for applying for this program was long, and Mr. McCarthy found out in the summer of 2023 that he was going to be a part of this cohort.  

“I didn’t know anybody, but because we were notified so far in advance, the Fulbright Finland Foundation organized some virtual meetings to help get our mindsets ready for the trip and also meet our cohort that we went with, so I didn’t know anybody personally, but I met the group of travelers that went with me maybe three or four times in advance before the trip,” Mr. McCarthy says.

Upon arriving at the Helsinki airport and settling down, members of this program had the opportunity to do a site visit to the Vikki Teacher Training School of Helsinki.  

“I was so fascinated and curious about the Finnish educational system.  They are known worldwide for being one of the top educational countries in the world their students perform higher than most so I was really curious about that going in. I did learn a lot about the Finnish education system which was awesome,” Mr. McCarthy says.

Due to his absence, Howell staff members were asked to step up to help take care of some of his administrative duties. Two teachers, Mr. Aaron Metz and Ms. Valerie Carpani, stepped up as subs for Mr. McCarthy. 

“I’m pretty comfortable filling in for our administrative team because I have done it prior.  Before McCarthy was hired, we didn’t have an assistant principal so I filled in for months.  So over the years, I have been an administrative sub, making this pretty easy,”  Mr. Metz says.  

Mr. Metz and Ms. Carpani split the two weeks amongst themselves. Some students saw them in the student services office, while others saw Ms. Carpani walking around the school.  

“Honestly, I saw no difference in how admin was run. She [Ms. Carpani] even ruined my plot to get cheap drinks out of the staff break room,” senior Harrison Hamman says.

Teamwork from administration and teachers alike helped things run smoothly in Mr. McCarthy’s absence.  

Throughout this experience, Mr. McCarthy was able to take away connections and knowledge that he plans to share and hopefully, integrate into Howell High School. 

“My biggest takeaway is now the network of colleagues that I have from around the U.S.  The fifteen other people that I went with are unbelievable leaders.  They left me thinking ‘Why am I here?’ This person from Los Angeles runs professional learning for all administrators in Los Angeles which is the second largest district in the country.  I was there with an administrator from New York City, a principal from Chicago, and a person who oversees like ten different schools in Atlanta.  So it was just wild that I was sharing this experience with them and now I feel like in any topic in education I have an expert from somewhere in the country I can just call,” Mr. McCarthy says. 

Between the new connections and knowledge, Mr. McCarthy hopes to provide additional insight into the new HHS global scholars program that will allow students in the program to graduate with a Global Scholars Endorsement, along with their diplomas. 

“It is going to help our global education team make the global scholars program more powerful and one specific way is something that we are trying to figure out here is how to embed the United Nations sustainable development goals into our lessons and programs.  That is something that schools around the world are diving into and I just think it is so cool to have that shared vision with those schools worldwide.  If anyone has the chance to apply, I think they really should because there is so much you can take away,” Mr. McCarthy says.

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