Fund for Teachers fellowships are NOT vacations. So when a teacher applies for a grant to learn in Hawaii, selection committees raise an eyebrow. The proposal has to be extra convincing that teacher learning and student impact will extend beyond beautiful sunsets and drinks with tiny umbrellas. Christa Phillips’ proposal passed muster.
A first-grade teacher at Marshall Primary School, Christa used her Fund for Teachers grant to compare and contrast the culture, natural resources and geography of Hawaii with Belton, SC, to create an integrated unit that increases students’ curiosity, global awareness, appreciation of diversity, and helps make connections between people and their environment.
“Kilauea erupting was definitely not on the plan for my fellowship,” she laughed. “Because of the active eruptions, the Volcano National Park was closed. The Jagger Museum is closed indefinitely due to structural issues from earthquakes and the Thurston Lava Tube was not accessible either. Although I missed these experiences, I don’t feel like I missed out. I was fortunate enough to spend time with Rangers from the park at a different location on the island and learned the very latest eruption news. The air quality was poor, but the island was full of exciting places and resources to explore, history to uncover, people to meet, and adventures waiting to happen. The things I learned and the experiences I had will stay with me for a lifetime.”
At first glance, South Carolina and Hawaii have little in common; however, both are home to endangered sea turtles and both lie on faults in the Earth’s crust. (Marshall Primary School performs multiple earthquake drills throughout the year!) Both states also have petroglyphs dating back thousands of years; Christa photographed the markings carved into lava rock by ancient Hawaiians to compare with symbols created by Native Americans in South Carolina’s red clay. She’ll incorporate all of these topics, as well Polynesian culture and the history behind Pearl Harbor, into a new multi-week course that directly addresses state standards for Science and Social Studies.
“I have been in the teacher role for nearly two decades. As an FFT Fellow, I became the student,” said Christa. “This new perspective gave me an appreciation for the challenges of my students in seeking knowledge and understanding of the natural world and the diversity within it. It also inspired me to challenge myself to do things I was previously too afraid to do: flying around the world, hiking through a rain forest, driving up steep mountains at high elevations, walking on lava fields, seeing endangered species in their natural environment, and exploring 8 out of the world’s 13 climate zones! I have a new excitement for learning and teaching stemming from this wonderful experience.”
Christa (pictured hiking through the rain forest to Akaka Falls) is a National Board Certified Early Childhood Generalist. For nearly two decades, she’s demonstrated a passion for learning- both personally and professionally. Since 2007, she has partnered with the WebbCraft Family Foundation to provide tens of thousands of free books to children in the community. You can see more images from her fellowship on the dedicated Instagram account.