Measuring the impact of Fund for Teachers fellowships is tricky. How do you graph the increase in student excitement after their teacher returns full of new ideas and experiences? How do you assess the engagement of students once they realize through their teacher’s experiences the global impact of what they’re learning in class? Most often, the impact is intrinsic and anecdotal, but none the less transformative. Like in the case of Maria Morris.
During the summer of 2016, Maria used her Fund for Teachers grant to investigate the culture, educational system, employment and standards of living in Zimbabwe to improve a service-learning project she initiated with her students with barriers to education at Morse High School in Bath, ME. She split her time exploring community-based volunteer projects through African Impact at Antelope Park, observing four local schools and visiting an orphanage with which her students formed a long-distance relationship.
One year later, Maria checked in to share the impact of her learning in Zimbabwe.
“Just one year ago, I was settling in after a jam packed, whirlwind fellowship to Zimbabwe as a Fund for Teachers Fellow. The purpose of my fellowship was to study the culture, life style economics, employability skills needed and the educational system there. My fellowship actually began two years prior, when I sought out opportunities for my students to learn about a different country. At that time, I established a pen pal project with children living at the Midlands Children Hope Centre, an orphanage for street children, in the city of Gweru. In addition to developing friendships thousands of miles apart, we began charity work to help our friends who were in dire need.
Throughout that first year, it was evident that my students had more questions than answers and those questions inspired my fellowship journey. While in Zim I blogged regularly about my travels, whom I met and what I was learning, but I haven’t sat down to write for a year now. What did my FFT fellowship inspire me to do differently?
It often seems that in our country we look at charity as an agent for social change. Certainly money helps and is necessary, but it isn’t a long term solution. The fruits of my experience on the ground in Zim led me to learn more about social entrepreneurship, micro-finance and small enterprise over the last year. I devoured books like, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz, and took classes through Acumen. I sought out current event articles to share with my students. All of this helped me guide my students to inspire change through the funding of small
enterprise. The JMG students at Morse High School developed the Giving Hope! Grant to fund a revenue generating enterprise for our friends at Midlands Children Hope Centre.
In less than 24 hours a completed grant application was returned to the students requesting $400 to purchase equipment, fertilizers, and seedlings for their garden, which supplies the home with nutritious fresh produce, but also generates revenue. Later on, my students funded an additional grant request for the orphanage to design and purchase t-shirts, caps, and bracelets to sell to the volunteers that visit the orphanage. Staff and youth are mutually invested in both revenue generating projects to defray the operating costs of the home.This venture in providing grants (inspired after the concept of micro-lending) would not have been possible without my Fund for Teachers fellowship. Not only did my trip and experience change and inspire me, it impacted youth on both sides of the
As a teacher, Maria guides her students through academic, financial and social barriers to prepare them for college and career success. As a mentor, she exposes them to a world beyond their own struggles and empowers them to help others facing equally as challenging circumstances. Hard to quantify that kind of impact, but we’re very proud of how she’s using her grant to change lives on two continents.
In her second career as a high school career preparatory teacher, Maria has found her life’s passion in inspiring students to challenge themselves to become their best selves. She blends classroom lessons with authentic learning experiences to empower her students to become healthy and successful global citizens. Maria was inducted into the Maine Educators’ Hall of Fame-Starting Six in 2012 and named the 2016 Dr. Patricia Ames Distinguished Teacher Award at Morse High School in recognition of her ability to teach students to be open to new experiences, to care for others, and to act from conviction.