How teacher spent summer vacation; new grants send educators to the corners of the world

The Boston Globe
Stephanie Vosk, Globe Correspondent

Suzanne Haile, a special education teacher at Brighton High School, plans to bring to her new classroom at Gardner Elementary in Allston this fall what she learns during a 40-day trip to Mali and Gambia in Africa this summer.

Boston Latin School teacher Son-Mey Chiu, who teaches Chinese language and culture, will bring back to her students what she finds while studying Chinese minorities and Buddhism on a monthlong trip to Southeast Asia.

The two are among 47 Boston public school teachers awarded $172,500 in grants this summer from the Boston Plan for Excellence’s Fund for Teachers program.

The grants will allow the teachers to travel nationally and internationally in ways that will benefit them and their classes.

“Africa’s sort of a dream place,” said Haile, before leaving on her trip earlier this month. “When I heard about the Fund for Teachers program, I thought I’d pick the place I wanted to go the most.”

Haile is studying the art of fabric design and dyeing techniques, and creating a kit for other teachers to use with their students.

Chiu said she heard about the program after two of her colleagues went to China last year, the first year of the fund, after the national Fund for Teachers program approached Boston about taking part.

Though 90 people were awarded grants last year, program director Dotty Engler said the money available this year was for 47, out of 130 applicants.

Though teachers have the opportunity to apply in teams, many more requested individual grants this year, she said.

Individuals could request up to $5,000, Engler said, and each team could request up to $7,500. Applicants had to explain how the trip could benefit their classrooms, their colleagues, and themselves.

“One of the things we really want to know is that this is something they’d love to do but maybe would never be able to afford on their own,” Engler said.

“In some ways, it’s a pragmatic fantasy, something that you really want to do as a professional, but meets the other criteria.”

For Marcia Young, a kindergarten teacher at Joseph Lee Elementary School in Dorchester for 33 years, an interest in knitting sparked her idea for a trip.

Young planned to spend six days learning the ins and outs of knitting in upstate New York, from visiting a sheep farm to dyeing yarn.

“It’s something that I’ve done all my life and enjoyed, so I was hoping that maybe this would be of interest to some of the children,” Young said.

For Young, the lesson will tie in to a Ukrainian folk tale called “The Mitten” that she teaches her students. As the tale tells of a grandmother knitting mittens for her grandchildren, Young often takes out her own knitting needles and explains the process to her students. After her trip, she will have more insight to share.

“By experiencing it, I hopefully can share my enthusiasm with the kids, and they usually get excited if I’m excited about something,” said Young.

Engler said the committee also considers how articulate the applications are, and how much the teachers really seem to want to take the trip.

“It’s the closest thing to being a fairy godmother,” said Engler, “that I’ll probably ever do.”

Virginia Lombard: East is East and West is West and here the twain shall meet

Alexandra Bowers, The Charlestown Bridge

When Charlestown resident and teacher Virginia Lombard returns to Charlestown High School in the fall, she’ll have quite a tale to tell about her summer vacation.

Lombard will travel for three weeks in mainland China, courtesy of a grant from the Fund for Teachers, a Boston Plan for Excellence program that funds summer travel and study for Boston public school teachers.

“The Fund for Teachers is free-form,” said Lombard. “You make your own trip and find your own connections.” She added that sometimes an idea will come from someone’s trip of a previous year, and that teachers often find connections through local residents.

Lombard, who teaches Java programming and Web design, hopes to study how computer technology is used at several Chinese high schools, and to establish relationships that will continue after her return to the U.S.

For Lombard one reason she decided to apply for the grant is that Charlestown High School is reorganizing its class structure. The emphasis across the school will be on small learning communities to focus on the skills that each group of students needs to concentrate on.

Lombard will be in the bilingual unit, which teaches English skills to Chinese and Hispanic students. Roughly 15 percent of Charlestown High School students are in the Chinese bilingual program.

“There are a lot of students who have been in the U.S. for only one or two years, and they need the ESL classes,” said Lombard, adding that there are large groups of students from Hong Kong and from the nearby province of Guandong.

“It’s primarily Chinese and some Spanish-speaking students that sign up for Web design,” said Lombard, adding that some elective courses, including the ones she teaches, will be open to the whole school.

Lombard used the tools of her trade to set up her trip. She surfed the Web to find the sites of Chinese high schools and then wrote emails to explain her goals and set up her visits to the schools. All the schools have staff members who are fluent in English, which has made the planning easy.

“I talked with [the schools], and they said they’re advanced in what they’re doing,” said Lombard. “I’m looking to see what they’re doing with technology in the schools. I want them to show me and talk about things.”

Lombard will travel in China for three weeks, leaving on July 28. She will visit high schools in four cities – Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and Chongqing. There will be time before her return for a boat cruise down the Yangzi River to see the Three Gorges before a giant dam under construction fills them in.

In addition to visiting high schools and speaking with teachers, Lombard hopes to learn about the culture and diversity of China as she travels through the country. She also has a list of sites to visit that includes the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the terra-cotta tombs of the First Emperor.

Lombard won’t be alone during her trip. Her niece, Caroline Turner, is a junior at Winchester High School. Turner is also the sports editor of her high school newspaper. When Lombard asked her if she would like to visit China, Turner’s reaction was immediate.

“She was so excited that she had her passport in the works the next day,” said Lombard.

Both Lombard and Turner are learning Mandarin Chinese using an audio foreign language course. “I’m trying to teach myself Mandarin. I drive around and people think I’m talking to myself,’ said Lombard.

Next week she’ll get a chance to find out if she’s pronouncing things correctly or not. And when she returns to her home in Charlestown, she’ll have even more chances to practice with her students as she bridges the digital divide between East and West.

Fellow Testimonial – Lori Davis

Fund for Teachers kicks off campaign

River Oaks Examiner

Fund for Teachers recently recognized its 2005 fellows at a special award ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel.

Business leaders from around the city have joined forces to participate in the newly formed Houston Leadership Committee raising money for the Fund for Teachers Houston 2005-2006 campaign. Funds raised will be used to permanently endow summer sabbaticals for Houston-area teachers.

FFT grants will be awarded to teachers who work with students in grades K-12 and have a minimum of three years teaching experience. Participants will be selected based on how their summer fellowship will make the applicant a better teacher, how improved skills and capacity will be implemented in the classroom and how the teachers’ improved skills or capacity will benefit students, curricula and the school.

Founded by Apache Corp. Chairman Raymond Plank, the foundation’s enrichment fund is supported by individual and corporate donors.

Houston Leadership Committee raising money for FFT campaign

Friendswood Journal

Houston – The Houston business community is in a great position to give back to Houston-area teachers. Business leaders from around the city have joined forces to actively participate in the newly formed Houston Leadership Committee raising money for the Fund for Teachers (FFT) Houston 2005-2006 campaign. Funds raised will be used to permanently endow summer sabbaticals for Houston-area teachers. Bob Peebler, CEO and President of Input/Output and this year’s Campaign Chair recently said in regards to the 2004-05 Houston based Fund for Teachers campaign, titled Energy for Teachers “Since the fund was originally launched as Energy for Teachers, we have work to do to educate other businesses in Houston of the value of the Fund. It’s important that this year we increase the participation of oil companies verses mainly the energy service sector; we want to expand our participation to the non-energy sectors of Houston. I’m confident that we can expand outside of the energy sector, even though it will continue to be a significant target for our funding.” Adding to that, second year steering committee member Kurt Hoffman, Vice President of Marketing at Noble Drilling, said “This year we are looking forward to targeting a broader scope of area businesses in an effort to increase our fundraising potential which will in turn benefit a greater number of educators.”

Houston Leadership committee members for the 2005-06 Fund for Teachers endowment campaign include: Campaign Chair – President and CEO of Input/Output, Bob Peebler, Gala Chair President, Senior Vice President, Global Operations, Energy Service Group of Halliburton Company, David King; CEO and COO of Apache Corporation, G. Steven Farris; President and COO of Nabors Industries Ltd., Tony Petrello; President and CEO of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation Jim Hackett; Vice President of Marketing of Noble Corporation, Kurt Hoffman; Chairman and CEO of Noble Corporation, James C. Day; Managing Partner with Baker Botts LLP, Walt Smith; Managing Director of RBC Capital Markets, Linda Stephens; President, North and South America for Schlumberger, Oilfield Services, John Yearwood and Chairman and CEO of National Oilwell, Peter Miller.

FFT is a unique public foundation whose mission is to enrich the lives of school teachers and students by providing outstanding teachers with recognition and opportunities for renewal. FFT provide funds for direct grants to teachers to support learning opportunities of their own design. It is estimated that the grant reaches 3,000 students over a span of a teacher’s career.