Newsletter – Volume 1, Fall 2005

In This Issue:
Husband, wife team volunteer in Nepal
Annual planning provides interaction, goals for 2006
Chicago teacher goes to Arctic’s edge

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.



Shearn Elementary Gets an Extreme Makeover

When students at HISD’s Shearn Elementary School show up for class on Thursday, September 15, they will see a different school from the one they attended just the day before.

Thanks to a huge contingent of volunteers from a number of Fortune 500 companies, within just 24 hours the school will appear squeaky-clean and next-to-new, with weed-free flower beds, freshly painted walls and curbs, and power-washed windows throughout the entire building.

The volunteers who performed these tasks (while the students attended class in a set of on-site temporary buildings) came from companies like Home Depot, Schlumberger, Starwood Hotels, and Transocean as part of the Corporate Month of Service program started by the Hands On Network. Its goal is to increase the number of employees who volunteer by 10 percent each year and encourage them to collectively contribute more than half-a-million hours nationwide during a month-long period.

The “extreme makeover” of Shearn Elementary School was one of more than 2,000 service projects slated for completion around the country in September.

“It is wonderful when people from the community come in to support a school,” said Principal Bill Buck. “The volunteers are doing an excellent job, and we have over 300 of them here doing landscaping, painting, and various other jobs around the campus. We are thrilled.”

Other partners who made the rejuvenation of Shearn Elementary School possible are: Volunteer Houston, Jones NY, the Fund for Teachers, Dillards, and UBS.

Fund for Teachers grants help teachers bring the world to the classroom

Developing global thinkers requires global-thinking teachers.

Going out into the world, bringing back and sharing experiences with Saint Paul school districts students is the goal of a unique grant program for teachers made possible by support from the Saint Paul Foundation.

This past summer, 14 Saint Paul Public Schools teachers were awarded grants, through the Fund for Teachers, ranging from $2,500-$5,000 to travel all over the planet.

Beverly Alsleben, an English as a Second Language teacher at the International Academy-LEAP School, and Rady Yang, first-grade teacher at Battle Creek Elementary, traveled to a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand. Seeing the challenges Hmong refugees face in getting an education inspired Yang to remember the reasons he became a teacher. Alsleben brings back first-hand experience of the Hmong culture to incorporate into her teaching this year.

Speaking Swahili in Tanzania and living in Zanzibar (a place where many cultures have crossed) were the goals realized by Mary Dorow, an Prep teacher at World Cultures Magnet. For Washington Technology Middle School science teacher Stephanie Erickson, walking on glaciers and landing on the island nation of Iceland on the summer solstice were important experiences to bring back to share with her students.

Kimberly Colbert, an English teacher at Central Senior High School, participated in an arts literary program at Brown University.

Seeing the beaches of Omaha in Normandy and places he only dreamed about as a child was a dream come true for Peter Grebner, a physics science teacher at Como Park Senior High, who traveled to The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

Thanks to money raised through the Latino Culture Club at Johnson High School where Scott Hall teaches English as a Second Language, he was able to deliver new childrens books to a bustling library in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Meeting the Dalai Lama was one of many life-changing highlights for Pamela Hoff, an Emotional/ Behavioral Disorder teacher at Boys Totem Town, who traveled to India.

On the Atlantic coast of southern Brazil, Sarah Horns, a science teacher at Harding Senior High School, studied dolphins through Earthwatch, which pairs scientists with volunteers from around the world.

Arlington Senior High art teacher Angela Ruddy participated in a 10-day workshop on creativity in Aix-en-Provence in France, a small town whose beauty was painted by Van Gogh, Matisse and Cezanne.

Lynn Schultz, a fourth-sixth grade teacher at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet Elementary School, participated in an Explore Cubas Geography program.

Nancy Veverka, a Spanish teacher at Arlington Senior High School, studied the influence Africans had on the shaping of Brazilian history, culture and religion.

And finally, Heidi Geimer and Annette Lopez, third-grade teachers at Capitol Hill Magnet Elementary, travel to Mexico in February to study monarch butterfly migration. This will benefit their students who raise monarchs in their classrooms each fall and focus on their migration.

A Somerville-based Boston public school teacher has won a grant for summer travel to Southeast Asia in order to bolster her classroom teaching.

Christopher H. Roberts

“I want to hear the stories from Vietnamese voices to complement the stories that I know,” said Bethany Wood, who teaches American literature of the Vietnam conflict as part of her 11th grade curriculum at Another Course to College in Brighton.

Wood currently uses works by Tim O’Brien and other Americans who have been in Vietnam in her class, but she is unsatisfied with the limited scope that the American perspective allows, she said.

“Because of my own limited knowledge about Vietnam, when I present these works by American writers I present a stagnant and stale history,” she said. “The story is one dimensional, beginning and ending with the war and told only through American voices.”

“I have come to realize that I am not telling the whole story. I am not telling the Vietnamese story,” she said.

This summer Wood will tour Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand in order to craft her own, first hand understanding of the region’s culture and people, she said.

Over the course of her month-long stay, Wood will visit dozens of historical and cultural sites, both to learn and to gather materials. She will go off the beaten tourist path in order to shop, dine and live where the locals do. Particularly, she will focus on works by Vietnamese authors to accentuate her course, she said.

The Vietnam experience is a difficult story to teach to current high school students, but it is vitally important to do so, Wood said.

“My students don’t have as strong feelings about the Vietnam War as they do about the first Gulf war or the current Iraq war. One can’t look beyond the fact that the Vietnam War is a major part of our history and it plays heavily on our consciousness,” she said.

Wood also wants to fulfill the needs of her own students who are of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian descent. “Their story is going untold,” she said. “I want to understand Vietnam beyond just thinking of it in context of the war.”

Wood’s journey will start in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. From there, she will take excursions to My Son and My Lai. She will travel from south to north, making stops in the Imperial City of Hue and the former Demilitarized Zone on her way to Hanoi, she said.

She will make a stop at the Truong Son National Cemetery, where 11,000 Vietnamese war dead are buried; she will also stay with a Vietnamese family in the Mekong Delta, she said.

She is particularly excited about her home stay, she said. “I especially want to see firsthand the landscape of the Mekong Delta, vividly described by so many American soldiers,” she said. “A home stay there is very important to me.”

Wood said she will be part of a tour group for part of her tour, but her trip will also include solo travel. “I am deliberately stepping out of my comfort zone and I expect to feel some disequilibrium in this new culture,” she said.

“But, I also expect the experience will challenge my thinking as a teacher and as a woman, test my own limits, and make me contemplate my life from a new direction,” she said.

She will also stay connected to her students, despite being thousands of miles away. “I’m going to create a multi-media scrapbook on the Web chronicling my trip, so that my students can follow along with me as I make my journey,” she said. “I want my students to see what it’s like, to question every stage of the trip.”

Wood said she received her grant from a Fund for Teachers/Boston, a joint project of the Boston Plan for Excellence and the Boston Public Schools system. This is the second year that the partnership has awarded grants to teachers in the city’s public schools.

For summer of 2005, the project has awarded $172,500 to 47 teachers for travel in 24 foreign countries and 20 states. Fund for Teaches/Boston is administered by the Boston Plan for Excellence, and is affiliated with the national Fund for Teachers Foundation, she said.

Spruced-Up School

Jason Spencer
Houston Chronicle

The scents of progress – hot asphalt, wet paint and fresh mulch – wafted throughout southwest Houston’s Shearn Elementary School on Wednesday as an 8-hour makeover undid years of neglect.

Nearly 400 volunteers, mostly Home Depot employees, converged on the Houston Independent School District campus toting power washers, paint rollers, shovels and truckloads of equipment to spruce up the grounds. That’s roughly one volunteer for every student at the Stella Link school where almost every child qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches.

It’s good to get out for a change and do some volunteering,” said Sarah Lockett, who handles purchase orders for paint and flooring materials at the Home Depot at Beltway 8 and Bellaire Boulevard. She spent much of the day pouring concrete slabs for three picnic benches in the Shearn courtyard.

HISD officials chose Shearn for the project because the school hasn’t received a significant renovation in several years.

When the workers finished, the children had a freshly resurfaced basketball court, new carpet, bookcases, landscaping and a baseball diamond. The teachers weren’t left out either. They got a refurbished lounge and new outfits from Jones New York. Every classroom now has a fresh coat of paint and new bulletin boards as part of the $50,000 effort.

“I’ve been teaching 23 years with HISD, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said teacher Beth Boggs. “We’re a smaller school, so we don’t get a lot of the perks.”

Other companies also pitched in for the makeover project coordinated by Volunteer Houston, a nonprofit group that links volunteers to the places that need them.

  • National Oilwell bought $5,000 worth of new library books.
  • Transocean spent $5,000 on building repairs.
  • Apache Corp. paid for a new baseball diamond and equipment, as well as landscaping.
  • UBS Investment Bank fixed up the basketball court.
  • Schlumberger fed all the workers. More than 100 volunteers from those companies also did the grunt work.

“It’s very hot out here, but it’s fun to do,” UBS employee Sandra Gonzalez said as she steadied a ladder beneath a basketball goal while colleague Sonya Rodriguez painted the backboard.

Inside the cafeteria, workers stood on scaffolding to paint the high walls, while others toiled in a corner near the food service line where they assembled bookshelves.

Fifth-grader Angel Martinez was among dozens of students using hammers and nails to build birdhouses, CD racks and shelves to take home.

“I’m building a shelf,” Angel said. “I’m going to hang it in my room to hang my trophies there.”

Teacher Wins Grant

DePina plans to take his own field trip to the Cape Verde Islands

By Steve Macone

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page,” St. Augustine said.

If that’s the case, then Stoughton resident Sam DePina has an entire summer worth of Barnes and Noble gift certificates to cash in.

DePina is one of 47 teachers in the Boston Public Schools who won a Fund For Teachers grant for summer travel and study form the Boston Plan for Excellence, a local education foundation. Now in its second year, the program has awarded $172,500 in grants for teachers to visit 24 foreign countries and more than 20 states.

DePina, who is second generation Cape Verdean and speaks the language, plans to travel to the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa.

In addition to airfare and expenses, the grant will allow DePina to purchase artifacts and materials to use in the classroom.

“I love working with children. I hope by studying abroad I can make a link with something they’re interested in,” DePina said.

DePina teaches math and is the dean of students at Health Careers Academy, a small high school on the Northeastern University campus for students with an interest in healthcare professions. The school is going on its 10th year and has about 200 students.

“We were looking for candidates who tied what they were doing in the summer to what they’d do in the fall. Sam clearly does that. Many of the families of his students came from other countries,” said Mary Ann Cohen of the Boston Plan for Excellence.

DePina will explore what opportunities exist for US-trained health professionals to return to work in their home country, starting with the Cape Verde islands.

Ninety percent of the students at the school have cultural backgrounds from other countries, DePina said.

DePina will gauge the island’s future employment needs and hiring processes.

“We’re looking to build partnerships with people form overseas,” he said.

During August, he will interview doctors, visit hospitals, meet with the mayor to the capital city of Praia and public officials and gather statistics for a data analysis lesson he will teach this fall.

“I’m bringing that [information] back so we can build it into our curriculum and make it interdisciplinary,’ DePina said. “Part of what we’re trying to do is build experiential learning.”

DePina, who grew up in Dorchester, is president of the Cape Verdean Community/Uniting Neighbors In Developing Ourselves organization in Roxbury. With this group, DePina has already visited the islands.

“Last summer we took a group to play in basketball tournaments and held clinics for the younger kids,” he said.

DePina also helped found the Diamond Educators a mentoring and tutoring program. And he is on the board of directors at the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporations, which assists in getting loans for small businesses, redeveloping property and improving neighborhoods.

Teachers Turn Student Through Summer Grants

Pat McGroarty
Special To The Reporter

As area students head to beaches and ball fields during the vacation months of July and August, teachers from 33 Boston public schools will selflessly devote their time off to becoming students themselves.

Well, sort of.

Eight Dorchester teachers will be among 47 pedagogues awarded summer study grants through the Boston Plan for Excellence. Now in its second year as a joint initiative between Boston Public Schools and the Fund For Teachers/Boston, the program provides educators with the opportunity to escape the classroom and deepen understanding of their field as students are deepening their summer tans.

The 47 teachers were awarded a total of $172,493 in grants to help them reach research destinations in 24 countries and 20 states. One neighborhood resident and eight teachers at Dorchester schools are included in the group whose plans feature a fascinating mix of subjects, destinations, and goals.

Dorchester native Martha Glavin Kempe of Mather Elementary school is bound for Florence to see some of world’s most famous works of art. A visual arts teacher, visiting Florence has been a lifelong goal for Kempe.

Italy is also the next stop for Dot resident and Hyde Park High School teacher Christine Copeland, who plans to follow her muse through English and Italian cities that influence the life and work of William Shakespeare. The English teacher will begin in England’s Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, before heading to the Italian cities of Rome, Venice and Verona to study towns that set the stage for romances and tragedies like “Romeo and Juliet.”

Speaking of romance, Courtney Dahill and Lisa Tarnetino form the Murphy K-8 school will be traveling to another bastion of romance language as they study creative writing in Barcelona, Spain.

Stateside, Winthrop Elementary School teacher Carolyn Hardy will explore the scientific and historical significance of the Grand Canyon. Through her personal tour she will create a virtual tour for her students: “My students have limited cognitive and other skills, and I need to use non-traditional means to reach them,” explains Hardy.

Laina Jones, a humanities teacher at Harbor Point Middle School, will also be traveling cross-country as she investigates Girls’ Rites of Passage (GROP) programs.

“I have been co-director of the GROP program at my school for three years,” says Jones, whose first stop will be Detroit, Michigan, “and visiting other sites will give me the opportunity to talk with girls from all over the country about their experiences.”

Closer to home, Marcia Young of the Lee Elementary School will follow a life-long passion for knitting to a five day workshop in New York’s Finger Lakes. Young hopes techniques she learns at the camp will help her incorporate knitting into a story telling unit for her kindergarten class next fall.

As Young spins a yarn or two just hours from Boston, Sally Wattles of Dever Elementary School will be a world away on the South Pacific Island of Tahiti. An art teacher fascinated by 19th century Impressionism, Wattles will study the tropical locale that helped Paul Gauguin change the art world.

Three area teachers awarded grants to travel, attend seminars/workshops

Ninety-six teachers from charter schools, private schools and 10 different school districts from the Houston-area received Fund For Teachers grants for the opportunity to travel, attend seminars and workshops, and acquire hands-on materials and information to enrich their students in the classroom.

Three teachers from the Leader-area were among those who received grants. They were:

  • Mekiva Callahan, from Aldine Ninth Grade School, chosen to participate with the MAESTRO Program fro Non-Spanish Teachers to study the Spanish language and explore the Spanish culture;
  • Karen Reeve, from Houston Wainwright Elementary, picked to explore, study, photograph and video the northwestern states of America; and
  • Neena Taylor, from Jersey Village High School, chosen to attend “The Complete Choral Musician” workshop sponsored by the Julliard School in New York City.

FFT grants are awarded to teachers who work with students in grades K-12 and have a minimum of three years teaching experience. Participants are 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.

The teachers will embark upon a variety of trips this summer, which will include travels to Mexico, Spain, Europe and throughout the United States. Focus of studies for these trips include: Spanish immersion, literature, history, geography, science, photography, cultures and internships.

FFT is a unique public foundation whose mission is to enrich the lives of schoolteachers and students by providing outstanding teachers with recognition and opportunities for renewal. Making a difference one teacher at a time, FFT provides funds for direct grants to teachers to support learning opportunities of their own design.