Teacher’s brainstorm brings Louvre to Katy school

Bear Creek pupils, parents treated to virtual tour

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

It might have be Mona Lisa’s indecipherable smile or the white-marbled beauty of the armless sculpture of Aphrodite.

And it might have been that Bear Creek Elementary School parents and pupils only had to make a short trip from home to experience these and other masterpieces of the Louvre.

But parent Stacey Vincent is giving rave reviews for a recent virtual tour of the Paris museum by more than 300 adults and children, mostly pupils in art classes taught by the tour’s host, Bear Creek teacher Lisa Sitz.

“Come Away with Me to the Louvre,” an evening featuring Sitz’s filmed trip through the museum plus a sampling of French cuisine and a few artsy activities, premiered Feb. 16 at the school, 4815 Hickory Downs.

The event was the result of a project that began last year when Sitz received a $4,500 grant through the Fund For Teachers foundation to record her actual trip to the Paris museum and create a program for her students.

“When everybody came in, we got little passports and boarding passes. (Sitz) made it like we were going on the trip with her,” said Vincent, whose 10-year-old daughter Savannah is in Sitz’s fifth-grade art class. “We started off with the food — croissants with ham and cheese, crepes with strawberries — then she welcomed us to Paris.”

Through video footage, Sitz took the “tourists” down the Louvre’s hallways, stopping at various art works. When it was complete, young assistants passed out candy that children in the audience used to form portraits.

Children also made wearable pens and magnets out of square-inch porcelain pieces Sitz stamped with the image of Paris’s famed Eiffel Tower.

“Savannah had a lot of fun with that. She thought it was great, especially making the little faces, and she got to eat the candy afterward,” Vincent said.

Sitz has what nearly amounts to a fan club among her students and their parents, Vincent said.

For Sitz, who began teaching in 1980 when she helped to open Cimarron Elementary School in Katy, the love of art is secondary to the joy of sharing it with her students.

“I took a break when my daughter was born and stayed home with her for 12 years, when I had a the Blue Bonnet Pottery Studio in Katy,” said Sitz, 50. “But besides making and selling pottery, I was usually teaching while I was there, so six years ago I came back to the classroom at Bear Creek Elementary.”

Sitz still keeps two pottery wheels at the school and uses them to help her students make sculpture art.

“I love art history and I have a history-based curriculum,” said Sitz, a former commercial artist for Houston’s Sakowitz store.

She had toured major museums in Paris and London before her 2005 trip, one reason she undertook the lengthy application process for the Fund For Teachers grant to create a project that would capture the Louvre on film and in more than 1,000 digital images.

“I came up with the project idea to do a virtual tour with hand-held cameras, where the kids are (mentally) walking with me through the museum — ‘OK, kids, let’s gather around and look closely at this Rembrandt,’ ” Sitz said.

Sitz, who has a 1977 art degree with an emphasis on sculpture from Trinity University in San Antonio, made the project interactive, with students keeping art journals and sketching the pictures or making notes about what they saw along the way.

“It was educational and it was a lot of fun for all ages,” Vincent said.

T.J. Callahan of Houston Weekend Magazine talks with Karen Kovah-Webb

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2006 Fund Run

KTRK TV 13, Houston

Teachers to combine art, sports in school competition / Arts Olympiad meant to celebrate spirit of the games

Annette Baird, Houston Chronicle

Think Olympics. Think art. Combine the two, and there’s well, paintball shot put, paint dot fencing, wheelchair wheel print-dash, scooter board finger-paint luge and dipped arrow archery.

These are just some of the events art teacher David Butler and his wife Jody, a life skills teacher, have designed for special needs students in the Spring Branch school district to compete in their upcoming Arts Olympiad.

“It’s going to be wild,” said David Butler, who teaches at Spring Branch Middle School. “All of it has never been done before.”

And it’s going to be messy.

Athletes will fence by dipping sticks in paint to strike a canvas. Archery involves dipping foam arrows in paint to shoot at a canvas, while swimming involves flippers and a scooter board to leave tracks on canvas.

The resulting art work will be exhibited later.

The Butlers expect to host about 50 middle and elementary athletes in this first-of-its-kind Olympiad, inspired by their trip last year to Italy and Greece to study ancient sculpture and the modern Olympic athlete.

Helping them are teachers, students, artists and other volunteers who will work with the athletes.

The event, featuring everything Olympic from torch and flags to medals and closing ceremonies, is from 6:30-8 p.m. today at Spring Branch Middle, 1000 Piney Point.

David and Jody visited 28 art museums, met with archeologists, attended an athletics meet and watched athletes train during their visit, which was funded by a grant they won through the Fund For Teachers organization.

With David’s background in art and athletics, he coaches pole vaulting at Rice University, and Jody’s in-life skills, the two wanted to combine their loves of art, sport, children and the Olympics.

“I thought it would be neat to do something with life skills students,” David Butler said.

“This is the perfect culmination of the experience we had, and it gives children, athletes and parents a way to celebrate the Olympic spirit.”

Jody Butler said in brainstorming the events, they found nothing was off limits.

“We’ve found there isn’t anything these kids can’t do if you adapt and modify,” she said.

Pippa Day, whose 15 year-old daughter Laura Lodge has cerebral palsy, thinks the Olympiad is a fantastic and innovative concept.

She said Laura, who attends Spring Branch Middle School, is “very excited about getting involved.”

“Laura’s passion is art and sports, and combining the two together is awesome,” Day said

2006 Fund Run For Teachers Photos

View photos.

Fellow Testimonial – Bryan Meadows

Funds helps teachers bring world back to class

What would you like to do next summer? That’s the question that teachers who apply for a grant from the nonprofit Fund for Teachers foundation, get to answer.

Some of the winning respondents have gone on to: explore volcanoes in Hawaii, trek across Laos to learn about the Hmong culture, hike the rainforests of Costa Rica, or participate in a hands on study of Beluga whales.

Three Pearland residents who teach in the Houston Independent School District have procured these prestigious grants. They are Marilyn Horn, Laura Aasletten, and Lisa Webber.

More than 2,000 teachers nationwide have received grants from Fund for Teachers. The nonprofit’s vision is to grant 2,000 awards annually by 2010. The organization awards grants directly to teachers “to support professional development opportunities of their own design.” The foundation’s founder and CEO of oil and gas exploration giant Apache Corp. – Raymond Plank – said that as a boy, he was inspired by his Latin teacher.

Some time after service as a bomber pilot in World War II, Plank decided that he wanted to find a way to help exciting teachers stay in their profession.

“One teacher can effect 3,000 students in his or her lifetime,” said Plank. “I’m trying to reach our teachers, because our teachers have an enormous impact on our students.”

To help raise funds, The First Annual Fund for Teachers Fund Run will be held 8 a.m., Sat., Jan. 21, at Allen Parkway and Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby in Houston. For more information about the 5 K Run/Walk, free to kids, and $20 for adults early registration, call 1-800-681-2667.

The top 25 teachers will receive prizes. Long-sleeve t-shirts will be given out to contestants, and there will be a celebratory event at Sam Houston Park after the run.

Former zoo keeper and now Pearland resident Lisa Webber said she used the grant to visit the habitat of creatures she was used to seeing in cages.

“I was awarded a Fund for Teachers grant of $5,000 and went to Tanzania for two weeks in July” Webber said.

“The first week of the trip I was on safari and visited 4 national parks – Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro. I also visited a Masaii village. I was a zoo keeper for 9 years prior to becoming a teacher, so I was really excited at seeing the animals I worked with – elephants, rhinos, zebras, and giraffes – in their natural habitat.”

During her second week in Africa, Webber taught in a public school in Arusha, Tanzania, composed of 550 children, grades K-5.

“It was wonderful and eye opening,” Webber said. “This experience opened my eyes to how fortunate we are in this country. But at the same time the experience showed me that no matter where you live, children are still children and want to learn about the world around them.”

The school where she taught had no electricity, or breakfast or lunch, had pit toilets, and there were no supplies.

“At the same time,” said Webber, “the teachers do not complain and are dedicated. The students are great to work with.”

Webber said she brought pencils, pens, rulers, maps, crayons, soccer and gym balls, jump ropes, Frisbees, and bubbles with her.

“They were so appreciative and thankful,” said Webber. The children had to share one book amongst 10 classmates, and copy all of their work in newsprint booklets, said Webber. There were no literature books to read to the children.

Webber’s roommate, Jane Sordillo, practiced her physical therapist skills by working at the only facility in Tanzania that helps children with disabilities.

Webber, who can communicate with the teachers in Tanzania by e-mail, says that she is now in the process of adopting the school.

“It is called the Julius Nyerere School, so named after their late president and the person responsible for Tanzania becoming independent.”

“We will collect school supplies, have students be pen pals, and have students write reviews of books and send them to the students,” Webber said.

Everyone knows that in a vibrant democracy, education is the keystone to all other endeavors in life. In a recent PBS special, titled, “The Lost Prince,” the documentary focused on the remarkable achievements of a child epileptic, Prince John, due to the remarkable pugnaciousness and determination of his teacher. Though epilepsy was little understood back then, the child became an artist and musician.

FFT at the Closing Bell