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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
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.