The 2006 Plank Fellowship

A trio of Oklahoma teachers have been named as the second recipients of the Plank Fellowship Award. Read more.

2007 Fund Run Photos

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2007 Fund Run

Noticias 45, Houston

2007 Fund Run

Local 2 News, Houston

Teacher brings sights of Europe to school

Carla Rabalais

THIRTY-three museums in 31 days. Six countries and 7,500 miles and all for under $5,000.

That’s the feat that Cavan Leerkamp, art teacher at Queens Intermediate School in Pasadena, proposed to accomplish. And last spring, representatives of the Fund For Teachers said “Go for it.”

Leerkamp, 29, spent a month last summer touring Europe’s most famous art museums. He sketched and wrote in his journal as he observed Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s She Goat, and the barbed wire of Dachau concentration camp.

Shares trip with pupils

He photographed cathedrals and countrysides and compiled them all into a sketchbook-travel journal that is now digitized to share with pupils and teachers. His goal was to develop a simpler approach to art – even by the Masters – that students can grasp.

“I started showing my students the photographs, and we spent the rest of that day and the next looking at all of them,” Leerkamp said. “They were eyes wide open. They wanted to hear every detail.”

Fund For Teachers, a nonprofit organization, has sponsored more than 400 teachers in the Houston area since Raymond Plank, founder of Apache Corp., created the public foundation. It offers grants of up to $5,000 to teachers for self-designed professional development experiences. Houstonians will gather near the Galleria at Post Oak Boulevard on Saturday for Fund For Teacher’s second annual Fund Run. Last year, the Fund Run raised more than $150,000 as part of the $3 million raised area-wide all for local educators.

“You could give money to one child, and that could make a difference,” said Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of Fund For Teachers, “but one teacher can impact as many as 3,000 students.”

As a Fund For Teachers fellow, Leerkamp now brings the breath of Europe to hundreds of seventh and eighth graders in southeast Houston. He saw the scope of impact his grant could have last fall when he brought five students to participate in a street art festival in Houston.

“Some of them had never even been downtown, not even into Houston,” Leerkamp said. “This trip to Europe was a much grander scale – it’s like me going to the moon and coming back and talking about it.”

To qualify for a grant, teachers must have at least three years experience, provide a detailed budget for the learning experience and show how the opportunity will help them to impact the community. Most of the grants involve cultural immersion, whether that culture is in the U.S. or abroad, but all have a common goal of better teaching.

Making kids more global

“With today’s global economy, we need a populace that’s more informed about how the rest of the world thinks,” said Kovach-Webb. “We need to expose our teachers so they can expose kids, and encourage children to dream. The world is much bigger than Pasadena or Harris County.”

For Leerkamp, the experience has brought more than interesting stories and photos to inspire students.

“I think the biggest thing I took away is confidence,” Leerkamp said. “Now when we go through the textbook and I see a painting, I’ll tell kids, ‘Whoa, I just saw that!’ They really listen when they know you’ve been there.”

To view Leerkamp’s art, visit

Fund Run finances inspiration for teachers

Flori Meeks, Chronicle Correspondent

When Jo Ann Arlitt feels stress coming on, she likes to look at the photos from her summer trip to Greece.

The Spring Forest Middle School teacher and colleague Teresa Cardwell attended a creativity seminar there with a $7,500 grant from the national Fund for Teachers organization.

“It has helped me see things from a different perspective,” said Arlitt, who teaches eighth-grade math. “It was just incredible.”

Fund For Teachers, 2000 Post Oak Blvd., gives teachers grants for summer professional development opportunities.

Art teacher Susan Smith of Aldine’s Carroll Academy used an organization grant to learn to create mosaics in Italy last July with Carroll German teacher Birgit Langhammer.

“We are still kind of in shock that we were able to do this,” Smith said. “Learning a new medium is so eye-opening and overwhelming. It’s almost like being a kid again.”

During the last five years, Fund for Teachers has awarded more than 2,000 grants.

The recipients include 417 Houston-area teachers representing 286 schools.

The nonprofit organization will strive to raise funds for more grants Saturday when it hosts a Fund Run in uptown Houston.

The event, sponsored by the Galleria Chamber of Commerce, will include a 5-kilometer run/walk and a 1-kilometer Kids K race. The top male and female finishers in the 5K events will receive roundtrip domestic tickets from Southwest Airlines.

Fund for Teachers launched the run last year.

“It was just a way of introducing ourselves to the broader city,” said Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director. “We want to make sure every teacher knows about us.”

The run went so well the organization decided to make an annual fund-raiser.

This year, Bayou City Road Runners is administering it.

Fund for Teachers’ grants are $5,000 for individuals and $7,500 for groups.

“One teacher can affect 3,000 students,” said Kovach-Webb, who lives in the Memorial area. “They’re being totally re-charged.”

The program has sent teachers to the Galapagos Islands, Auschwitz, the Freedom Trail in Boston, Vietnam, Space Camp and the Antarctica, among other spots.

Arlitt’s and Cardwell’s initial idea was to ask Fund for Teachers to help them attend a summer math workshop.

“Then we thought how this is supposed to rejuvenate us, too, as individuals,” said Arlitt, who teaches eighth grade. “We thought a creativity workshop would help us add something to those mundane lessons and add some zip and pizzazz.”

Fund for Teachers approved their request to attend a workshop in Crete, and the teachers spent nine days there last June.

“This just opened our eyes to another world,” Arlitt said. The workshop students started each day with relaxation exercises, followed by activities designed to strengthen their creative sides.

“Now, it really helps me,” Arlitt said. “I’m having my students do a lot more modeling of things.”

Arlitt is using much of what she learned with her at-risk students.

“It’s really helped us bring this (math comprehension) to students who didn’t think they could do anything,” she said.

Smith said her experience has had an impact in the classroom, too.

She and Langhammer attended a mosaic art school in Italy, where they learned the techniques of Byzantine artists.

Their instructor is one of a handful of people worldwide with the training and expertise to restore mosaics from the third and fourth centuries, Smith said.

“The whole experience was incredible. She was very interesting.”

Now, she said, her students are fascinated with her stories about Italy and her lessons on mosaics.

“When they feel you believe in what you’re doing they learn so much better,” said Smith, who has volunteered to help with the Fund Run.

“Whatever Fund for Teachers wants me to do in the future I’m there because I want other teachers to have this experience.”

2007 Fund Run

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2007 Fund Run

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