Poe pupils in festival spotlight

Heidi Shellhorn, a teacher at Poe Elementary School, returned from a Fund for Teachers fellowship to Europe last summer armed with hands-on experiences to enrich her curriculum. Recently that fellowship led to another benefit for her class.

Shellhorn and her third-graders were picked to participate in the Sister Cities International Children’s festivities at the opening ceremonies of the Houston International Festival Friday. The Poe pupils are representing Houston’s sister city Huelva, Spain.

The youths will chant a Spanish song they’ve learned for the occasion, wear special costumes provided by the SCIC and carry handmade banners.

Each year, the festival chooses a class to represent each of Houston’s 16 sister cities. After reading a recent story about Shellhorn and her fellowship abroad, a representative from the festival invited her class of 18 students to participate.

As the big day approaches, the pupils’ excitement is more and more obvious, Shellhorn said. It’s a big deal for the children to have someone outside the class notice them.

“They’re convinced they’re celebrities now,” she said, adding that the children have been extra motivated on their special research project since learning others will see the results.

Shellhorn’s class has been doing research projects on the culture, language and food of Spain, and are creating banners to represent Huelva and the different agricultural products the city produces. They are also planning to begin a pen pal program with school children in Huelva.

Shellhorn traveled to Spain and Portugal last July through a grant from the Fund for Teachers. The Houston-based non-profit organization awards grants to school teachers, allowing them to bankroll independent studies that enrich their curriculums and enhance their own personal growth.

In Shellhorn’s case, she joined a National Geographic iExplore tour group to visit a Portuguese castle, explore Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and witness the famed running of bulls in Pamplona.

Shellhorn said she continues to be amazed at the ways her FFT fellowship has enriched her classroom curriculum. The invitation from the festival is perhaps the most significant, she said, as it is an opportunity for her students to be directly involved.

Her FFT experience has helped her introduce a focus on different cultures in her classroom. Her students are aware that the lessons she brought back from her journeys in Spain and Portugal are based on the lives of real people.

Having received one grant, Shellhorn must wait to qualify for another application to the program.

“As soon as I can, I definitely will,” she said.

Health & Fitness magazine Fitness Enthusiast participates in Fund Run

Clair Maciel

Running in February’s 5K Fund Run for Teachers has become an annual tradition for Christa Blyth. But she doesn’t do it solely for the purpose of staying fit. She runs as a representative of the many Houston teachers who have benefited from this local event and to give back to an organization that provided her with the experience of a lifetime.

In the summer of 2006, Blyth, a teacher in the Spring Branch ISD, received a grant from Fund for Teachers (Fundforteachers.org), a non-profit organization that raises money through the Fund Run and awards grants to teachers to support their professional growth and learning. With her grant, Blyth had the opportunity to travel to Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, a trip she said inspired her as a teacher and enabled her to share her amazing experience with her students.

“Teachers don’t necessarily have a lot of opportunities to explore the world, but this organization really gives teachers the chance to experience new cultures,” Blyth said. “It’s a great, great cause, and as a past recipient of the grant, I wanted to support the group by running this year.”

Blyth, 29, has her plate full as a mother of two, a 5-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, a day job as an eighth grade history teacher at Northbrook Middle School, and all the responsibilities of a graduate student pursuing a degree in administration to eventually become a school principal. And to maintain the energy to keep up with juggling all of her roles, she makes regular exercise a priority whenever she can fit it into her schedule.

“It’s important for me to exercise because I want to have a lot of energy during the day. I’m so busy that I have to exercise in order to keep up with my crazy schedule. I also do it because I enjoy having the time to myself.”

A native of Lafayette, La., Blyth admits she rarely took the time to exercise on a regular basis before she moved to Texas a few years ago.

“I wasn’t really into sports before. I didn’t start becoming athletic until I moved to Houston about three years ago. That’s when I decided I wanted to get in shape and start exercising regularly.”

These days, she makes it a point to squeeze in a run at least two or three times a week, whether it’s on a treadmill or at the local park. And if she’s not running, she and her sister will occasionally hit the bike trails and go for a ride together.

Not only does Blyth bike and run for exercise or to support a good cause, she also participates in running events simply for the fun of it. “I’ve also done the Women’s Race in Austin for the past two years. It’s so much fun because it’s a two-woman team event where you partner up with someone and compete against other teams in running, walking, some mind games and a water activity. We have so much fun doing that.”

Of course, Blyth is not the only one in the family who has taken up the athletic lifestyle. It seems her two children are following closely in her footsteps. Her son has started playing T-ball, her daughter is active in dance and both enjoy riding bikes.

It’s that kind of activity Blyth said she tries to encourage in her children, not only because it’s healthy, but also because she sees the importance of staying fit even at a young age.

“I definitely promote a healthy lifestyle with my kids. I’m very conscientious of their health and what they eat. I’d much rather have them playing outside and running around than sitting inside in front of the TV.”

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