Educators to retrace path

Zeke Campfield
The Sunday Constitution

FREDERICK – Bud and Temple Abernathy may have come and gone, but at least two Oklahoma educators are determined to help their story live on.

Melody Aufill and Donna McChesney, fifth – and sixth-grade teachers in Yale, are retracing the footsteps left by the Abernathy Boys, who in 1910, at the ages of 6 and 10, took their first of many horseback trips from Frederick across the country by themselves. “They were just such remarkable kids, and I think that’s in all kids – maybe not to do that, but to do something adventurous,” Aufill said. “The things that are there, that are documented, we want to do them as closely as possible, and we’re going to take that spirit with us.”

A week into their trip – funded by a $10,000 Fund For Teachers grant – Aufill and McChesney have already ridden 80 miles on horseback, visited with a local historian in Roosevelt, toured the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and saw Quanah Parker’s original home at Eagle Park in Cache.

They have also stumbled into many unexpected happenings, much like the Abernathy Boys must have during their treks.

Aufill compared the crashing of her laptop computer – used to post updates on their blog – to a time when Temple got sick from drinking bad water on a trip to Santa Fe. “They were only a couple days into their trip when he got sick, and they could’ve turned around and gone home, but they didn’t,” Aufill said. “They had several things like that happen.”

“When Bud and Temple went on their journey, I’m sure everything wasn’t perfect,” added McChesney. “But instead of giving up when they had problems, they just kept on going.”

The two teachers first got into the story of the Abernathy Boys after Aufill used a book written by Temple Abernathy’s wife, Alta, in her literature class last year. She fell in love with the story, and then her students fell in love with the story.

“Most people when you tell them are just amazed, but amazingly, most people haven’t heard the story,” she said.

In the story of the Abernathy Boys, the boys’ father, Jack Abernathy, was of high esteem in this region, and his coyote-catching antics caught the attention of then President Theodore Roosevelt, who came by train for a hunting excursion on Abernathy’s land. After Bud and Temple mapped out their own trip to go visit Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., their father relented and they set out east on horseback. Town after town they were greeted like celebrities, taken in by mayors and governors and meeting with reporters along the way. Roosevelt was no longer president when they arrived, so they headed north to New York City and rode in a tickertape parade upon Roosevelt’s return from an African safari before driving themselves home in a Brush car.

Later, the boys trekked to Santa Fe as well as rode from New York to San Francisco in 62 days.

Aufill and McChesney have mapped out a trip that combines all the boys’ adventures and includes visits with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (“He was intrigued by the story,” Aufill said. “He loved it.”), tours at the White House in Washington, D.C., a Broadway play in New York City and, as an homage to the time Bud and Temple were stranded by their horses in the middle of the Utah desert, some time alone in the middle of nowhere. “We’re actually going to go sit out in the Salt Lake Desert for a couple hours, just to get the feeling,” Aufill said.

They also hope to meet today’s counterpart to President Roosevelt.

“We don’t have everything exactly planned, but I’m holding out to meet President Bush,” McChesney said. “Where’s Teddy Roosevelt when you need him?”

Their goal is to take their school lessons above and beyond the normal text-book experience, so all the while, they are posting their daily activities online for students back home, keeping a daily journal and taking plenty of pictures and video.

“We want to experience some of the same experiences they did,” McChesney said. “We’ll just be able to build on what (Aufill) was able to do just by reading the book.’

Aufill said the artifacts, maps and pictures they collect along the way will be useful in helping the kids prepare their own projects and presentations.

“We want them to pick an aspect – the National Parks we visited or maybe one of the cities we saw – and build a presentation off of that,” she said. “This is what I’m passionate about, but they are going to have to pick something to study and read about and do an in-depth story on, whether it’s fashion, sports or something out of this book.” The two said, despite a handful of setbacks, the trip is going exactly as planned.

“It was such a beautiful time to ride through the wheat fields, see the different patterns in them and see all the wildlife,” McChesney said. “If you want to take a good look at what’s around, you gotta do it by horseback.”

They’ve been duly impressed by how passionate the Frederick community is about their famed Abernathy Boys.

“I’m just amazed at the pride Frederick has in its community,” Aufill said. “We are excited, they are excited for us and the hospitality has been excellent. It’s a neat experience.”

Houston teacher embarks on a archeological adventure

KPRC News 2 Houston

Teachers follow the greats

Tour of Europe walks in Impressionists’ footprints

Cathy Spaulding, Phoenix Staff Writer

As you read this, two Sadler Arts Academy teachers are in Europe, seeking to make a good impression for their students.

Third-grade teacher Ronia Davison and eighth-grade teacher Georgie Chapuis will spend the next month visiting places that inspired Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent Van Gogh. Their tour is funded with a $10,000 grant from Fund For Teachers, a nonprofit organization that provides grants for teachers’ summer sabbaticals.

“Our grant application said we will be walking in the footsteps of the Impressionists, where they set their easels and, with a brush stroke, everything changed,” Davison said.

Impressionism was an artistic movement that developed in primarily in France in the mid 19th Century and is characterized by recording visual reality through light and color.

“The more we can know about art and art history, the better we’ll be,” said Sadler Principal Maudye Winget.

Davison and Chapuis left early Wednesday morning for the tour, which includes nine Impressionist tours in Paris alone, plus day trips to Girveney to study Monet; to Provence, where VanGogh was inspired for his “Starry Night” painting; to LeHavre in Normandy, the French artist colony of Honfleur and to Amsterdam.

“We have a 15-day Eurail Pass,” Davison said, referring to passes that allow train travel in and among European countries. She said she and Chapuis designed their own itinerary.

The teachers also will visit famous museums such as the Tate in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City that show works of Impressionists and other artists.

They aren’t limiting their learning to impressionists. The two also will visit Rome, Vienna and parts of Germany and Switzerland.

Ronia Davison and Georgie Chapuis bone up on Impressionism before their trip to Europe to study it. Staff photo by Reginald Richmond

Chapuis said her son lives in Wiesbaden, Germany, their first destination upon arriving in Europe.

Upon their return, Chapuis and Davison will lead studies of Impressionism at every grade level at Sadler.

Davison said her third-graders could learn “appreciation for art and for natural beauty.

Chapuis said her eighth-graders could learn how Impressionist artists were inspired and influenced.

“Renoir was family, (Edouard) Degas was dancers, Mary Cassat, an American, focused on mothers and children,” she said. “Americans embraced Impressionism before the Europeans because we rebelled against the norm.”

The learning won’t stop when the two return, either.

Winget said the Sadler faculty will take a one-day field trip to the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, which will have an Impressionist display June 29 to Nov. 2.

The two also will set up six art stations throughout Sadler to focus on different artists: Monet, Pissaro, Degas, Renoir, Cassatt and VanGogh. The stations will feature student art inspired by the artists.

Their ultimate project at the school is to make an Impressionists Walk at Sadler and dedicate it to the memory of Terry Ball, husband and father of Sadler fourth grade teachers Cindy and Caitlyn Ball.

Winget said the school’s playground is Eliott Park. Sadler is working with the City of Muskogee to put up places where students can put easels and paint vistas and landscapes, Winget said.

“Terry Ball was a great supporter of the arts,” Winget said.

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 (, 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.”

View photos.

Katy Resident Participates in Third Annual Fund for Teachers “Fund Run”

Katy Texas News

Pictured Left to Right: Katy Resident Cynthia Ramos takes in the fun and festivities at the “Fund Run” – Runners at the third annual “Fund Run” prepare to begin the race – Karen Kovach-Webb (center), executive director of FFT congratulates Jennifer Brown and Jose Lara on their male and female first place finishes.

On February 9, approximately 1,000 runners, volunteers and spectators took part in the “Fund Run” by raising money to benefit Houston-area teachers. One of the runners was Katy Resident, Cynthia Ramos, who teaches at Jackson Middle School. Ramos used her Fund for Teachers (FFT) grant in 2006 to travel to Budapest, Hungary where she researched Hungarian folk tales and new perspectives in literacy techniques to bring back to her students.

FFT is a Houston-based non-profit whose mission is to enrich the lives of school teachers and students throughout the U.S. by providing outstanding teachers with recognition and opportunities to pursue independent studies over the summer. Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has provided $8.5 million in grants to 2,609 teachers in 47 states and Puerto Rico. In Houston, FFT has awarded grants totaling $1.8 million to more than 500 teachers.

View photos.

Landrum teacher to take part in Fund Run

Kim Morgan, Chronicle Correspondent

Memorial resident Dianna Gunn – who has run over hot rocks and away from molten lava during her world travels – will be among those who take part in Fund for Teachers’ third annual Fund Run on Saturday, Feb. 9.

Gunn, 36, a science teacher at Landrum Middle School, 2200 Ridgecrest Drive, spent two weeks studying active volcanoes in Europe, thanks to a $5,000 grant from Fund for Teachers.

“I’m not a runner, never have been, but I’m training as much as I can for that little 5K race,” Gunn said.

“I have about 15 of my friends signing up, too, because I want as many teachers as possible to have a wonderful opportunity like I did.”

Fund for Teachers is an organization that provides grants for teachers who wish to “pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their practice, the academic lives of their students and on their school communities.”

Gunn, who teaches seventh grade, visited volcanoes in Italy, including Mt. Etna, Vesuvius, Pompeii and Stromboli.

“Stromboli is one of the most active, if not the most active, volcanoes in the world,” Gunn said.

“It’s been erupting for thousands of years, gentle eruptions that throw out blobs of lava that look like fireworks every 15 minutes.

“But it varies, and when I was there I saw ash explosions, not lava. I was kind of disappointed but it’s also very dangerous.”

Gunn said the last time Stromboli activity waned, so much pressure built up that when it did erupt in December 2003 it blew out a side of the crater, which then slid down into the water, resulting in an 18-foot tsunami.

In fulfilling the fund’s mission, Gunn came back to Houston and created a unit for her students so they could experience what she did.

“We don’t have volcanoes in Houston, thank goodness, and they might never get a chance to see one,” Gunn said.

“I dressed every day exactly how I was dressed in the photos I was showing them.

“We had a lab where they got to go through stations, looking at samples of rock and sand I brought back.”

Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of Fund for Teachers, said that’s why teachers like Gunn are a perfect fit for the grants.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has provided more than $8.5 million in grants to 2,609 teachers across the United States.

In Houston, grants totaling $1.8 million have been awarded to more than 500 teachers.

The fund is supported by foundations, individuals and corporate donors.

Kovach-Webb said the Fund Run, while expected to bring out more than 1,000 participants and raise approximately $65,000, is more of an awareness campaign than a fundraiser.

“It gives our corporate supporters an opportunity for their employees to come out with their families and meet some of our teachers,” Kovach-Webb said.

“Last year in Houston we awarded 101 grants worth $375,000.”

That number will likely go up, because this year they are increasing team grant amounts from $7,500 to $10,000, she said.

“We upped it because it’s really interesting to see the teachers’ quality of work when they collaborate on their project, and then collaborate back in the classroom,” Kovach-Webb said.

Individual grants such as the one Gunn received will remain at $5,000.

Seguin Elementary School teachers to take part in Fund Run for Teachers

Kim Morgan, Chronicle Correspondent

Sarah Baker, Nirmol Lim and Amy Rose, all teachers at Seguin Elementary School, 5905 Waltrip Street, aren’t much for running.

But they want to show their gratitude and support to Fund for Teachers, so they will volunteer at the registration booth or by passing out water during the FFT Fund Run on Feb. 9.

Fund for Teachers is an organization that provides grants for teachers who wish to “pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their practice, the academic lives of their pupils and on their school communities.”

Baker and Lim received a team grant of $7,500 to attend a national energy conference in Washington D.C. last July.

Lim, who teaches fifth grade, said they would never have been able to afford the conference without the help of Fund for Teachers.

“The conference itself was $1,000 each excluding airfare and taxi,” said Lim, a 29-year-old southeast Houston resident. “It is wonderful of Fund for Teachers to help teachers learn.”

Baker, a fifth grade science lab teacher, said she learned things at the conference that surprised her.

“I learned a lot about nuclear energy,” said Baker, a 28-year-old Meyerland resident.

“One thing that surprised me most is that nuclear energy is renewable. The tablets they use to make uranium, they can use again and again.”

Baker said she met a woman at the conference from Puerto Rico whose home runs completely off of solar energy.

“It costs her $3 a month,” Baker said. “I didn’t know you can get solar shingles on your homes.”

In keeping with part of the mission of Fund for Teachers, Baker is passing everything she learned on to her science pupils at Seguin.

“We’re about to start our energy unit,” Baker said. “We will build solar ovens, solar cars, hydro-powered cars and design a (wind) turbine.

“The grant also provided money to buy the materials to do the activities. I was able to get more than $800 worth of supplies.”

Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of Fund for Teachers, loves to hear stories like that.

She said the Fund Run, while expected to bring out more than 1,000 participants and raise approximately $65,000, is more of an awareness campaign than a fundraiser.

“It gives our corporate supporters an opportunity for their employees to come out with their families and meet some of our teachers,” Kovach-Webb said. “Last year in Houston we awarded 101 grants worth $375,000.”

That number will likely go up, because this year they are increasing team grants from $7,500 to $10,000.

“We upped it because it’s really interesting to see the teachers’ quality of work when they collaborate on their project, and then collaborate back in the classroom,” Kovach-Webb said.

Individual grants will remain at $5,000.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has provided more than $8.5 million in grants to 2,609 teachers across the United States.

In Houston, grants totaling $1.8 million have been awarded to more than 500 teachers.

The fund is supported by foundations, individuals and corporate donors.