Roberts Elementary teachers bring Peru to second-graders

Group helps instructors learn first-hand about various cultures

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Since returning from Peru, Roberts Elementary School second-grade teachers Jennifer Kirstein and Cristina Boyer have incorporated the country’s currency, mountainous terrain, grain-heavy diet and an assortment of animals and habitats into teaching tools for their pupils.

But both say they were the real students during the trip sponsored this summer by the nonprofit national foundation Fund for Teachers. The grant-paid journey taught them as much or more than they may ever be able to impart to their classes.

The trip certainly widened their perspective about their own profession, Kirstein and Boyer say.

“It’s probably the most important event in our lives. We look at the world differently now,” said Boyer, 25.

Both say they will be available to lend their support to this year’s third annual Fund Run for Teachers, set for Feb. 9, that annually raises funds to allow the coming summer international trips for teachers who successfully apply to the program. The event’s catch phrase this year is “Love Houston Teachers, Heart and Sole.”

Kirstein, who lives in the Montrose area, and Boyer, 25, who resides near the West University Place-area campus at 6000 Greenbriar, said they both love to travel and think expanding cultural knowledge is essential in their jobs as part of Roberts’ International Baccalaureate program.

The two brought back coin and paper money, lessons about Peru’s mountainous terrain that “we hiked the first three days, and a history lesson about how the Incas managed trade,” Boyer said. The lessons are especially germane to Roberts pupils, who represent more than 125 countries and several native languages.

“We made a movie while we were there, and we showed it to our faculty so they could learn about Peru and see what we did,” Kirstein said.

This is Boyer’s second year as a teacher. Kirstein has taught for six years and is in her second year at Roberts. In 2004 she went on a Fulbright Memorial Fund trip to Japan.

“Getting to interact with kids in the international community makes us feel more in tune, seeing how kids learn all over the world. It helps you relate more to the students, and the families really appreciate it when you try to learn about their culture,” Kirstein said.

They left in July 2007 and hiked the “physically challenging” terrain, visiting ruins and resting in tents in below-freezing weather in the high altitudes and meeting indigenous people who make their home in the Andes.

In Cusco, the two teachers volunteered at a shelter to help children with homework, meal preparation and craft-making, “to teach the kids something they could use,” Kirstein said. Outside of town, they stayed with a family for two nights and spent some time at the area school.

“That was really amazing,” Kirstein said. “At the school, there are only three classes for the combined indigenous population. We just helped with alphabet sounds and math problems.”

Hiking the area around Machu Picchu, the teachers witnessed primitive living that hasn’t changed much since the Inca civilizations roamed the mountains and taught their children.

Since 2001, the national Fund for Teachers has provided grants totaling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million in grants.

Poe third-grade teacher brings Spain, Portugal to her pupils

Group helps instructors learn first-hand about various cultures

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Poe Elementary School teacher Heidi Shellhorn’s third-graders have expanded their notion of the world this year, taking virtual trips to taste Spanish cuisine, run with the bulls of Pamplona, and traipse through Portuguese castles during social studies, math and art classes.

Shellhorn is presenting her pupils lesson plans she developed while on a National Geographic Explorer tour to Spain and Portugal made possible to her through a $3,800 grant from the Fund For Teachers organization.

For pupils who are 40 percent Hispanic or bilingual, and with 43 percent eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, it’s a big deal to learn that you can connect to places on the globe rich in culture and history, said Shellhorn, 34, who lives off of Westheimer between Kirby and Shepherd.

“I have kids in my classes who couldn’t believe that castles exist. Their notion of what’s out there has grown,” said Shellhorn, 34.

Except for a brief trip to an English-speaking part of Canada, Shellhorn had also stayed inside U.S. borders, so sampling the Latin cuisine in Barcelona, canoeing down a river, touching a Roman-built bridge and watching, from a safe distance, the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona provided her with a big cultural boost, she said.

“It’s eye-opening to be submersed in a different language, surrounded by history with so many layers of influences,” Shellhorn said.

She praised the school for successfully incorporating students, many of whom speak very little English. Opening them to the idea that a growing number of people throughout the world speak a different language than their host country may help her students to feel less marginalized, she said.

“They aren’t just a separate group who doesn’t fit in here,” Shellhorn said.

One third-grade boy was so inspired by the souvenirs and photos Shellhorn brought back — and by the idea that she got to visit other countries, different shapes on the globe – announced that his life goal would be to learn every language of the world.

“He’s already started studying and he corrected me on a Portuguese word,” Shellhorn said.

A lesson in Portugal’s ceramic tile-making, which originated among the Arabic Moors who first brought the craft to Spain, provided overlapping lessons in art, social studies, language and history. A teaching unit on celebrations allowed Shellhorn to share her experience of watching the “very quick” Pamplona run of bulls and street runners in red-and-white bandanas from the safety of an upstairs window.

Even when two of the most common disasters to befall tourists hit Shellhorn – her luggage was lost and her camera was stolen – she was enjoying her visit too much to really care.

“It was hard to be unhappy there,” Shellhorn said.

She and other teachers who traveled with Fund for Teachers grants this summer plan to return the nonprofit organization’s support by encouraging participants during the third annual Fund Run for Teachers on Feb. 9.

The run/walk will begin with registration 7-8 a.m., then a Kids K Race from 8-8:30 a.m., with the main 5K race beginning at 8:30 a.m. All events will be held near the Galleria on South Post Oak Road, between Ambassador Way and Lynn Lane. Top male and female finishers in the 5K run/walk each will receive a $100 gift certificate to Fleet Feet.

Registration fees – $20 for those age 18 and older and $10 for 17 and under through Friday; $25 and $15, respectively, after Friday – include a complimentary T-shirt and chip timer. Children 10 and younger must be accompanied by a parent, and city ordinances prevent pets from accompanying runners or walkers.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has awarded grants totalling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million in grants.

Fund Run set for Feb. 9

South Belt Ellington Leader

The third annual Fund for Teachers Fund Run will take place Saturday, Feb. 9, near the Galleria on South Post Oak Road between Ambassador Way and Lynn lane beginning at 8 a.m.

Founded by Raymond Plank in 2001, FFT’s mission is to raise grant money for teachers to travel during their summer vacations to broaden their horizons and return to share what they’ve learned with students.

To date, more than 2,500 teachers from 47 states have studied and traveled throughout the United States and 100 other countries on seven continents.

The nonprofit organization is supported by foundations, individuals and corporate donors. Since its inception, the group has provided $8,571,804 in grants to 2,609 teachers.

In Houston alone, FFT has awarded grants totaling $1.8 million to more than 500 teachers.

The 2007 Fund Run had more than 1,000 participants and benefited more than 100 local teachers.

FFT grants are awarded to teachers working with students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Teachers submit proposals detailing how their fellowship will make them a better teacher and how their improved skills are to be implemented in the classroom, benefiting students, curricula and school. Grants are awarded based on application quality and merit as judged by a committee.

Several teachers with ties to the South Belt have been past grant recipients. Among these are Donna Edwards and Robbie Biggerstaff.

Edwards, a South Belt resident and math teacher at De Zavala Fifth-Grade Center, traveled with a group to Costa Rica to learn about the scientific wonders of the region and to experience immersion in the Spanish language and culture. She attended a two-week intense Spanish language program at the Costa Rica Language Academy. The teacher also went on excursions to places like Tortuguero National Park to study the rich ecological zones and biodiversity of the country and gather scientific information, pictures and videos to show her students upon return.

Biggerstaff, a seventh grade English teacher at Beverly Hills Intermediate, went on a trip last summer to visit the birthplaces of Southern female authors to discover how culture, history and geography inspired their work. She went on a four-week literary tour of three Southern states, visiting the homes of seven women authors, including Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. She studied the locales that influenced these writers in an effort to better share their stories with her students.

Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of FFT, is enthusiastic about this year’s event, “Houston has so many wonderful teachers, and it also has a truly generous community of people that want to inspire them to keep doing what they do,” she said, adding, “With the help of people like these, we want to make it possible for more teachers to develop their own talents so they can infuse students with vision and confidence. We are thrilled to host this third Fund Run, and we look forward to seeing a big turnout to show the love for our local teachers.”

The event will feature a 5-kilometer race for children. The top male and female finishers of the 5-kilometer competition will each receive a $100 gift certificate to Fleet Feet.

The children’s race is free, while entry fees for the 5-kilometer contest vary. Early registration is $20 for participants 18 years of age and older and $10 for 17 and younger. Late registration is $25 for 18 and older and $15 for 17 and younger. Early registration ends Friday, Jan. 25. Children under 11 must be accompanied by an adult.

Sign-in and late registration will take place from 7 to 8 a.m. The children’s race will go from 8 to 8:30 a.m., and the 5-kilometer run will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Registration is available online at or by calling 1-800-681-2667.

Registration fees include a T-shirt and chip timer. Due to city ordinances, pets are not permitted.

Travelers’ Checks: Teacher-Tested Travel Grants

Educators enrich their profession with globe-trotting experience – and get funding to do it.

Lisa Morehouse

Teachers who travel bring back to their classrooms all of the experiences they had and passions they felt to inspire students and make global content come alive. By applying for grants, teachers can get these unique globe-trotting learning opportunities partially or fully funded. Edutopia has gathered stories and snapshots from teachers who have received such grants to travel.

After each teacher’s tale, you’ll find the details for how you can apply to the Fund for Teachers, the Earthwatch Institute’s Education Fellowships, the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program, the English-Speaking Union of the United States’s British Universities Summer School Program, and others. (Keep in mind that some deadlines for this year may have passed, so take note of the application procedure to prepare for next year.)

Happy trails!

At Manzanita Community School, in Oakland, California, third-grade teacher Allison Bibbler says many of her students’ families fled Laos and stayed in refugee camps in Thailand while they waited to come to the United States. So Bibbler visited Thailand and Laos, where she trekked through mountains, visited villages and temples, and traveled down the Mekong River on a summer sabbatical paid for by the nonprofit foundation Fund for Teachers.

Bibbler’s classroom is now filled with Thai welcome flags, little wooden turtles, and indigenous instruments so students can, as she says, “get their hands on Thailand.” And at her school’s Passport Day, where classrooms are transformed into countries, Bibbler recreates the Loy Krathong festival, which celebrates renewal. “Students make lotus flowers with cardboard leaves and put pennies in the open leaves,” Bibbler notes. “I made a paper river and full moon and have candles and Thai music — actually music made by elephants.”

Bibbler explains that as a teacher, “you’re juggling twenty balls in the air, and you’re constantly overworked and stressed. This kind of travel gives me the space to reflect, and also reflect with the idea that this is where my kids are from.” Learning about her students’ cultures also focuses her thinking on the ethnic balance in her classroom, which includes many energetic students. “I just keep thinking about how to influence students, combining a Buddhist, calmer way of being with their vivacious personalities,” she says. “How do I blend together cultures that are so diverse into a comfortable, safe, warm setting?”

Fund for Teachers encourages educators to travel the world on summer sabbaticals and to create their own proposals for professional growth.

Who sponsors the fellowship? The nonprofit foundation Fund for Teachers, started in 2001 by businessman Raymond Plank.

What is the fellowship for? As individuals or in teams, teachers design summer sabbaticals they feel will have a positive impact on their teaching. The organization says educators know best what they need for professional development, so it encourages them to travel the world and get out of their comfort zones, expand their experiences, and ultimately inspire their students.

Who can apply? Teachers in grades P-12 who work in select areas and have three years of teaching experience.

What does the fellowship pay for? Everything, if you budget well. Fund for Teachers offers individuals up to $5,000 and teams of two or more up to $10,000.

How many teachers get the fellowship? In 2007, 553 teachers got fellowships — 284 as individuals.

Are there any additional requirements? Teachers attend preparatory and follow-up meetings and provide documentation of how their summer sabbaticals influenced their teaching. Some requirements vary among school districts.

When are applications due? January 31. Grant-writing tips for teachers are available on the site — as well as a scoring rubric, so applicants can see how proposals are evaluated.

Who do I contact? the Fund for Teachers.

CPAs Helping Schools (CHS) Launches New Joint Venture

Tonja Rodriguez

In an effort to optimize our impact on the educational community supported by the Houston CPA Society members, CHS has partnered with Fund for Teachers to award a $5,000 training scholarship to a local teacher focused in the area of accounting or mathematics.

Fund for Teachers is a Houston based nonprofit organization that provides grants directly to teachers to support their professional learning. Grants are awarded to teachers working with students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Teachers submit proposals detailing how their fellowship will make them a better teacher and how their improved skills are to be implemented in the classroom, benefiting students, curricula and school. Recipients are selected based on application quality and merit as judged by a committee.

The Houston CHS grant will be awarded in March 2008 to a teacher working in a public or private school located in the geographic area covered by the Houston CPA Society (13 counties). This partnership gives the Houston CPA Society exposure to far more teachers than the individual members of our committee can reach. CHS is pleased to have the opportunity to impact the educators in our community in this unique way.

Individual and team Fund for Teacher grants open to educators

The Chicago Foundation of Education (CFE) is now offering $5,000 individual and $10,000 team Fund for Teachers grants to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers. The grants are to recognize and reward teachers who are pursuing opportunities around the globe that can then improve their classrooms at home.

Past recipients have traveled to South Africa to study Apartheid and to the Peruvian rainforest to participate in a conservation project. Teachers who are looking to fund an experience that will impact their practice, their students, and their school communities should apply for this CFE grant.

The grants are open to all pre-kindergarten through grade 12 CPS certified teachers who have a minimum of three years experience. Applicants must spend at least 50 percent of their time in the classroom.

Teachers can apply for an FFT grant once every five years. Applications are now available online at All applications must be submitted online by 5 p.m. Friday, January 31. More information can be obtained by calling 312-670-2323.

Founded in 1985, the CFE is dedicated to improving and enhancing public education in Chicago. Research has shown that teacher quality is the most important factor for a student’s achievement outside of the home so the CFE works to help Chicago’s teachers.

Besides FFT grants the CFE also offers Teachers Network Leadership Institute, Study Group Grants and Small Grants. This year the Foundation hopes to award 40 FFT grants to CPS teachers.