Summer Travels Inspire Lessons

3 Zachary Elementary teachers win travel grants

James Minton

ZACHARY – Three Zachary Elementary teachers won grants this year to fund working summer vacations they plan to turn into lessons for their students.

Breigh Rainey and Kristy Gilpin, who teach gifted second- and third-graders, won a $10,000 grant from Fund for Teachers to visit sites in Italy and France associated with the Renaissance. Spanish teacher Darketa Green won a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for a week of intensive language instruction.

The three were the only Louisiana teachers chosen this year for 25 fellowships offered by Fund for Teachers, a program to encourage teachers’ professional growth founded by former Apache Corp. board chairman Raymond Plank.

“As soon as we found out about this organization, and even before we talked about the idea of applying, we were immediately drawn to it because it was for teachers to design their own really authentic, professional learning experiences,” Rainey said.

Gilpin said she and Rainey are fascinated by one of Renaissance’s most notable figures, Leonardo da Vinci, and “the whole thing about our (application) was that we would go to Italy and follow in the footsteps of these great thinkers from the Renaissance.”

Breigh Rainey, left, and Kristy Gilpin are shown this summer at the Colosseum in Rome, one of several stops on an itinerary that allowed them to experience the culture and environment that inspired some of the great thinkers of the Renaissance. The Zachary Elementary School teachers received a $10,000 Fund for Teachers grant for the trip, which they plan to turn into a learning experience for their students.

The two went to Rome, spent a lot of time in Florence, then traveled to da Vinci’s hometown, Vinci, as well as Milan to see his “Last Supper” and Paris to see his “Mona Lisa.”

Green said a grant-writing workshop and an e-mail from Superintendent Warren Drake encouraging teachers to try for Fund for Teachers grants convinced her to apply.

“The fact that they were funding international travel made me think, ‘This would be a great experience if I could go,’ ” Green said.

Green already had looked into taking one of the courses offered by Spanish Abroad Inc., a company that offers classes in many Spanish-speaking countries.

In Playa del Carmen, she lived in a house near the school.

“I felt like I needed a refresher, and I felt I would get a more authentic taste of the language if I were actually there. They only spoke Spanish at the school, so I had no choice but to draw on what I knew and jump right in. I was nervous about it at first, but you kind of just have to do it,” Green said.

The grants could be written to include buying digital cameras or artifacts for later lessons in Zachary Elementary’s classrooms.

“When we were there, and we went to a museum and saw some books we wanted to bring back to our students, we actually had budgeted money to buy those things,” Gilpin said.

Rainey said she and Gilpin were inspired by the detailed notebooks da Vinci kept and the two of them emulated his style during the trip with their sketches, quotes, observations and ideas. They plan to encourage their students to develop similar “thinking books” during the coming year.

While on the trip, Rainey and Gilpin communicated with their students by blogging and once with a Saturday Internet teleconference with a group of students.

When not in class, Green visited local shops to buy items that will help her students associate with the countries where Spanish is the primary language. She also visited a private nature preserve and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

The three want to write curricula built around their travels.

“Our focus was not on one particular topic like fossils or fiction literature, or any thing like that,” Rainey said. “It was really about those sparks and inspirational things every good teacher does to invigorate their students and get them excited about learning.”

Gilpin said the two wanted to learn what inspired the great thinkers of the Renaissance and hope to inspire their students “to be the next great thinkers, the next da Vinci or the next Einstein.”

“I’m actually going to have a whole (teaching) unit around my trip,” Green said.

“We’re going to spend three or four weeks on it, and one of the things we’re going to talk about is the Chichen Itza pyramids. I find that they’re very fascinated by that,” she said.

In addition to this year’s winners, Zachary Elementary teachers Brandie McNabb, Melanie Alexander, Leah Boulton and April Smith won Fund for Teacher grants last year to attend several workshops on cooperative learning at the Kagan Summer Academy in Orlando, Fla.

Newsletter – Volume 6, Fall 2010

In This Issue:
FFT Invitational 2010
Back in the Classroom
What I Did This Summer
Teachers Say “Happy Birthday”
Where Are They Now?

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.


Grant helps Russell County teacher take trip to Germany, France, Netherlands

Russell County educator Pam Williamson recently returned from 17 days in Europe where she country-hopped from Germany to France to the Netherlands in an RV alongside her husband, Steve.

But this trip was not a jet-set vacation. It was more of an extended field trip for a veteran teacher in the name of lifelong learning, which was funded by a nonprofit that helps educators follow their dreams.

Williamson, a media specialist at Russell County High School, applied for and received a Fund for Teachers fellowship. The group awards teachers funds to pursue experiences to enhance their teaching.

Williamson’s fellowship included visiting WWII sites and locations where fairy tales originated, a.k.a the Fairy Tale Trail.

“I will never teach fairy tales or WWII again in the same way,” she said. “I just have a whole different view.”

Williamson said she saw information about the program in her school’s office and decided to apply. She started her application in September and finished in February. During the lengthy process, her application evolved from simply following the Fairy Tale Trail, as other fellows had done, to incorporating WWII sites.

She said she was writing the grant while students were learning about WWII and were required to create a presentation on the war. Williamson said she could help them develop the visual components but when it came to the subject matter she felt inadequate.

Her grandfather fought and died in WWII, and Williamson wanted to learn more about the area where he had spent so much time before his death.

Williamson’s grandfather was killed in the Battle of Philippsbourg, which she visited on her trip.

“Being in those places, especially WWII sites, was a really moving experience, being able to walk where my grandfather had walked,” Williamson said.

In her travels, Williamson happened to meet a woman from Philippsbourg who remembered the liberation by American troops.

“Meeting her and getting to talk to her and getting to find out my granddaddy was part of something more than the war. He was saving families’ lives,” she said, later adding, “It was just so moving to know. I will never talk to kids about WWII in the same way.”

Traveling by RV also gave Williamson a memorable experience she’ll take back to students. It gave her a real taste of the culture, she said. Her husband, who paid his own way on the trip, did all the driving. They navigated through obscure countrysides and winding roads with the help of GPS.

She also made a point to blog the entire trip, no small task considering the busy schedule.

Williamson said without the Fund for Teachers fellowship that experience wouldn’t have been possible.

Carrie Pillsbury, a Fund for Teachers spokeswoman, said the fellowship serves “teachers who are lifelong learners seeking out opportunities to grow and explore so they can bring that back to their classroom.”

Her organization, which is in its 10th year, has given $14.2 million to 4,000 teachers since its inception. Participants are eligible for up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for a group.

“We really validate teachers’ visions, visions for their classrooms, and we empower them with an opportunity they might not otherwise be able to experience,” she said.

The group will begin accepting applications for next summer in October.

Selection committees across the country evaluate the applications and choose recipients.

In the past, Fund for Teachers has had fellowships include everything from conferences and seminars to global exploration.

“I think nationally we are unique because we trust the teachers to propose what they need,” Pillsbury said. “Many other fellowship programs or grants restrict a teacher.”

She said there are no restrictions or stipulations on what teachers can do or where they can go.

Williamson, who was among 400 fellows selected to complete projects this summer, said her trip was the “chance of a lifetime.”

“It was an unbelievable learning experience. The one thing for kids to know is teachers keep on learning also,” Williamson said, adding it’s crucial to be a lifelong learner.

“That’s something we all really need to stress for kids. We all keep on learning and teachers, most importantly, need to keep on learning.”

FFT Fellow Runs into Travel Idol in Norway

Kristin Nazario, teacher at West Bronx Academy for the Future, framed much of her FFT proposal around Rick Steves’ philosophy of traveling, and even posted two of his videos on her blog while fulfilling her fellowship in Scandinavia where she’s learning about its successful educational system. So when she bumped into Mr. Steves disembarking a ferry in Helsinki, Ms. Nazario almost dropped her ice cream cone.

“I stopped for an ice cream cone and sauntered lazily towards the ferry to check the next departure from Soumenlinna, an island with a fortress here in Helsinki,” blogged Kristin. “I got there just as another ferry was unloading and proceeded to walk right by Rick Steves. I said hello, and we chatted very briefly. I expressed regret that I only had his Norway book with me on this trip. He said he hoped the Norway book was helpful and I told him it was and that we did his Norway in a Nutshell. He said, “We’re filming a TV show in Helsinki,” and was on his busy way.”

Last summer, Mr. Steves inspired Kristin with his book, Travel as a Political Act, writing: “Travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped. It has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world.” “I hold the same philosophy,” said Kristin. “While others look forward to the typical tourist sites, I try to travel through the back door, as Steves would say. The Coliseum and Eiffel Tower are worthy and beautiful destinations, but I’ve always been more excited by my own cultural discoveries, such as an invitation to a Belgian birthday party or a visit to a middle school in Japan. Through my backpacking adventures, I try to live like a local, gaining new perspectives.”

Kristin adds, “As Rick Steves says, ‘Travel becomes a political act only if you actually do something with your broadened perspective once you return home.’ I have been looking into Scandinavian culture and the educational system as well as their integration of technology. What can I bring back for my students? I am looking forward to sharing my ideas and experiences with others — both about education and about Scandinavian culture…I have countless ideas for the classroom, both through philosophy and also the great connection between literature and art. As I’ve been to so many museums, I began to sketch English lesson plans for my students. My mind is brimming with new ideas and I’m refreshed and energized. Running into one of my idols was just the cherry on top of this sweet fellowship sundae.”

You may follow Kristin’s Fund for Teachers fellowship on her blog at

Malindi’s Journey Authors Alicia Caroll and Lucy Montgomery Make Their Way to Zheng He Conference in Malaysia

Boston Union Teacher
Volume XLII, Number 11

Alicia Caroll, New Teacher Developer, and Lucy Montgomery, History Teacher, Odyssey High School, were invited to present their research on connections between Africa, China and Islam through the Silk Route trade, and their related children’s book entitled Malindi’s Journey at the First International Conference on Zheng He, in Melaka, Malaysia from July 5-8, 2010.

Malindi’s Journey, is about the gift of a giraffe from the Kingdom of Malindi (in present-day Kenya) to the Emperor of China in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. It focuses on the connections between Africa and China, and the influence of Islam through the Silk Route trade in the Indian Ocean in the 15th century. A key event in the story is the African ambassadors meeting with the Chinese Treasure ships commanded by the admiral Zheng He.

Zheng He was a Chinese Muslim admiral and explorer who made seven voyages into the Indian Ocean, establishing trade and positive diplomatic relationships with countries including Indonesia and Malaysia to Bengal, Arabia, and trading kingdoms all along the Swahili coast of East Africa. He is remembered and respected in all of these countries today. The Treasure Fleet was unprecedented in its day – it included 60 large ships and 255 smaller ships; and the total crew consisted of more than 27,800 men. The largest of the ships was the Treasure Ship: it had nine masts, and was about 416 feet long and 170 feet wide – bigger than a football field, and at least three times the size of Christopher Columbus’ ship!

The theme of the conference was Zheng He and the Afro-Asian World. The conference was organized by the Melaka State Government, the Perbadanan Museum Melaka, Cheng Ho (Zheng He) Cultural Museum and International Zheng He Society (Singapore). Their presentation is a product of our research and writing since 2001, including research conducted in Kenya through a Fulbright-Hayes Fellowship (Alicia Carroll) and Fund for Teachers grant in 2004.

Alicia and Lucy were two of 74 paper presenters, including scholars from Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Panama, Singapore, Taiwan, UK, and US. The conference had over 350 participants, and Alicia and Lucy’s presentation was attended by over 200 people. The conference papers will be published in a book by the International Zheng He Society in 2011.

While at the conference, Alicia and Lucy were interviewed for a newspaper article for the New Straits Times, the major newspaper for Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Sarawak, and Indonesia, by Dr. Rosey Wang Ma, a Research Fellow in the Department of Islamic History and Civilization at the University of Malaya. Dr. Ma asked Alicia and Lucy to speak about their work on African-Chinese connections, turning research into culturally grounded curriculum for global education.

Alicia and Lucy were given first-class treatment by the conference organizers; they were picked up at the airport and given a nice hotel room. At the Zheng He (Cheng Ho) Cultural Museum, they were treated like visiting scholars and dignitaries.

Alicia Carroll (far left) and Lucy Montgomery (far right) with museum personnel in front of the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum in Singapore.

Everyone wanted to know how they were affording the trip as teachers, and they were able to proudly say that they had received generous funding from the Fund for Teachers! People remarked that there need to be more organizations like Fund for Teachers to support teachers and their work.

In addition to attending the conference in Melaka, Malaysia, Alicia and Lucy are travelling to Singapore and to Nanjing, China to continue research on Zheng He’s influence in southeast Asia, and to visit the shipyard and other historical sites.

While they are traveling, they are writing a blog for teachers and students at:

Dr. Jackie Jenkins-Scott, the President of Wheelock College, invited Alicia, who is a graduate of Wheelock, to make a presentation to students and faculty of the Wheelock College – Ngee-Ann Polytechnic University Early Childhood Teacher Training Program in Singapore. The focus of Alicia’s talk will be “Early Childhood Curriculum: and Cultural Competency and Achievement;” Lucy will talk about building on this foundation of early childhood education all the way through high school.

More information on Zheng He:

International Zheng He Society (sponsor of the Conference):

Zheng He (Cheng Ho) Cultural Museumin Melaka, Malaysia:

Harlem trip’s aim is to aid ‘culturally relevant’ teaching

Susan Troller
The Capital Times

Dancing on the stage was the last thing on Madison school teacher Nancy Lanyon’s mind when she sat in the audience of the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem on amateur night. With her bad back and walking cane, the white-haired veteran teacher figured even getting out of her seat would be a stretch.

“When the MC picked me with four others from the audience, at first I didn’t even think I could do it,” Lanyon admits. But she threw down her cane and clambered up on the stage.

The audience went wild.

When it was all over and Lanyon had danced her allotted two minutes, it was clear she’d won over the hearts of the tough New York audience, say her fellow travelers and colleagues from Hawthorne Elementary. She also won her category of the amateur competition, and was mobbed with well-wishers as she left the theater.

“Even on the street, among the 16- and 17-year-old kids, she was like a celebrity. Everyone was saying, ‘Oh, I just love Nancy,’” fellow teacher Emily Grams reports.

Performing at the Apollo in front of a largely African-American audience was not just a capstone experience in a trip filled with remarkable experiences for Lanyon, who is white and in her 60s. “It was probably one of the best moments of my life,” she says with a smile.

Lanyon, Grams, and fellow Hawthorne teachers Julie Olsen and Abby Miller received a grant from the national nonprofit Fund for Teachers that allowed them to travel to Harlem to learn about the art, music, poetry, literary history and drama of this hub of African-American life. They all agree that they now have a new appreciation for the richness of black culture and its profound impact on American life and culture as a whole.

For these four, plus a dozen more local educators whose travel was covered by a couple of additional grants, the experience was part of a wider effort to help them better teach in what’s known as a culturally relevant way.

“Culturally relevant practice” is a relatively new movement in education that recognizes that learning, for all of us, is related to our cultural background and what we know from our daily living. Research shows that effectively bridging the gaps between a teacher’s background and student’s experience can improve academic performance.

Andreal Davis is one of two district administrators in charge of helping to create culturally relevant practices in local classrooms. A former elementary school teacher at Lincoln, Davis, who is black, now helps colleagues recognize that different groups of children bring their different backgrounds, expectations and even communication styles to the classroom.

She says teachers sometimes need help learning to translate different ways their students learn, or what kind of interactions make sense to different groups of children.

“Communication styles for all of us can vary a great deal. It can be like the difference between listening to conventional music, or listening to jazz, where the narrative doesn’t just go in a straight line,” she explains. “If that flow is what you’re used to, it’s what you know how to follow in a conversation, or in a class.”

Given Hawthorne’s demographics – 70 percent of the students are poor, with a diverse population that includes 18 percent Hispanic, 20 percent Asian, 32 percent black and 28 percent white – the school has respectable, rising test scores.

But the teachers there want to do even more to engage all students and help them excel. That’s what they’re hoping the trip to Harlem will help them do. “At our school, we do work really hard to try to reach all our students and I think it shows,” says Olsen. “But we can always get better.”

When the teachers return to school next fall, they will bring not just enthusiasm for Harlem’s rich culture and heritage to their racially diverse classrooms in Madison. They’ll also bring respect and new appreciation for the way that people and families communicate, interact and look out for each other, taught by example through their Harlem friends.

As teachers whose life is working with kids, they were especially impressed with the interactions they saw regularly between adults and small children in Harlem. “We saw an older gentleman walking down the street and when he passed a little boy he smiled and said, ‘Hey, little man, better tie your shoes,’” Olsen says. That kind of street conversation was common, they say, and so was routinely looking out for your neighbor.

They were also impressed with the friendliness and candor of 88-year-old Delores Leon, known throughout the community as “Doll,” whose beautiful hidden street-side garden they stumbled upon. She was eager to share stories of a lifetime spent in Harlem with her unexpected visitors.

“It was the spontaneous interactions that were so memorable,” says Grams, adding that the group felt a sense of belonging in the neighborhood, from their first day staying in a local hotel.

Lanyon tells of the time she was at a restaurant and noticed some women looking at her and whispering.

“I thought maybe they thought I wasn’t dressed up enough, and, as a white person with my sandals and my backpack on the table, I figured I did look out of place. So I got up to go and one of the women stopped me. ‘Honey, you don’t want to keep your bag on the table,’ she says. ‘Somebody will just snatch it right up,’ Here I was worried they were criticizing me and instead they were worrying about me!”

Joining the four Hawthorne colleagues who won the national grant for the trip were several other Hawthorne teachers; their principal, Beth Lehman; a teacher from Lowell Elementary teacher; as well as Davis and another district administrator. These individuals received grants from the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools and the Evjue Foundation. The groups had overlapping time in Harlem, and shared many experiences.

“One of the things about travel is that you get off the plane, and the next day you wake up in someone else’s world,” Olsen says. “That’s a powerful thing.”

Both groups of teachers stayed in Harlem. Their list of scheduled activities included seeing August Wilson’s powerful play, “Fences,” starring recent Tony Award-winning actor and actress, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. They also visited the famed Cotton Club and toured several schools, including a public school with an arts focus and a successful charter school.

They also went to jazz clubs, churches, bookstores, public and private gardens and museums. They spent time at the New York City Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and toured Harlem on foot with Harlem historian extraordinaire, Neal Shoemaker. “Our tour was supposed to take two hours. It took three and a half, and every minute was worthwhile,” Lanyon says.

For Davis, a Milwaukee native, this first trip to Harlem was especially meaningful, both personally and professionally.

When she taught fifth-graders, she often used material about American history that described the flowering of the arts in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s. “I loved teaching my students about the heritage of African-American culture and the Harlem Renaissance. But being here in person and seeing everything firsthand is better than I could have imagined.”

Now she can see first hand how enthusiastic teachers become when they learn something through their own experience.

“I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say this trip has changed my life,” says Lanyon.

Geometry in the world

Fund for Teachers sends YHS teacher on an international learning exploration

Candace Blomendahl

YORK – York High School geometry teacher Richard Saxer has returned from an international learning odyssey.

Saxer traveled to England and Ireland in order to bring back evidence of the relationship between geometry and prehistoric sites, architectural designs and art. His fellowship was made possible through a Fund for Teachers grant administered by Nebraska’s Malaika Foundation. The Fund for Teachers program provides Nebraska teachers with a means to take odysseys around the world that affect their own lives and careers as well as the education experience of their students. This summer, Fund for Teachers sent 23 Nebraska teachers from 18 different schools to other parts of the world to help transform their careers, lives and classrooms.

When YPS superintendent Mike Lucas sent out an email in late October with a link to the Fund for Teachers program, Saxer saw the opportunity but knew it would take some work. He had to complete a very detailed questionnaire about what he was interested in and what might affect students the most. Saxer also completed an extensive proposal describing his fellowship rationale and purpose, in which he gave a description of his project, how he will grow and learn as a teacher, how students will grow and learn from his experience, how it will benefit the school community and his plan for implementation of what he learned through his fellowship.

The overall goal of Saxer’s fellowship was to share with students how geometry can be related to something concrete. He said he has learned in his teaching career that it is always a good idea to attach something related to real life “rather than go through the book and imagine things.”

He chose England and Ireland as his destinations and researched places that he could visit that would be related to geometry. Saxer wanted to observe prehistoric sites in both countries, many of which still hold mysteries as to why they exist. He wanted to investigate how they are geometry-related.

By visiting these places, Saxer has made it possible for students to help solve some of these mysteries. He plans to look at these places with his students during the year and provide evidence of geometric principles that run deep at these sites. They will then make their own hypotheses about these sites and draw their own conclusions.

He traveled to the prehistoric sites of Newgrange, Knowth, Fourknocks, Stonehenge and Avebury. Each place amazed him.

At some of the sites, the placement of the stones were related to the summer and winter solstices, which Saxer found stunning. He was able to experience for himself the geometric theories that have encircled these prehistoric sites for centuries.

“It’s just fascinating,” Saxer said of how geometry relates to these places.

Saxer said he witnessed a lot of beautiful symmetric architecture in London. He studied the presence of tessellations and the constructions of arcs, circles and polygons at sites throughout his trip. He also visited art galleries and studied the geometric principles found in several works of art.

At a science museum in London, he visited a “History of Mathematics” exhibit that related brilliantly to his studies.

After having the chance to witness first hand just how deep the foundations of geometry run, Saxer said it has reinforced how important geometry has been in the history of civilization. His appreciation for art and architecture has grown. The trip brought theories and ideas to life.

“It was incredible,” he said.

Saxer found himself saying, “I can’t believe what I’m looking at,” all the time.

“Every day was like that,” he said.

Throughout the rest of his career, Saxer will share what he has experienced and learned with his students. They will be able to see the relevance of geometry to the world around them.

Saxer has been teaching for 19 years and this experience will not only engage student learning, but it will also continue to provide Saxer with even more inspiration.

“It’s renewed me,” he said. “It’s probably a once in a lifetime deal.”

Edmond Fellow Carrie Clark

EDMOND — Trusting that teachers know best how to engage and energize their students, Fund for Teachers recently awarded, through the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Tulsa Community Foundation, 66 Oklahoma PreK-12th-grade teachers with fellowships for self-designed professional development totaling about $250,000.

Edmond Fellow Carrie Clark from Central Middle School will use LabQuest technology to collect soil and water samples in Yellowstone National Park to demonstrate how to maximize the use of technology in science exploration and methodology.

“We recognize that the teacher is the decisive factor in students’ learning,” said Karen Kovach Webb, executive director of Fund for Teachers. “We are deeply committed to the growth of teachers through strategic investments in their own areas of personal and professional interest.”

Clark said she is looking forward to using new technology that has been provided for the classrooms including LabQuest equipment and probes costing from $80 to $180 purchased through a bond issue.

“I will be able to use some LabQuest handsets that I have for the classroom,” Clark said. “Our school has a whole bunch of handsets with probes for motion detectors, light sensors and other things.”

Clark said she hopes to bring back knowledge of different ways to use the handsets so the classroom teachers will be able to use them more often.

“I am going to take of video of me using one at Yellowstone in some of the research I will be conducting,” Clark said.

She plans to bring the video back and use it in her own classroom to train students on how to use the equipment. She also plans on showing the other teachers practical applications they can apply in their own classrooms.

“We as grownups have a tendency to avoid technology, especially when we have to manage and trouble shoot for yourself much less for 30 students,” Clark said.

“Lots of problem-solving applications come with the program, and it is a terrific resource using electronic technology, what real scientists are using today. More and more scientists are using equipment like LabQuest.”

Each fellowship is as unique as the teacher who designed it; and regardless of the destination or discipline, these newly named Fellows will return to 37 Oklahoma schools inspired by the pursuit of ideas, terrains and cultures in 17 countries this summer.

“I felt that Yellowstone National Park is the complete package,” Clark said. “It contains something from every field that I teach: earth science, life science, chemistry and motion and forces.”

“In terms of being a perfect backdrop, I couldn’t think of a better location.”

The Fund for Teachers fellowship application becomes available online each October, with an application deadline in January. Awardees are notified in April and fellowships take place during the summer.

Clark and her Yellowstone experience may be followed by going to