Newsletter – Volume 6, Summer 2010

In This Issue:
Brooklyn Dinosaurs
10TH Anniversary Celebration
Pi Society Fellows
Plank Award Winners

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.

 

Web Cam Brings India To Beggs Elementary School

Rick Wells
The News On 6

BEGGS, OK – A group of Beggs third graders talked to people on the other side of the world Wednesday morning. The teachers used something the kids love – computers – to teach them about and take them to a place they’ve never been.

“Why do the women wear red dots on their forehead, and what does that mean?” asked Payden Bradshaw.

Payden Bradshaw is a Beggs third grader. She’s participating in a video conference with some new friends in India. The kids have been studying the continents and had some questions they wanted answered.

They want to learn by doing and seeing, they don’t want to just read about it,” said Sherrie Guthrie, third-grade teacher.

Sherrie Guthrie is one of the third-grade teachers, and her brother is working in India right now. So they used the Internet and a webcam to hold a video conference to ask and get answers to their questions.

Emma asked about the weather.

“How is the weather today and can you tell us about monsoon season?” she asked.

Seventy-six degrees, they said, and monsoon season runs through the summer months. They could have read that, but how much more fun this way.

But in this time of shrinking budgets where’d they get a web cam?

Cindy Swearingen, the Beggs Public Schools Superintendent, told us the teachers are very active grant writers finding money outside the budget to support programs they think they need.

“How can I take these kids out to a place they’ve never been to expand their horizons,” said first-grade teacher Darla Six of her goals.

She helped write the grant that got the webcam and some training on how to use it – to go places like India to get questions answered like about those red dots on some Hindu women’s foreheads.

Payden Bradshaw now knows the answer.

“They wear it when they are married,” she said.

In Beggs you will find creative teachers using technology to help educate their students despite tight budgets.

Sherrie Guthrie’s brother Roy Kulp will be in Japan in a few weeks, so they plan another web cam hookup with him and some of his colleagues there, to learn more about that country.

Bringing European Art to the Classroom

Samira Rizvi
Ultimate Katy

Trekking through Western Europe nearly three years ago, Nancy Hess was busy thinking how she could bring the experience back to her students at Katy Independent School District’s Griffin Elementary School.

By all accounts, Hess went over and beyond the call to duty and has recently been presented with one of only eight Plank Fellowship Awards in the nation. The award was in recognition of the programs she developed after her European visit as part of her Fund for Teachers fellowship and was awarded by Carrie Pillsbury from the Fund for Teachers program on National Teacher’s Day this month.

“The program uses your own creativity to set up your experience,” Hess explained. “I called mine ‘Walking in the Footsteps of the Masters’.”

The Fund for Teachers provides $5,000 grants for individual teachers or $10,000 grants for teams of two or more teachers. Hess’ fine arts grant was for a trip to Western Europe to study and observe the homes and workplaces of such artists and musicians as Mozart, Handel, Monet and Michelangelo. Her 2½-week visit included sites in France, Italy, Germany, Austria and England. Traveling with her on the 2007 trip was her daughter Ashley, 22, and a student at the time, who paid her own way.

Based in Houston, the national foundation takes applications each year from October through January, with awards announced in April, according to national director Karen Kovach Webb. Now in its 10th year, the Fund for Teachers provides the funds for experiences anywhere in the world for “self-designed learning experiences,” Webb said.

The Plank Fellowship Award acknowledges the programs teachers design using the information they have from their travels and was established in honor of Raymond Plank, the founder of Apache Corp. in Houston as well as the Fund for Teachers, Webb said.

“Plank wanted to positively impact the learning experience of students,” Webb explained, “and decided giving the awards to teachers would affect more students than giving an award to one student.”

There is one national winner, who receives a $1,000 stipend and several regional winners, each of whom receives $500. Hess is the fellowship winner for the Houston region, Webb said.

“The fellowships are available for teachers in pre-K to 12th-grade classrooms, who spend at least 50 percent of their time in the classroom,” Webb said. “There were 465 awarded this year, and 4,000 awards in the past 10 years. The total amount awarded this year was $1.9 million, given to 55 teachers in 38 different schools.”

Hess, 52, has been a teacher for 27 years, spending 14 of those years in Katy ISD schools. She has been at Griffin Elementary School since it opened in 2006. A graduate of University of Houston and a native of Houston, Hess has a master’s degree in elementary education. She is married to Rusty and is the mother of Ashley, now 24 and a graduate of University of Houston, and Dusten, 21, a University of Houston student. She is the teacher for Griffin Elementary School’s gifted and talented program.

“The benefit of the Fund for Teachers program was that I wanted to learn more about each of the artists and musicians I teach. For most of the kids, this isn’t their art or their music, but I want to teach them a love and recognition for this style of art and music.

The programs she devised at the end of her journey are taught through Power Point slide shows and some video, as well as some hands-on materials she brought back from Europe.

“Walking into the back of Claude Monet’s house is like walking into Disneyland,” she smiled. “It gives you the feeling of walking through there when he was there. So many subjects tie together, like architecture and architectural terms. When you like something you’ve done you love to talk about it. Being able to portray that to my students made it much more exciting for them.”

Points of interest on her trip included the Vatican, the Forum and the Colosseum in Rome and the city of Venice.

“I learned that Venice is where all the Renaissance artists went to study,” she said, “and the Dome of Basilica is an example of Michelangelo’s architecture.

Hess, who had applied twice for the Fund for Teachers award, said she received a lot of support from school administrators.

“I have a lot of great teachers on campus,” said Griffin Elementary School principal Jacki Keithan, “and she is definitely one of the greats.

“She went to Europe and brought back a lot of first-hand information. I have other teachers who have applied, who are looking for experiences that they can grow with and present to their students, but she is the first one I have had win.

“She’s done some really good things with kids this year.”

Part of the unit Hess teaches includes a “Living Museum.”

“I have the students pick an artist or musician or dancer who worked sometime before 1920,” Hess explained. “The students must research their person and dress up as that person. They are seated next to a ‘buzzer’ and when it is pressed, they have to stand up and give a presentation about that person. It’s like the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland. We had adults and students lined up in the hallways. Some of these kids were so into their characters you’d almost believe they’re real.”

According to national director Webb, the Fund for Teachers will be bringing Plank Fellowship winners together in June in a small town in Wyoming.

“We want them to help us look at how we ask teachers what they’re going to do with all this information when they get back from their journey.”

“A lot of people think, ‘wow, a European vacation’,” Hess laughed. “But it was a very fast-paced trip. I really appreciated being able to travel like that. Without the Fund for Teachers we wouldn’t be able to do that. But to have it be a learning experience is different from a vacation. If I went back I sure wouldn’t take it at as fast-paced as I did.”

Face to Face With Karen Kovach Webb, Executive Director, Fund for Teachers

Christine Hall
Houston Business Journal

Karen Kovach Webb teamed with Apache Corp. founder Raymond Plank to bring his personal initiative of recognition and reward for school teachers to the public in 2001. The resulting foundation, Fund for Teachers, aims to enrich teachers’ lives by offering them the opportunity to self-design summer sabbatical experiences, returning to the classroom re-energized in ways that impact students on a daily basis. To date, Fund for Teachers has granted over $14 million to over 4,000 teachers working in 47 states. In addition to positions in the corporate arena and as a small business owner, Webb has worked in nonprofit management, strategic planning and development for over 25 years. She has served on various community school boards and concerned citizens and advocacy groups that seek to ensure adequate resources and opportunities for basic services and education. She was interviewed by Christine Hall.

How did the Fund for Teachers program get started?

During the early 1980s, Raymond Plank, having been the fortunate beneficiary of many good teachers in his life, chose to honor the influential role those teachers played in his success by establishing a modest fund at his Minneapolis high school. Fast-forward to 2001: It was serendipitous; I was ready for a new professional challenge when Raymond approached me with the idea of scaling up his pilot program. From idea to pilot program to today: Fund for Teachers has grown from inspiration to a Houston-based, national public nonprofit program that helps teachers from across the country pursue their own self-designed learning opportunities.

How do you think Houston is advancing beyond other cities or markets in terms of education?

It is hard to ignore the national debate about education reform and its impact on the economy, today and tomorrow. Houston, like cities across the country, is facing the challenge to determine and sustain effective school improvement that will equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the globally driven marketplace. A pause for reflection should be part of the deliberations as we all determine the best path forward.

What is the organization doing to supply the area with a quality base of employable people?

One in four Americans is in a school building every day. Research proves that teachers make schools successful. Fund for Teachers attributes its growth to the concerted effort to define our partnering relationships with corporate supporters and local education foundations with a commitment to shared purposes. To reach teachers across the country we affiliate with various locally based education reform groups. Fund for Teachers is somewhat unique in mission and program. We give money directly to teachers for the work that they know will most directly impact their efforts. We have been successful in bringing education reform groups from New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and other places together in collaboration around our mission and granting program to foster teacher growth and learning and thereby student growth and learning. The definition and scope of “community” grows exponentially through the constructive exchanges around our “table” – teachers and students benefit immediately.

And how is the private sector, i.e. companies and corporations, reciprocating?

We use the same approach with our donors. The Houston corporate community, led by Apache, cradled FFT: Its continuing support has served as the model and inspiration for national funders. Employers have a stake in hiring future graduates who are high achievers. The purpose of business cannot separate from the purposes of education. As companies struggle to articulate and act on value propositions, Fund for Teachers provides them with a way to support teachers and education directly, with immediate impact. Our teachers’ stories are proof that doing the “right thing” is good for business. Corporations feed the pipeline to the future. Let me give you an example: Understanding that a mastery of math concepts is integral to competing on the global business front; Steve Farris, chairman and CEO of Apache, started the Fund for Teachers Pi Society. He challenged other CEOs to join him in pledging funding earmarked specifically for math-related fellowships hoping to inspire the current generation of math students through their teachers.

What’s next for the organization?

As I look to the next decade, I know that Fund for Teachers must remain focused on achieving our goals and vigilant measuring our progress. We are nowhere near the fulfillment of our aspirations for a full-scale national coverage program making self-designed learning opportunities available to all professional teachers charged with guiding our future. Our continued successful partnerships will allow us to recruit the donors and local education partners aligned around that purpose. I am confident that the Fund for Teachers’ community table will expand and grow in positive, inspiring ways. Without doubt, more students will benefit from teachers who have explored their own curiosity and deepened their own scholarship. This is my passion.

Teachers to Share Travel Experiences with Students

Cathy Spaulding, Phoenix Staff Writer

Six area teachers will be able to open new worlds and cultures to their students next school year after returning from study trips sponsored by the Fund for Teachers.

The teachers were among 66 Oklahoma teachers to receive the fellowship grants awarded by Fund for Teachers, through the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Tulsa Community Foundation. Each year, Fund for Teachers awards grants to enable teachers to experience summer learning treks and bring their experiences to their students.

These area teachers received grants:

• Tony Goetz Elementary School resource specialist Cheri Fite will go to England and explore the world of literary hero Harry Potter in an effort to bring literature to life in her classroom.

• Tahlequah High School career-technology teacher Brenda McClain will visit World War II locations in Germany and collect video, photographs and global positioning coordinates.

• Paula Galbraith, Vanessa Gilley and Delicia White of Eufaula Elementary School will go to Costa Rica and learn how the indigenous Indian culture compares to Oklahoma’s Native American culture.

Fite said she wants her trip to show her students the differences not only between the United States and England, but also between fact and fiction. She said she will visit many of the places mentioned in the books or shown in the movies based on the books.

“I’m going to take pictures all over England,” she said. “I’m going to the train station at King’s Crossing, where Harry Potter left on Platform Nine and Three-Fourths. I’ll show there is a Platform 9 and a Platform 10, but Harry’s platform is fictional. I’ll show that the witchcraft and wizardry in the books are fictional.”

Fite said many of her students have reading disabilities.

“A lot of my kids struggle. So one of the things I’m going to show is how Harry Potter struggled with things such as learning to fly the broom,” she said. “I’ll show that he never gave up on what he wanted to accomplish.”

She said she’ll also use the trip to answer students’ questions such as, how do people in England get around or how do they buy things.

The Eufaula teachers said they will find all sorts of things during their 11-day trip to Costa Rica. For example, they will collect data on sea turtles that lay eggs on the beach and learn about reforestation programs. The three also will spend time with a family belonging to the Bribri tribe in Central America.

“We want to compare their life with the Native American culture we have here,” Galbraith said. “We could bring back artifacts to donate to the library with video records of sounds and games.”

The three also will do some in-service training for other teachers.

“A main purpose of our visit is conservation and the need to care for the environment,” Galbraith said.

The teachers said the grant is worth about $10,000.

“We’re very excited about it,” White said.

At Tahlequah, McClain will use global positioning systems, geographic information systems and podcasting to help her students learn technology and her fellow instructors teach history. McClain said she had lived in Germany for six and a half years.

She said the GPS will use longitude and latitude to find a location while the GIS will plat the location on a map. She said she also will take pictures and video, which students will be able to make into a podcast, which history and English teachers could use.

“I’m really excited, because this allows me the opportunity to use history and incorporate technology into it,” she said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

Soggy Science: Paddling the Extra Mile for Education

Aaron is a Chicago Public School teacher, currently teaching biology and zoology at Kelly High School on the city’s south side. Prior to becoming a high school teacher, he served as a US Peace Corps volunteer for three years in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu where he worked as a classroom teacher, curriculum designer and manager of a cyclone relief fund. As a 2008 Fund for Teachers fellow, Aaron paddled a kayak more than 1000 miles down the lower Mississippi River to study nutrient pollution and design a river ecology unit for high school students. His writing and photographs have appeared in Sea Kayaker Magazine, Wavelength Paddling and on GoNomad.com. You can read a personal account of Aaron’s fellowship at his blog.

Ventura County schools celebrate Read Across America Day

Rachel McGrath
Ventura County Star

Adriane Levy brought her three Tennessee fainting goats to school Tuesday in Moorpark as real-life illustrations for the classic Norwegian children’s tale “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Levy, an instructional aide for the Moorpark Unified School District, was taking part in Read Across America Day activities at Arroyo West School.

Read Across America is a nationwide program sponsored by the National Education Association that annually celebrates the March 2, 1904, birthday of the late Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, and is designed to foster a love of books in young children. Schools across Ventura County held events Tuesday, and some are planning activities all week.

“This is a good project and allows everybody to focus on reading, and I really enjoy sharing my experience with the students,” Levy said.

After reading the book, Levy let the children interact with the goats.

“I like it because I’ve never seen a goat before,” said kindergartner Libby Peoples, 5.

“I liked the story and the goats feel real soft,” said Joseph Amezcua-Matthews, 6.

In another classroom, 16-year-old actor Brett Loehr, who has appeared in episodes of TV’s “Hannah Montana,” “Without A Trace” and “Medium,” was reading a book to fifth-graders.

“I love it,” said Loehr, who used to be a student at Arroyo West. “It’s great just coming back to the school and seeing all my old teachers again. I love spending time with kids, and reading is awesome, so it’s great reading stories and stuff to them.”

Arroyo West, with 350 students in grades K-5, has made the literary arts a focus. Thanks to grants from the Fund for Teachers, a national donor-supported organization that helps teachers with professional growth, six Arroyo West teachers attended the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Institute at Columbia University in New York last summer. Six more have applied for grants to participate this year.

“It’s a balanced literacy program, and the highlight is children reading at their independent reading level,” said Principal Susanne Smith-Stein.

Instead of a class reading the same text at the same time, children now choose their own books and read silently to themselves, said Smith-Stein.

“We see children making great gains in reading, because they’re reading something they like at their level and not reading something too easy or too hard,” she said.

Teacher Irene Garcia, who has attended the summer workshop in New York, said the change is reaping huge dividends.

“We know children who read at their learning level will learn faster, and last year our scores went up tremendously in reading and writing,” she said.

Moorpark sheriff’s Deputy Paul Higgason entertained the students Tuesday with a rendition of the children’s book “Walter the Farting Dog.”

“It’s basically a natural bodily function, and Walter saves the day by stopping criminals from committing crimes by farting,” Higgason said. “I love doing something positive with the kids.”

Click here to listen to the guest readers.

Oklahoma Fellow Gives Unique History Lesson

Darla Splike
The Oklahoman

PONCA CITY – When she was in the eighth grade, Maurisa Pruett asked a friend to join an invitation-only group at their school.

Other group members rejected the girl because of the color of her skin, Pruett said. It was 1978, and segregation was illegal. Pruett got no support from adults she consulted, so she ended up quitting the club.

But the situation changed her outlook.

Now a science teacher at East Middle School in Ponca City, Pruett uses that experience to teach her students about history and civil rights. “My hope is that they will be brave enough to take a stand if they’re ever in a situation that needs that to happen,” the Ponca City teacher said.

During a three- to four-week enrichment class called “Taking a Stand,” Pruett discusses historical movements and contemporary events where courageous individuals made a difference by standing up for what they believed in.

Pruett received a fellowship last summer to visit some of the places about which she teaches. She spent three weeks driving across part of the southern United States. She visited museums and historic sites along the way.

One of the most moving experiences on her trip was when she visited a slave museum and saw cramped quarters where slaves lived, Pruett said.

She said she was appalled by stories she heard about children whose job was to drink water from the rice paddies to make sure no salt was getting through when the paddies were flooded.

Visiting those sites and talking to people who had lived through the history has helped her to connect those experiences to her students in a more dynamic way, Pruett said.

“When you go there and you hear people’s stories, it starts to come to life,” Pruett said. “You feel how humid it was and how miserably hot in the summertime, and yet the people worked from sunup to sundown in terrible conditions.”

Those travel experiences fuel many of her class discussions.

On Friday, Pruett paused a civil rights documentary her eighth-grade students were watching to interject with a story from her summer travels.

She met a man in Birmingham, Ala., who lived there when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four girls in 1963. More than 45 years later, the man still got misty eyes as he recalled the chaos of that day, Pruett said.

Students said the class has been inspiring. “It’s really opened my eyes,” said eighth-grade student Lexi Smith. Smith said the stories make her want to visit some of those historic sites, too. Her classmate, Megan Alexander, agreed.

Alexander said many students at school forget that certain words or actions can be hurtful to others. Pruett’s class is a good reminder, Alexander said.

“I think more people should learn about this, and more people should be thinking about this,” Alexander said.