A summer of learning for Boston public teachers

West Roxbury Bulletin
Jeff Gilbride, Bulletin staff

Some Parkway teachers intend to add a little national and international flavor to their students’ curriculum this year after spending the summer in exotic places as far away as Ghana.

Boston Plan for Excellence, the city’s local education foundation, awarded $172,500 in grants to 47 teachers from the Boston Public Schools to visit 24 foreign countries and more than 20 states in search of educational inspiration to bring back to their schools.

The grants were offered through a joint initiative with the Boston Public Schools and Fund For Teachers/Boston.

West Roxbury resident Elizabeth Rendon and a colleague won a team grant for their joint proposal in which they spent part of the summer in Ghana to learn first hand about the West African nation’s culture, geography, people and education.

Rendon, a first grade teacher at the Mattapan Early Education Center (MEEC), and teammate Michelle Pless-Joseph, who also teaches first grade at MEEC, chose to VISIT Ghana because they felt it was important for Boston’s first grade social studies curriculum. Rendon left for Africa Wednesday Aug. 10, and the Bulletin spoke wither the day after she returned, Thursday Aug. 25.

“We actually just got back last night. It was amazing! It’s definitely a place to see and learn. I was impressed with the people and how nice and how happy they were, even though a lot of them lived in poverty,” Rendon said. “We visited a school and the teachers were very kind and willing to learn from us. That was an amazing experience. …That’s the one thing I don’t think I’ll experience anywhere else. We actually brought school supplies and donations to their village…and they were very grateful.”

Rendon stayed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and also took some day trips to Kumasi and Cape Coast. She’s now figuring out ways that she can translate her experiences into curriculum for her students.

“We have taken a lot of pictures and videos and we plan to create thematic books for first graders,” Rendon said. “We have software that will allow us to download the pictures we have and create text to create an online library. … We also have video which we hope to set up as a website.”

That website would be accessible to teachers all over greater Boston.

Roslindale native Jessica Gorham received a grant to brush up on her Spanish this summer by taking a course in Madrid and touring historical and artistic sites in Barcelona, Valencia, Granada and Seville.

Gorham is an Italian teacher at East Boston High School, where she teaches grades 9 through 11. She said many of her students are from Latin America.

“It was really incredible. I’m an Italian teacher and I wanted to learn Spanish so I could diversify my teaching,” Gorham said. “So I went there as part of a program through the Spanish embassy, where I was able to participate in a three-week language program in Madrid. It was for Spanish teachers so I studied Spanish language and culture.”

Gorham said that while in Spain she developed an Internet BLOG, describing the places she stayed at, which she intends to integrate into her curriculum this year among other experiences.

“I won’t be teaching Spanish this year, but I’ll be able to use what I learned about the structure of the Spanish language in order to explain the difference between Spanish and Italian to my students that are regular Spanish speakers,” Gorham said.

Gorham said she liked being in the position of a student and experiencing personal triumphs that come with learning.

“It took me a few weeks to feel really comfortable with the language and then to be able to express myself with the people fluently was really the best experience,” she said.

Gorham took a course in Madrid that was designed for Spanish teachers at K-12 schools and community colleges and covered grammar, pronunciation, methods and materials, as well as techniques for incorporating Spanish history, theatre, and art into her curriculum.

Other teachers who live or teach in the Parkway area who were awarded grants include Cambridge resident Ana Vaisenstein, a math teacher-coach at Roslindale’s Sumner Elementary School who traveled 11,000 miles this summer to learn to use an ancient math tool: the soroban or Japanese abacus; Roslindale resident Teresa Marx, who attended the International Chem-Ed Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia; Roslindale resident Lisa Evans, an English as a Second Language teacher at Roxbury’s Orchards Gardens K-8 School, studied literacy and interviewed teachers in the Dominican Republic; and Roslindale resident Kathleen Doyle studied on and off-Broadway (and off-off-Broadway) plays in New York City to help teach children’s theater-related programs in Boston.

The Fund For Boston Teachers is a joint project of the Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE) and the Boston Public Schools (BPS), and this is the second year the partnership has awarded grants to city teachers.