TULSA — For many children today, Thanksgiving means a day off school, a morning to sleep in and football on television. They may be unaware of the holiday’s real focus: the hardships the Pilgrims experienced when moving to an unknown environment and the struggles they experienced as they tried to find common ground with another culture in a new land.
But four Tulsa Union teachers who wanted their students to learn the true meaning of Thanksgiving recently went on a journey to bring home more understanding to share with their students. In July, Moore Elementary teachers Tracy Weese, Julie Godfrey, Wendi Rutz and Jane Vanfossen traveled to Boston for a pilgrimage that immersed them in the history that created our nation’s Thanksgiving traditions.
A $10,000 grant from Fund for Teachers and its local community partners, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Tulsa Community Foundation, funded the teachers’ journey.
In July, the voyage started with a workshop on the beliefs and backgrounds of the colonists and Wampanoag Indians, the Mayflower Compact, the 1621 harvest celebration and King Philip’s War. Next, they explored the Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship. To conclude their training, the team attended a seminar at Plymouth Plantation, visiting a 1627 English village, the Wampanoag homesite and the Pilgrim Hall Museum, America’s treasure chest of Pilgrims’ possessions.
Back home in Tulsa, the teachers have capitalized on their trip by teaching Thanksgiving in a new, more meaningful manner. Storybooks, slide shows, pictures and replicas of documents obtained in Plymouth have rounded out their teaching about the colonists’ first harvest.
People like Jack Chevigny helped make America America.
His is a stirring tale about a war hero and a football player.
In a week in which we celebrate our most meaningful holiday – Veterans Day – his story is even more powerful.
It involves a host of gripping elements – historic athletic achievement, bravery, mystery, sacrifice and death – that make it exciting and unique among American tales.
It is a book waiting to be written.
Thankfully, Jeff Walker is writing it.
Walker, the head football coach at Bellaire, isn’t after glory or acclaim. He is just following a calling that touched on a longtime interest.
“It has grabbed me,” Walker said. “I’ve always been interested in WWII history, and you add an old football coach to it, and I was really drawn to this.”
Hopefully by next spring, Walker will finish something that we already can’t wait to read.
He wants to tell us more about the amazing life of the Notre Dame Football legend, former University of Texas head coach and brave American who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country on Iwo Jima.
With that in mind, Walker visited the Japanese island earlier this year, thanks to Fund for Teachers, a program started by Apache Corp. founder Raymond Plank in 2001.
Walker was an excellent candidate for such a program, and Chevigny’s a perfect story. The moving trip added some emotion to this five-year writing project.
Jack Chevigny was in uniform at Yankee Stadium when Knute Rockne said, “Win one for the Gipper.”
So inspired, he came out of that halftime speech and scored the game-tying touchdown for the Fighting Irish in what turned into a 12-6 victory over heavily favored Army.
When he crossed the goal line, Chevigny yelled, “There’s one for the Gipper!”
He was the football coach at Texas before Dana X.. Bible came to Austin. Run out of town after his third season on the job, Chevigny did beat Oklahoma three times and was 2-1 vs. Texas A&M, but his teams never beat Rice.
His squad’s victory over Notre Dame in his first season at Texas (1934) – a win that compelled boosters to buy him a new LaSalle coupe, – should have led to a great legacy in Longhorns football history.
But when he left the 40 Acres, Chevigny was the only coach in school history to depart with a losing record (13-14-2). More than 70 years later, he still holds that dubious distinction.
That’s true, too.
“As a coach, I felt a debt to him that he is not remembered as the only losing coach at Texas and only that,” Walker said.
Chevigny’s UT stint is what caught Walker’s eye. A WWII buff, Walker was somewhat stunned to see that a former college football coach was among the fighting forces at Iwo Jima.
Chevigny was 39 when he died, not the typical young draftee.
“How did that happen?” Walker wondered. “Why was he there? I had to find out.”
Walker researched and found that Chevigny was so bothered by seeing so many young troops sent off to war that he applied for combat duty.
“He didn’t have to be there – he didn’t have to go to war – and that says a lot about what his generation was about,” Walker said. “Those are the people that are the backbone of our country.”
Lore has it that Chevigny was given a pen (not a car) commemorating the victory over Notre Dame. The pen was said to have been engraved with the phrase: “To an old Notre Damer who beat Notre Dame.”
The story has Chevigny taking the pen with him into battle. He was killed on the first day our troops invaded Iwo Jima. On Sept. 2, 1945, the most often told story goes, the pen was discovered in the hands of a Japanese envoy on the U.S.S. Missouri, there to sign the surrender agreement ending the battle.
Taken from the enemy, the pen was a given a new inscription that read, “To Jack Chevigny, a Notre Dame boy who gave his life for his country in the spirit of old Notre Dame,” and presented to Chevigny’s sister as a tribute.
According to Walker, the pen didn’t exist.
After thousands of hours of research, Walker is close to sharing a grand story. He says he is about halfway through the writing and 95 percent done with research.
“Everything I’ve touched in relation to this man has turned to gold,” Walker said. “His is a great American story.”
A great American story we can’t wait to read.
On a recent day in a sixth-grade classroom at Sabin Elementary, math instructor Jaime McLaughlin was teaching 11-year-olds how to add positive and negative numbers. “Eighteen plus -4,” student Chastity Rice said, stretching a ruler toward the blackboard. “I started at 18, and went back 4. I ended up at 14.”
Good, McLaughlin said, taking his class through a lesson that covered three ways to find the answer — using a number line, absolute value patterns, or a calculator.
Ignored by McLaughlin and his concentrating students were several Sabin teachers watching, hovering, taking notes, and videotaping their every interaction. After class, those peers ripped apart McLaughlin’s teaching style.
A little bit of Japan has come to the Chicago Public Schools — in the form of jugyoukenkyuu, or “lesson study,” a strategy experts have long credited for Japan’s unceasing advancements in math and science instruction to elementary students. The century-old Japanese concept involves refining — down to the most minuscule detail — the best teaching strategy for a specific reading, writing or arithmetic lesson at a specific grade level.
Its focus being student-driven learning — where teachers become facilitators for students to arrive at lesson goals or answers themselves — jugyoukenkyuu requires constant peer critique, practice, evaluation and revision of lesson plans.
“The way you wrote it on the board didn’t actually hold up to the principle being taught,” math and science coach Lori Zaimi told McLaughlin.
“I think having them work together rather than coming up to the board would have helped,” seventh – and eighth-grade math teacher Heidi Sally chimed in.
“And use more signal words that are sequential in nature, like first I’m going to do this, next I’m going to do that,” literacy coach Emily Rowley added.
At the root of Japan’s lauded, student-centered education system, jugyoukenkyuu has found its way into U.S. schools seeking long-term improvement strategies.
McLaughlin, Zaimi and Sally traveled to Japan this summer on a $10,000 Fund for Teachers grant to learn firsthand how to adapt it here.
The three teachers said in their visit to Tokyo schools, it was not uncommon to see up to 30 teachers flitting about a classroom with notebooks and cameras observing one instructor. In Japan, after teachers have tackled a lesson plan — researching and practicing it on students, evaluating its effect, then revising and re-teaching — the final refined product is published.
Sabin staff just hopes to arrive at best practice — one math lesson at a time, within one school’s confines.
“It’s a whole different mind-set, with your practice being exposed, but much more effective,” said McLaughlin. “Of course, U.S. teachers can be a bit proprietary. We’ll need to be open to constructive criticism. You can’t take it personally.”
Call it the evolution of the summer sabbatical for 23 globetrotting Hub teachers who just returned from Ghana, Vietnam and the Galapagos Islands.
City students will hear about it all beginning today as a new school year begins with tales of exotic adventures.
“The Galapagos is a mecca for biology people,” said Boston Arts Academy science teacher Joy Bautista, who spent the summer on the Galapagos.
Thanks to Fund For Teachers and Boston Plan For Excellence, Bautista and 23 other select public school teachers were provided with grants to travel across the globe.
“It’s important for science teachers to actually be scientists,” said Bautista, who spent five weeks nurturing tortoises and following the footsteps of evolution pioneer Charles Darwin.
McKinley South End Academy teacher David Russell traveled to Africa to teach English and social studies at St. George’s Parochial School in Ghana. The veteran teacher proposed to “set a relationship between schools” not only through pictures but with pen-pals to erase misconceptions.
“It was inspiring to see how people keep hopeful and are determined in what, to us, appears to be daunting circumstances,” said Russell.
Anatomy and physiology teacher Doannie Tran of the O’Bryant School of Math & Science will tell of his journey to Vietnam to follow medical students fighting HIV.
“I want to give my kids the perspective of practicing medicine in the developing world with fewer resources,” said Tran.
A high school teacher at Thurgood Marshall high school in Missouri city spent time this summer in Brazil, studying fair trade coffee. This trip – and others like it – help her develop a curriculum that incorporates first-hand knowledge about the region.
World Geography teacher Lorelei Clark spent time studying how fair trade coffee comes to market after winning the trip to Brazil through a national competition.
“It was an essay-a pretty extensive essay. There were five components-you know, how am I going to use this in the classroom, why should they pick me? – And I submitted the essay and just was one of the lucky ones.”
Clark’s trip was sponsored by coffee roaster Café Bom Dia, as well as Sam’s Club and TransFair USA, an independent certifier of fair trade goods.
“I can’t afford to do this myself, so I get to go to these places and really learn about the culture and the people and see sights that I normally wouldn’t be able to see and then bring it back to my classroom, not only for my students but also for other teachers, so…”
Ed: “Are languages easy for you?”
This isn’t the first trip Clark has made overseas.
“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia with Aramco. I’ve been to, this summer, I went to Japan. There’s a great group in Houstno called Fund, F-U-N-D, for Teachers, and they provide a cash grant for you, for teachers to go wherever they want to go. So you just design the program and you submit it, and I went to China with that one.”
Karen Kovach-Webb is executive director of Fund for Teachers.
“We’ve sent math teachers to prove the Pythagorean theorem. We’ve sent math teachers to actually go and measure the curvature of the earth the way it was originally done. But we also send Shakespearean teachers to go study at the Globe. We send social studies teachers to go and study some of the social ills that affect the entire world like the holocaust, or go to Rwanda.”
Fund for Teachers was started by Apache chairman Raymond Plank to help underwrite summer trips for teachers to get first-hand glimpses into cultures and issues that they can bring back to the classroom.
“Raymond did have great teachers that he was inspired by, but I think his primary inspiration was his father who told him that he had to leave the world a better place. He started putting money aside everyyear to do something small for teachers because he knows that teachers can touch many more than one kid.”
Lorelei Clark says studying fair trade coffee gives her the rare opportunity to bring real world lessons on global issues into the classroom.
“You know, I’m, you know ‘Ms. Clark, she’s been everywhere!’ And I think my enthusiasm and excitement, and I have so many students that I really encourage them to study abroad. You know, they’ll go to university. I’m like, you know, ‘take that year and do some traveling, and we can figure out a way. If you can’t afford it, let’s find a way for you to go anyway.’”
The national non-profit organization Fund For Teachers picked up the tab for almost 100 Oklahoma teachers to experience the world this summer. Now it’s just a matter of turning memories into ready-made inspiration.
“The more teachers can experience their subject matter, the better equipped they are to bring it alive in the classroom for their students,” explained Mary Jo Othon, a Bishop Kelley science teacher.
Othon traveled to Iceland, where glaciers and volcanoes meet on an island not much bigger than Oklahoma, with a population roughly the size of Tulsa.
For 10 days, Othon witnessed, among a great many things, the power of geothermal energy – it’s “abundant, clean and very inexpensive,” she said.
Beyond admiring its earthly wonders, Othon reveled in an Icelandic juke-joint chilled to minus-8 degrees Celsius.
She chronicled her adventures at Tulsaworld.com/Icelandtrip.
Art and yoga teacher Cynthia Brown left Tulsa behind for the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass.
“I learned to chant in Sanskrit, how to adjust students’ yoga postures and how to do partner yoga,” she said. “I also learned many different breathing techniques.”
And how will that help her students at Project 12 Alternative High School?
“My research will benefit students, because I am incorporating movement and breath into my art classes,” she said. “My goal is to inspire students to establish and maintain a lifetime of wellness, and to develop focus and concentration in order to enhance learning and creativity.
“I believe yoga helps students practice self-control and self-reflection by remaining still and quiet.”
Making a difference
Laurie Smith, the library media specialist for Mayo Demonstration School, toured private and public schools in Cape Town, South Africa.
“I visited five schools while I was there, and have set up formal pen-pal relationships with two of the schools and my students at Mayo,” she explained. “There is also a chance that we will more informally interact with the other three schools.”
Mayo also is set to host a South Africa Day.
“I hope that (the students) will be able to get a good overview of the culture of Cape Town,” Smith said.
Looking back on her trip, Smith will particularly remember venturing into the townships.
“There are many among the masses in poverty, among the alcoholics, and abusive, that are beautiful, perseverant, and even hopeful,” she said. “They are resilient and hard-working.
“However, the need is overwhelming (because of the many AIDS orphans, child-led families, the large unemployment rate, poor education, etc.). But if you look at individuals and do what you can to be of help, it is powerful to see that one person can make a difference.”
Fourth-grade teacher Maria Shead spent 40 days at Wyoming’s Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries, a Christian outdoor leadership education and wilderness adventure program.
During those 40 days, the 26-year-old learned about many things, such as rock climbing, mountaineering, back-country cooking and teamwork. “The biggest thing I took away was in endurance and determination,” the Victory Christian School teacher explained. “I have a greater understanding of how to encourage a student to conquer the things they struggle with.”
This year, Shead’s classroom theme is mountaineering and outdoors. And the students have already started nature journals.
On the first day of school, Shead showed her students a grainy video she made while in the wilderness.
“Even though it was really dark in the video, the kids were thrilled,” she recalled. “At the end of the day, I asked a boy how his day went. He exclaimed that it was the coolest day ever.”
Shead’s video and pictures can be found online at tulsaworld.com/sheadtrip.