Kerrin Flanagan went to Ghana and came back with a wealth of ideas for her K-1 class.
Her students won’t step into the classroom for another four weeks, but Kerrin Flanagan is here on a humid afternoon, padding around in flip-flops and contemplating how to make every corner welcoming. One moment she’s on the floor filling bins with giant Legos; the next she’s pawing through a box, thrilled to discover the small set of wind chimes she uses to get the children’s attention.
Now in her ninth year as a teacher at the Patrick Lyndon School in Boston, Ms. Flanagan “loops” with her students – following them from kindergarten to first grade. This year she’s starting with a new batch of 22 kindergartners.
“I like everything to be organized when the children come in … and because I want the classroom to be their classroom, we will decorate it together,” she says in a soft voice that matches her petite frame. The students will create alphabet art and self-portraits for the walls, giving her a chance to get to know each one along the way.
“Children need to feel safe and cared for and heard before they can start learning anything academic. We start out at the very beginning with learning how to be a group,… how to listen to each other,… how to wait our turn, how to use crayons…. I don’t give them the rules when they come in. They figure out what they hope to learn during the school year, what they hope to do. In kindergarten it’s usually very simple – it might be I want to make a friend or I hope to paint…. And from that we figure out what our classroom needs to be like in order to achieve those hopes and dreams.”
The types of rules that evolve are simple, too: “We care about each other; we take care of the things in our class; we respect one another; we do our best work…. And then we practice them for a very long time,” she says with a laugh.
Like many teachers, Flanagan didn’t have much time for vacation this summer – but she did something even better: She traveled to Ghana through a grant from the Fund for Teachers, an education foundation in Houston. For three weeks, she volunteered with a Global Solutions group in the town of Hohoe.
Both Ghana and Japan are part of Boston’s first-grade curriculum, as a way to teach children how to compare and contrast. But it’s always been easier for teachers to find materials related to Japan, Flanagan says. Now she spreads out the treasure trove of objects from Ghana that she’ll incorporate into a curriculum kit for her students and fellow K-1 teachers: wood carvings, musical instruments, colorful strips of kente cloth.
“We’ve had pictures of people weaving kente cloth … but having the actual kente cloth itself is really important,” she says. She tried weaving it when she was there.
In June, when her first-grade class knew she would be visiting Africa, they were “so much more excited about learning about Ghana than children had ever been in the past. They were drawing on everything else we had learned about, [saying,] ‘Oh, Ghana’s near the equator, you’re going to need to bring lots of sunscreen!’ ”
She also brought back her experience of teaching mentally challenged students in a school in Ghana with hardly any resources. “I had to be really flexible. I was able to draw on a lot of strengths as a teacher that I didn’t necessarily know I had…. It makes me feel very different about coming back to school,” she says, gazing around at the shelves she’s stocking with books and toys. “I realize how much I have here in this classroom.”
Two fourth-grade teachers from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School recently enjoyed a whale of an experience north of the border.
Taking part in Whale Camp – which spanned from July 27-Aug. 4 in New Brunswisk, Canada – Shelly White and Vanessa Wallace got a firsthand view of some scenes from nature that few get to witness.
Most of the camp took place on Grand Manan Island, which is located about nine miles from the eastern-most point of Maine. The largest island in the Bay of Fundy, Grand Manan, has a population of more than 2,500 people and measures approximately 53 square miles.
“The island has the highest and lowest tides in the world,” notes White, “And that brings in a lot of plankton, and in turn, a lot of whales.”
White and Wallace got to listen to lectures about subjects relating to marine life, such as plankton, moon phases and food chains. They got to head out into the water for some whale watching tours as well, aboard a tourist boat and a lobster vessel.
“At one point, we were literally surrounded by whales,” says Wallace. “We saw humpbacks, menkes, and finbacks.”
Finbacks are the second-largest whale species in the world, ranking behind only blue whales. Some North Atlantic Right Whales, which are nearing extinction, were due into the area a few days after White and Wallace left.
The Wilson teachers appreciate the insight they were able to garner from the camp. They teach about different regions of the United States at their school, and the trip to Grand Manan offered them first-hand accounts of some subjects about which they had taught but never witnessed.
White and Wallace were able to attend the Whale Camp thanks to a 2007 Fund For Teachers grant. White and Wallace initially put in for a grant to attend a work-shop in Hawaii, but weren’t accepted. Undeterred, they found out about Whales Camp and applied toward the beginning of the year to attend. In March, Wallace was driving to a technology meeting when she received a phone call from her husband. White and Wallace had been accepted to Whale Camp.
“I was so excited,” recalls Wallace, “I could hardly stand it.”
White was no less enthused, and once the trip was underway, it immediately offered some notable sights. The teachers flew into Bangor, Maine, where they saw a 31-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan. The teachers took a picture of themselves in front of the statue as one of the subjects they cover for their fourth-graders is tall tales. According to his symbolic birth certificate, Paul Bunyan, a mythical lumberjack, was born in Bangor.
After a short stay in Maine, the pair took a ferry to Grand Manan to being their whale adventure. On the island, they saw unique wildlife such as Puffins and Razorbills as well as some lighthouses which are common in the area. They got to Kayak and take a trip to the nearby Machias Seal Island, also.
In order to help preserve the fragile ecosystem of Grand Manan Island, the Machias Seal Island and the rest of the area, virtually everything used was recyclable and disposed of accordingly, including plates, cups and eating utensils.
Whale Camp is held annually for much of the summer. But due to the guidelines of Fund For Teachers, White and Wallace won’t be able to apply for another FFT grant
for five years. But when they become eligible to apply again, they plan to try to attend another Whale Camp.
“It’s one thing to see nature in books and on television,” says Wallace, “But it’s another to see it with your own eyes and to live it.”
“I think the No. 1 focus of Whale Camp is to expose people to that life so that they understand it and care about it.”
Ashland, Mass. – On a five-week trip to Costa Rica this summer, a math teacher from Ashland found countless lessons to bring back to her students.
At a banana farm, Janet Platt discovered ways to teach high school teens about the economics and science behind their food.
In cooperatives run by Costa Rica’s indigenous people, she found ways to talk to students about what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle.
Platt, who teaches at a public charter school in Roxbury called Boston Day and Evening Academy, made the trip with a grant from the Fund for Teachers. The nonprofit Boston Plan for Excellence awarded the grant in the spring.
“I’m really grateful to have had this opportunity,” Platt said yesterday, four days after returning to her Rodman Road home. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford this on my own.”
During the trip, she spent weeks in an intensive program to learn Spanish, toured indigenous farming communities, and saw such sights as a volcano and a mountain cloud forest.
Platt traveled to the coastal Central American country with a science teacher from her school, Alison Hramiec. Last winter, they worked together to complete an elaborate application for the grant.
The Fund for Teachers offers grants for teachers to pursue special interests that can play a role in their classrooms.
Platt said she and Hramiec picked Costa Rica in part because the nation has a good record of sustainability – limiting humanity’s impact on the environment and society. Both teachers wanted to bring that concept to their classes.
“We also teach in Boston, so about 50 percent of our students come from Spanish-speaking families,” Platt said. Though many speak English, knowing Spanish can help in talking to their families, she said.
The teachers also wanted to learn through community service, something they urge their students to do.
Platt left July 14, two weeks after school ended for the year. She began the trip by attending Centro PanAmericano de Idiomas, a language school in Monteverde where she took Spanish classes for four hours every morning.
Platt then toured organic and fair trade farms and cooperatives in indigenous towns and villages, where she said people are trying to hold onto their culture as they do business in the wider world.
“They’re trying to stick to their old farming practices, but they also realize they can’t live apart from the rest of Costa Rica,” Platt said.
She also learned about the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a new set of trade rules countries in the region are struggling to understand.
That leg of the trip was organized by Global Exchange, a human rights group that supports the communities it tours, she said. She said she was impressed with the organization and stayed with families or in Costa Rican establishments only, traveling with local guides.
Before the trip, Platt said she mainly thought of living sustainably in environmental terms, but came back seeing it differently.
“I went down thinking it was about the environment and recycling and being green,” she said. “But in Costa Rica, it’s also about preserving their culture while making sure people have jobs.”
In her down time, Platt said she toured Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, where she saw turtles lay eggs en masse; the volcano Arenal, where she saw lava flowing down its side; and a cloud forest where she saw sloths and toucans.
“Their beaks really are like Toucan Sam,” she said.
Platt, who spent three years in the Peace Corps more than a decade ago, said she hopes to talk to her students about sustainability by relating it to their own neighborhoods and cultures.
She and Hramiec also are working together on teaching about the economics of trade and food, and the science of growing crops organically.
Even puzzling over an ATM to figure out how many Costa Rican colons add up to an American dollar, she thought of a lesson on currency exchange rates.
But one of the biggest lessons was a personal one, which Platt found while staying with a Costa Rican family.
“People in general don’t have so much stuff. We really have a lot of stuff here that we think we need,” she said. “People there might not have everything we have, but they may still have everything they need.”
(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Bellaire football coach Jeff Walker was a 12-year-old boy when he started reading about legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne.
Little did he know he’d eventually write about a man who considered Rockne a mentor.
Walker is working on a book about Jack Chevigny, a football star in the 1920s and coach in the 1930s. As a Marine, he was killed at age 38 during the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.
Chevigny is comparable to modern-day Pat Tillman, a player for the Arizona Cardinals who had enlisted in the Army and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. However, Chevigny’s legacy has not stood the test of time, as Walker realized while looking through a University of Texas football media guide in 2000.
The only information he could gather on Chevigny, who coached at Texas from 1934-36, was that he was the Longhorn’s only losing coach and was killed in Iwo Jima.
“That was it,” Walker said of the small blurb. “I looked online and couldn’t find anything on him.”
Walker, along with his coaching duties, has written 17 instructional coaching books. He always believed his pen had more in it than that, and he thought Chevigny’s story must be more complex than a win-loss record.
For the last seven years, Walker has been working on the research for his book. As an 11th-grade history teacher, he was recently awarded a grant by Fund For Teachers, a nonprofit organization that helps teachers travel the world for independent studies in hopes of enriching their classroom.
Thanks to the grant, Walker will travel to Guam and then Iwo Jima in March 2008 at about the time his lesson plan concludes with World War II. He hopes to establish a Chevigny blog for his students back home.
He didn’t think he’d be selected, but Walker thought he at least had to go through with the formality. This is more than an extensive research project. Chevigny’s tale has become a personal mission.
“The reason I’m going is a debt I have to pay in this quest,” Walker said. “I can’t morally write about this guy when the central part of this guy’s story is his death, his sacrifice and willingness to go there.
“I don’t think this happened by accident. I think its all part of what’s supposed to happen. I was supposed to come across his path and look into his life story. This wasn’t just pulling someone out of a hat.”
Chevigny played for Notre Dame in the 1920s and coached there in the early 1930s. He was a player/coach for the Chicago Cardinals in 1932 before heading to Texas. After coaching, he moved back home to Indiana about 1940. By Walker’s estimation, Chevigny was drafted by the Army at age 36 and quickly left the Army for the Marine Corps.
Chevigny became a football coach at the Marine base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before requesting a transfer overseas to fight with “his boys.”
Chevigny, at the time, was known for playing in the 1928 Army game, which included Rockne’s famous “win one for the Gipper” halftime speech. Chevigny scored a touchdown in the third quarter, and was recorded by officials (who were also journalists covering the game) saying, “That’s one for the Gipper.”
A penchant for women and fast cars, Chevigny dated movie actresses and was friends with celebrities such as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. He was seen as a publicity coup for the military, appearing in ads promoting enlistment.
While the Gipper story has been confirmed, there were several stories about him at the time that proved untrue. One false tale was about a gold pen taken from Chevigny’s dead body that was later used by Japanese officials to sign their surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945.
There have been many challenges in putting the story together and, early on, Walker wondered if he would ever find anyone who knew him as an adult. In 2005, Walker was given an extensive scrapbook by Chevigny’s family. Since then the “sky has opened up.”
Still, Walker feels as though he’s putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle and not all of the pieces are in the same place. It’s going to take a while longer, but he hopes in the investigative process his students learn the value of thinking for themselves, rather than taking everything they read at face value.
When he teaches history, Walker also tries to give his students more of a personal connection between their subjects than just names and dates.
“This is just an outreach of my philosophy,” Walker said. “Being able to appreciate someone you know nothing about allows you to give more appreciation to yourself.”
Walker will travel to Iwo Jima, where UT football coach Chevigny died ‘with his boys’ during invasion
Bellaire High School head football coach Jeff Walker is pouring his love of sports and history into a project that he hopes will inspire students and athletes alike.
Walker, who teaches 11th grade U.S. history since Reconstruction at Bellaire, earned a 2007 grant from Fund for Teachers. It is a national nonprofit organization that pays for select teachers to travel the globe in pursuit of independent studies.
Walker’s reward is a trip to Guam and Iwo Jima in March 2008.
For Walker, it’s the culmination of a six-year personal quest to tell the story of the late Jack Chevigny, a forgotten Depression-era sports hero who served in the Marine Corps and died in the invasion of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.
“I wanted to find a historical person who people didn’t know much about,” Walker said. “That’s when I stumbled upon Jack Chevigny. He played for (legendary coach) Knute Rockne at Notre Dame in the famous ‘Win One for the Gipper’ game against Army (in 1928).”
Chevigny, who also coached briefly at Notre Dame in 1931, after Rockne died in a plane crash, and with the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals in 1932, is best known in Texas as the only coach at the University of Texas to have a losing record during his three-year stint from 1934-36.
But Walker believed there was more to Chevigny than his record with the Longhorns. In 2001, he began intensive research, which initially did not yield much information.
“I became fascinated by Jack and had to know more,” Walker said.
Walker eventually learned that Chevigny died on the beach at Iwo Jima at 38 years old – well past the age of service. But Chevigny, who was coaching football at the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina, stood up for “his boys” and refused to let them go to war without him.
“In my research, I wanted to accomplish several things, one of which was to prove the truth of Jack’s life was even more spectacular than the fabrications,” Walker said.
He made a breakthrough after interviewing Sonny Franck, a College Football Hall of Famer at the University of Minnesota and former NFL great who was considered at the time the fastest man in the league.
Franck met Chevigny while serving in the Marines and had fond memories of him, noting that Chevigny often talked about football strategy and demonstrated blocking techniques.
Walker also spoke to Chevigny’s nephew, Jack, an attorney in Hammond, Ind., who gave Walker the family’s scrapbook in 2005.
“I would have hit the wall without the scrapbook,” Walker said. “It included dozens of photos and letters that helped me understand who Jack was.”
In his final letter, Chevigny mentions his respect for Col. Thomas A Wornham and his awe at serving in the Marine Corps.
The letter was postmarked from Saipan just before forces moved on to Iwo Jima. Walker spoke to numerous Marines from the era, confirming that Chevigny had become a celebrity figure.
But why was Chevigny on Iwo Jima in the first place? Walker discovered that Chevigny served in the 5th Marine Division, 27th Regiment as a liaison officer, a newly created position with an open-ended job description.
Chevigny’s role was to facilitate communication between the 27th and 28th regiment commands during the actual landing.
“Jack was a true-life hero,” Walker said. “As a football coach, I felt it was my mission to tell Jack’s story.”
Walker is writing Chevigny’s biography and is seeking a publisher.
First, he is looking forward to his trip to Guam and Iwo Jima. A history buff, he considers Iwo Jima a “Holy Grail of American History.”
The main reason, though, is to explore the island that set the stage for Chevigny’s final day.
Walker will take with him his son, McMeans Middle School seventh-grader Gabe.
“It’s an important journey for me and I want to share it with Gabe,” Walker said. Fund for Teachers felt the same way, which is why the organization approved Walker’s grant.
“About one out of 24 applicants gets a grant, but we felt Jeff’s project was unique,” said Karen Webb, executive director of Fund for Teachers. “The story he wanted to tell was truly fascinating. We felt it would translate well to his students.”
Walker plans to incorporate Chevigny’s story into his history classes and in his pep talks with his team.
He believes Chevigny’s life is inspirational.
“Jack Chevigny was a remarkable person,” Walker said. “I hope everyone will agree, whether they are a football fan or not.”