Poe pupils in festival spotlight

Heidi Shellhorn, a teacher at Poe Elementary School, returned from a Fund for Teachers fellowship to Europe last summer armed with hands-on experiences to enrich her curriculum. Recently that fellowship led to another benefit for her class.

Shellhorn and her third-graders were picked to participate in the Sister Cities International Children’s festivities at the opening ceremonies of the Houston International Festival Friday. The Poe pupils are representing Houston’s sister city Huelva, Spain.

The youths will chant a Spanish song they’ve learned for the occasion, wear special costumes provided by the SCIC and carry handmade banners.

Each year, the festival chooses a class to represent each of Houston’s 16 sister cities. After reading a recent story about Shellhorn and her fellowship abroad, a representative from the festival invited her class of 18 students to participate.

As the big day approaches, the pupils’ excitement is more and more obvious, Shellhorn said. It’s a big deal for the children to have someone outside the class notice them.

“They’re convinced they’re celebrities now,” she said, adding that the children have been extra motivated on their special research project since learning others will see the results.

Shellhorn’s class has been doing research projects on the culture, language and food of Spain, and are creating banners to represent Huelva and the different agricultural products the city produces. They are also planning to begin a pen pal program with school children in Huelva.

Shellhorn traveled to Spain and Portugal last July through a grant from the Fund for Teachers. The Houston-based non-profit organization awards grants to school teachers, allowing them to bankroll independent studies that enrich their curriculums and enhance their own personal growth.

In Shellhorn’s case, she joined a National Geographic iExplore tour group to visit a Portuguese castle, explore Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and witness the famed running of bulls in Pamplona.

Shellhorn said she continues to be amazed at the ways her FFT fellowship has enriched her classroom curriculum. The invitation from the festival is perhaps the most significant, she said, as it is an opportunity for her students to be directly involved.

Her FFT experience has helped her introduce a focus on different cultures in her classroom. Her students are aware that the lessons she brought back from her journeys in Spain and Portugal are based on the lives of real people.

Having received one grant, Shellhorn must wait to qualify for another application to the program.

“As soon as I can, I definitely will,” she said.

Longfellow teacher’s lessons inspired by European museum exhibits

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Linda “Lynn” Gerbode has employed Dr. Seuss and a few innovative ideas borrowed from Europe to help her teach such concepts as shadows and light to pupils at Longfellow Elementary School, 3614 Murworth.

Gerbode is creating lessons from interactive children’s exhibits she saw during a trip last summer to science museums in Europe, and adapting them for 720 pupils in kindergarten through the fifth grade who visit her science lab each day.

It was a journey paid for by Fund For Teachers, a national nonprofit organization that provides grant-funded summer trips to teachers who want to research ideas that will augment and stimulate their classroom curriculum.

“I saw how sound travels at four different museums – from kids talking into a straw to the French museum’s bank of PVC pipes in different colors. A child could lean in to an opening at one end of a pipe and talk to a friend who found the other end of (that color) pipe,” said Gerbode, 56. “It gets kids thinking. It’s not the same old boring workshop.”

Gerbode said she’s so grateful to Fund for Teachers for the trip — and the excitement the ideas are already generating in her classroom — that she is readily encouraging people to support the nonprofit’s local fundraising event, the third annual Fund Run for Teachers on Feb. 9.

The run/walk will begin with registration 7-8 a.m., then a Kids K Race from 8-8:30 a.m., with the main 5K race beginning at 8:30 a.m. All events will be held near the Galleria on South Post Oak Road, between Ambassador Way and Lynn Lane. Top male and female finishers in the 5K run/walk each will receive a $100 gift certificate to Fleet Feet.

The 2007 trip is the second Gerbode has taken under Fund for Teachers. Five years ago, the mandatory period the organization requires between trip proposals, she visited Equador’s rainforest to create grade-appropriate ecology lessons.

Gerbode, who has degrees in architecture as well as education, also teaches the Explorations! summer camp sponsored by the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Education Department, 1 Hermann Circle Drive. For 11 years she has helped to develop – then head — the hands-on student activities at Longfellow and the school’s annual Family Science Night and science fair in the spring.

Longfellow’s science lab has evolved into one of of the most complete facilities in the Houston school district, Gerbode said, and “I wanted to see what major science museums in other countries offered through education departments to their young patrons,” from hands-on children’s galleries to philosophies behind educational programs.

During her trip, she visited London’s Science Museum and Natural History Museum; the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie outside Paris at Parc de La Villette, France; and the History of Science Museum in Florence, which houses Galileo’s instruments. Gerbode also took in smaller museums in Italy and Switzerland.

Gerbode gave her highest marks to the French.

“From presentation to execution to comprehensive youth-age inclusion, the Cité’s dual age-appropriate children’s galleries were engaging, informative and often cleverly simple but very visually effective,” said Gerbode, a resident of the Linkwood subdivision.

She plans to use a Cité-inspired exhibit for treasure-hunt lessons in directions, including map and compass readings, and an exhibit on shadows that lets children fit their shadows cast by lights inside wire sculptures on turntables into chalk outlines.

“The things I saw I can reproduce in my classroom,” she said.

This trip and the one to Equador five years ago, the first year Fund for Teachers opened its grant program to teachers in the Houston school district, are having a direct impact on the excitement levels among her pupils, Gerbode said.

“I can foresee virtually everything I encountered in these museums turning up in my classroom, adapted for all grade levels in an appropriate setting, shared with whichever of my colleagues wish to use them, for a very long time,” she said.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has awarded grants totalling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million.

Roberts Elementary teachers bring Peru to second-graders

Group helps instructors learn first-hand about various cultures

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Since returning from Peru, Roberts Elementary School second-grade teachers Jennifer Kirstein and Cristina Boyer have incorporated the country’s currency, mountainous terrain, grain-heavy diet and an assortment of animals and habitats into teaching tools for their pupils.

But both say they were the real students during the trip sponsored this summer by the nonprofit national foundation Fund for Teachers. The grant-paid journey taught them as much or more than they may ever be able to impart to their classes.

The trip certainly widened their perspective about their own profession, Kirstein and Boyer say.

“It’s probably the most important event in our lives. We look at the world differently now,” said Boyer, 25.

Both say they will be available to lend their support to this year’s third annual Fund Run for Teachers, set for Feb. 9, that annually raises funds to allow the coming summer international trips for teachers who successfully apply to the program. The event’s catch phrase this year is “Love Houston Teachers, Heart and Sole.”

Kirstein, who lives in the Montrose area, and Boyer, 25, who resides near the West University Place-area campus at 6000 Greenbriar, said they both love to travel and think expanding cultural knowledge is essential in their jobs as part of Roberts’ International Baccalaureate program.

The two brought back coin and paper money, lessons about Peru’s mountainous terrain that “we hiked the first three days, and a history lesson about how the Incas managed trade,” Boyer said. The lessons are especially germane to Roberts pupils, who represent more than 125 countries and several native languages.

“We made a movie while we were there, and we showed it to our faculty so they could learn about Peru and see what we did,” Kirstein said.

This is Boyer’s second year as a teacher. Kirstein has taught for six years and is in her second year at Roberts. In 2004 she went on a Fulbright Memorial Fund trip to Japan.

“Getting to interact with kids in the international community makes us feel more in tune, seeing how kids learn all over the world. It helps you relate more to the students, and the families really appreciate it when you try to learn about their culture,” Kirstein said.

They left in July 2007 and hiked the “physically challenging” terrain, visiting ruins and resting in tents in below-freezing weather in the high altitudes and meeting indigenous people who make their home in the Andes.

In Cusco, the two teachers volunteered at a shelter to help children with homework, meal preparation and craft-making, “to teach the kids something they could use,” Kirstein said. Outside of town, they stayed with a family for two nights and spent some time at the area school.

“That was really amazing,” Kirstein said. “At the school, there are only three classes for the combined indigenous population. We just helped with alphabet sounds and math problems.”

Hiking the area around Machu Picchu, the teachers witnessed primitive living that hasn’t changed much since the Inca civilizations roamed the mountains and taught their children.

Since 2001, the national Fund for Teachers has provided grants totaling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million in grants.

Poe third-grade teacher brings Spain, Portugal to her pupils

Group helps instructors learn first-hand about various cultures

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Poe Elementary School teacher Heidi Shellhorn’s third-graders have expanded their notion of the world this year, taking virtual trips to taste Spanish cuisine, run with the bulls of Pamplona, and traipse through Portuguese castles during social studies, math and art classes.

Shellhorn is presenting her pupils lesson plans she developed while on a National Geographic Explorer tour to Spain and Portugal made possible to her through a $3,800 grant from the Fund For Teachers organization.

For pupils who are 40 percent Hispanic or bilingual, and with 43 percent eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, it’s a big deal to learn that you can connect to places on the globe rich in culture and history, said Shellhorn, 34, who lives off of Westheimer between Kirby and Shepherd.

“I have kids in my classes who couldn’t believe that castles exist. Their notion of what’s out there has grown,” said Shellhorn, 34.

Except for a brief trip to an English-speaking part of Canada, Shellhorn had also stayed inside U.S. borders, so sampling the Latin cuisine in Barcelona, canoeing down a river, touching a Roman-built bridge and watching, from a safe distance, the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona provided her with a big cultural boost, she said.

“It’s eye-opening to be submersed in a different language, surrounded by history with so many layers of influences,” Shellhorn said.

She praised the school for successfully incorporating students, many of whom speak very little English. Opening them to the idea that a growing number of people throughout the world speak a different language than their host country may help her students to feel less marginalized, she said.

“They aren’t just a separate group who doesn’t fit in here,” Shellhorn said.

One third-grade boy was so inspired by the souvenirs and photos Shellhorn brought back — and by the idea that she got to visit other countries, different shapes on the globe – announced that his life goal would be to learn every language of the world.

“He’s already started studying and he corrected me on a Portuguese word,” Shellhorn said.

A lesson in Portugal’s ceramic tile-making, which originated among the Arabic Moors who first brought the craft to Spain, provided overlapping lessons in art, social studies, language and history. A teaching unit on celebrations allowed Shellhorn to share her experience of watching the “very quick” Pamplona run of bulls and street runners in red-and-white bandanas from the safety of an upstairs window.

Even when two of the most common disasters to befall tourists hit Shellhorn – her luggage was lost and her camera was stolen – she was enjoying her visit too much to really care.

“It was hard to be unhappy there,” Shellhorn said.

She and other teachers who traveled with Fund for Teachers grants this summer plan to return the nonprofit organization’s support by encouraging participants during the third annual Fund Run for Teachers on Feb. 9.

The run/walk will begin with registration 7-8 a.m., then a Kids K Race from 8-8:30 a.m., with the main 5K race beginning at 8:30 a.m. All events will be held near the Galleria on South Post Oak Road, between Ambassador Way and Lynn Lane. Top male and female finishers in the 5K run/walk each will receive a $100 gift certificate to Fleet Feet.

Registration fees – $20 for those age 18 and older and $10 for 17 and under through Friday; $25 and $15, respectively, after Friday – include a complimentary T-shirt and chip timer. Children 10 and younger must be accompanied by a parent, and city ordinances prevent pets from accompanying runners or walkers.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has awarded grants totalling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million in grants.

Travelers’ Checks: Teacher-Tested Travel Grants

Educators enrich their profession with globe-trotting experience – and get funding to do it.

Lisa Morehouse
Edutopia.org

Teachers who travel bring back to their classrooms all of the experiences they had and passions they felt to inspire students and make global content come alive. By applying for grants, teachers can get these unique globe-trotting learning opportunities partially or fully funded. Edutopia has gathered stories and snapshots from teachers who have received such grants to travel.

After each teacher’s tale, you’ll find the details for how you can apply to the Fund for Teachers, the Earthwatch Institute’s Education Fellowships, the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program, the English-Speaking Union of the United States’s British Universities Summer School Program, and others. (Keep in mind that some deadlines for this year may have passed, so take note of the application procedure to prepare for next year.)

Happy trails!

At Manzanita Community School, in Oakland, California, third-grade teacher Allison Bibbler says many of her students’ families fled Laos and stayed in refugee camps in Thailand while they waited to come to the United States. So Bibbler visited Thailand and Laos, where she trekked through mountains, visited villages and temples, and traveled down the Mekong River on a summer sabbatical paid for by the nonprofit foundation Fund for Teachers.

Bibbler’s classroom is now filled with Thai welcome flags, little wooden turtles, and indigenous instruments so students can, as she says, “get their hands on Thailand.” And at her school’s Passport Day, where classrooms are transformed into countries, Bibbler recreates the Loy Krathong festival, which celebrates renewal. “Students make lotus flowers with cardboard leaves and put pennies in the open leaves,” Bibbler notes. “I made a paper river and full moon and have candles and Thai music — actually music made by elephants.”

Bibbler explains that as a teacher, “you’re juggling twenty balls in the air, and you’re constantly overworked and stressed. This kind of travel gives me the space to reflect, and also reflect with the idea that this is where my kids are from.” Learning about her students’ cultures also focuses her thinking on the ethnic balance in her classroom, which includes many energetic students. “I just keep thinking about how to influence students, combining a Buddhist, calmer way of being with their vivacious personalities,” she says. “How do I blend together cultures that are so diverse into a comfortable, safe, warm setting?”

Fund for Teachers encourages educators to travel the world on summer sabbaticals and to create their own proposals for professional growth.

Who sponsors the fellowship? The nonprofit foundation Fund for Teachers, started in 2001 by businessman Raymond Plank.

What is the fellowship for? As individuals or in teams, teachers design summer sabbaticals they feel will have a positive impact on their teaching. The organization says educators know best what they need for professional development, so it encourages them to travel the world and get out of their comfort zones, expand their experiences, and ultimately inspire their students.

Who can apply? Teachers in grades P-12 who work in select areas and have three years of teaching experience.

What does the fellowship pay for? Everything, if you budget well. Fund for Teachers offers individuals up to $5,000 and teams of two or more up to $10,000.

How many teachers get the fellowship? In 2007, 553 teachers got fellowships — 284 as individuals.

Are there any additional requirements? Teachers attend preparatory and follow-up meetings and provide documentation of how their summer sabbaticals influenced their teaching. Some requirements vary among school districts.

When are applications due? January 31. Grant-writing tips for teachers are available on the site — as well as a scoring rubric, so applicants can see how proposals are evaluated.

Who do I contact? the Fund for Teachers.

Teachers explore the world

Wendy K. Kleinman
Dayna Rowe, Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence

Canada, England, Germany, France. Trips of a lifetime. More than 150 Oklahoma teachers took those dream trips this past summer with the help of a unique grant program.

The Fund for Teachers gives educators up to $5,000 – or more for those who travel together – to go and explore whatever they think will help them enhance what they teach and how they teach it

“That’s the freeing thing about this type of professional development” compared to state requirements based on standard objectives, said Michael Payne, an Oklahoma City theater teacher who went to Canada with grant funds.

And the grants are not restricted to traditional subjects. Teachers of music and special education classes; elementary and high school students; and public, private and metro tech centers all have been awarded money.

Plus, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, which administers the program, gives teachers 90 percent of the money up front. Teachers get the rest when they turn in receipts and write-ups after they return.

“This becomes an exciting way for teachers to be responsible for their own learning, which is something we ask of our students – to be responsible for their own learning,” Payne said.

A trip full of theatrics

Payne spent a week-and-a-half in Ontario attending the International George Bernard Shaw Festival, watching plays, listening to a lecture series and participating in workshops.

When he returned to the Classen School of Advanced Studies, Payne had his students choose fables and create scripts from them using the same methods as Shaw.

Now the students are turning those scripts into performances using a technique called Shadow Theater with puppets. They also applied for and received a $935 grant from Youth Cornerstone to bring their performances to elementary schools.

“We could have done it (if I hadn’t gone to the festival), but we wouldn’t have had the expert experience needed to get it right,” Payne said.

The language of travel

Nancy Boudreau, who teaches German in the same school as Payne, went to Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the summer.

She’s taken many trips to Germany before but wanted to start incorporating accents and dialects into her classes. Boudreau, accompanied by her husband, who paid his own way, spent a week in each country.

In Germany, Boudreau recorded friends on a cassette tape as they spoke their names and talked about their interests and hobbies. Then, she found people to do the same in Austria and Switzerland, both German-speaking countries.

“I try to make the kids understand that language is not something you read out of a book or a class that you take in school – these are real people,” Boudreau said.

Special visit for special needs

Gretchen Cole-Lade traveled to the Priory Woods School in England, which is recognized as a leader in educating severely disabled students. Cole-Lade and Tana Germundson, who teach 12 Enid High School special-needs students, went together on a team grant.

They spent five days there absorbing Priory Woods teachers’ techniques and taking note of their technology. Already, they’ve changed the way they interact with their students.

Cole-Lade said she used to set up everything for a project and then have the students take it from there. But at Priory Woods, the teachers allow time for the students to do the prep work – and now Cole-Lade does, too.

“My students now in class they take the attendance and then turn it into me. They label notes that go home and then hand them out to each other and make sure they get in backpacks. I’m empowering them to take charge of their school life and I’ve seen such a change in my students since I started doing that.”

She’s also working to get technology used at Priory Woods that she saw could be effective. A program called Dazzle is on its way – the first one the company has sold to the U.S., she said – and she’s applying for grant money to buy others.

Bringing history to life

Alice Pettit accompanied her son on a trip with his Edmond Memorial High School’s AP European History course. The fourth-grade teacher at Cleveland Elementary in Oklahoma City toured Italy, Switzerland, France and England with the group.

Pettit has more than 1,500 pictures she’s compiling into PowerPoint presentations. She’ll use the pictures, along with other materials she picked up, when she teachers her fourth-graders about the Middle Ages.

She’s also working on presentations for the school’s third-graders’ lessons on Rome and the fifth-graders’ lessons of the Renaissance.

“The whole premise behind it is that teachers don’t keep it all to themselves, they kind of share it. Hopefully it will inspire other people to apply but also inspire our students,” Pettit said.

But she got more out of the trip than European history.

“I just kept thinking, ‘Well, what’s the catch here?’ and there was no catch. They treated us as professionals….It gave us freedom to say, ‘I need to know more about this and this is how I need to learn it.’”

About the Fund for Teachers

The Fund for Teachers is a nationwide program started by business-man Raymond Plank, founder of the Houston-based Apache Corporation.

The fund began operating statewide in Oklahoma in 2006.

That year, the fund gave out 68 grants for 107 teachers – the numbers don’t match because some teachers went in teams. This past summer, 82 grants were awarded to 165 teachers. There were more than 200 applications each year.

Individuals can ask for up to $5,000 dollars. Teams can ask for up to $10,000 beginning this year.

The program currently is operating with funding from the national organization, and the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is trying to raise $6 million to keep it going independently.

Fund for Teachers provides grant to AMS teacher

A tourist’s trip to England, Wales and Scotland might typically include tours of historic castles, shopping for souvenir tea towels or a round of golf at St. Andrews. But Atascocita Middle School science teacher Jill Hobbs had something far from typical in mind when she planned her summer trip to the British Isles. Hobbs wanted to see the Earth’s entire geologic history in rock specimens.

Hobbs applied for and received a grant from Fund for Teachers that allowed her to bring back 250 pounds of rock specimens, spanning the geologic time scale, from areas of the British Isles that played instrumental roles in the development of modern geology.

Fund for Teachers, a non-profit organization, enriches the personal and professional growth of teachers by providing funds for them to pursue opportunities around the globe that impact their teaching practice, the academic lives of their students and their school communities. To date, 417 teachers from 286 Houston area schools along with 1,642 teachers from around the United States have received more than $4.5 million in grants.

Left: Visiting Siccar Point on the eastern coast of Scotland was a highlight of Atascocita Middle School teacher Jill Hobbs’ trip to the British Isles. The trip was provided by a grant from Fund for Teachers. Siccar Point is important the history of geology.

Right: Atascocita Middle School science teacher Jill Hobbs will use photos and rock specimens from her Fund for Teachers trip to the British Isles to enrich her lectures about historical geology.

For Hobbs, who previously worked as a geologist for an oil company, visiting rock formations in the British Isles was a dream come true. Geology, as a science, began in the British Isles in the 1700s after two curious men, James Hutton and William Smith, began asking themselves questions about the rock formations they saw around them. Their curiosity led them to discover scientific principles that geology is based on today.

“I collected rock specimens, maps, photos and GPS data and left with a deeper appreciation of what these men accomplished over two centuries ago,” Hobbs said. “Traveling through the countryside and communities that remain virtually unchanged for hundreds of years offered me the opportunity to experience the same lifestyle early geologists practiced while completing their original studies.”

Hobbs and her husband Tom brought home 250 pounds of rock samples, including chalk, slate, sandstone, granite and more. Hobbs will use these specimens, as well as photos from her 21-day trip, to enrich her lectures of historical geology at Atascocita Middle School. Hobbs teaches seventh and eighth graders.

“Visual displays will provide parents with the knowledge that their children’s curriculum includes so much more than reading a book and taking tests,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs has taught for four years. A former geologist, Hobbs worked at Kingwood High as a secretary until her children graduated. She then pursued alternative certification to become a science teacher. She loves showing students how science can help them understand their world. “We all use the scientific method to answer questions,” Hobbs said.

Nurturing teachers’ quests

101 Houston-area educators were awarded $344,000 this year to pursue studies that will enrich their ability to reach students.

Jennifer Radcliffe
Houston Chronicle

Naomi Brown had a sick feeling as she pulled away from the car dealership in March. Just two months after watching her husband of nearly 30 years lose his battle with lung and brain cancer, she parted with his beloved Ford Expedition and decided on its replacement.

A 55-year-old teacher on a tight budget, Brown settled on a used Toyota Prius. She already was second guessing the choice as she pulled into the driveway of her Sugar Land home, where, for some reason, she opted to brave the mailbox for the first time in two weeks.

On top of the pile of hefty medical bills that she’d been trying to ignore was an envelope, marked with a bright red apple, from the Fund for Teachers.

The letter inside congratulated Brown for earning a $5,000 scholarship to spend part of the summer watching hummingbirds migrate through southeastern Arizona. That was enough to reassure the veteran teacher that she had made the right decision – about the car, about her career, about forging forward with life.

“It was a redemption moment, truly” said Brown, who teaches science at Baines Middle School in the Fort Bend district. “It sort of proved to me that I’m doing exactly what I’m suppose to be doing at this moment.”

Brown was one of 101 Houston-area teachers to receive a share of $344,000 in grants this year from Fund for Teachers, a non-profit group that provides money for teachers to hone their craft through professional development.

Since 2001, the group has awarded $8.4 million to 2,571 teachers.

This summer, for instance, a teacher at the Houston school district’s Rodriguez Elementary studied art in Italy. Also in HISD, two Worsham Elementary teachers studied dolphins in Greece, and a Jackson Middle School teacher studied natural resources in Alaska.

They were among a record 500 Houston-area teachers to apply for the money.

“The reason we do it is because there’s so many Naomis,” said Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of the Fund for Teachers. “If they’re given just a little bit of leverage, they can do much better than teaching to a test.”

While all the award winners returned to their campuses last month with renewed energy, the trip to Arizona had incredible meaning to Brown.

Her 73-year-old husband, Garland, encouraged her to apply for the grant from his death-bed, sensing that she would need something to look forward to. He died in January. By the time her notification letter arrived in March, the recent widow had forgotten about the application.

Brown was almost giddy the day she learned she had won.

She was equally happy early this month as she told a class of seventh and eighth graders about her three week trip.

She proudly showed off dozens of photos of colored birds, rare insects and unusual flowers.

“In nature, most of the males are the colorful ones; not the females,” she explained as she showed a picture of a broad-billed hummingbird.

She told the class how she saw thousands of hummingbirds, helped tag a few birds and even caught a glimpse of two rare spotted owls.

To stretch her grant money, she slept in affordable motels, where she, unfortunately, had more chances to commune with nature.

“I had a whole food web in my bed one night,” she said, recalling the bugs and lizards in her room. “All I needed was a hawk. I needed a top-level consumer in my cabin. That would have straightened things out.”

Brown will use her experience to help her students build a hummingbird nature center on the Baines campus. They also will create a Web site to post pictures and information about hummingbird migration.

The middle-schoolers said they appreciate their teacher’s resilience and dedication.

“After her husband died, she could have quit right there,” said 13-year-old Kristie DePuma. “I hate bugs, but I like learning about hummingbirds.”

Brown said she wanted to teach science since she had a passionate, skilled science teacher as a little girl. She’s fascinated by trying to make sense of the world around her, especially plants and animals.

She was grateful to have the chance to take the Arizona trip – to momentarily escape her grief and refocus on her passion to teach.

“For most of the world, scholarships go to kids like you, not old people like me,” she told her class.

Brown won’t forget this summer’s lessons anytime soon.

“It reminds me that what I do is valued. While it might not seem like it on a daily basis, there are people committed to helping teachers,” she said. “That’s something to remember when you’re pulling your hair out with the TAKS.”