South End teachers spend summer vacation abroad

Linda Rodriguez

This summer, six South End educators, with the help of nearly $20,000 in grants, will be traveling to far off places in the hopes of becoming better at what they do.

This is the fourth year that the Boston Plan for Excellence has awarded summer grants to teachers, as part of its Fund for Teachers partnership with the Boston Public Schools. The McKinley South End Academy, a high school for students with emotional, behavioral and learning needs on Warren Avenue, snagged a significant number of the 34 grants awarded – five teachers will be taking trips this summer with funds from the program. Another South End teacher, John Allocca from alternative high school El Centro Del Cardenal, won a $5000 grant to travel to Ghana for three weeks.

“The Fund for Teachers is an opportunity for teachers to enrich themselves. We plan on coming back to enrich our programs,” said Warren Pemsler, an English teacher at McKinley who, along with fellow English teacher, Christopher Busch, received $3560 to travel to London and the Netherlands. The two teachers, along with McKinley art teacher Ari Hauben, run collaborative arts and writing-based programs with both the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Huntington Theatre, taking their students to exhibitions and shows and working the experiences into their curriculum.

Pemsler and Busch will leave July 8 for what sounds like a great, if artsy, vacation – they spend a week in London, attending plays every night and visiting contemporary art museums during the day, before meeting up with Hauben in the Netherlands to visit art museums there. Sounds like a vacation, and it almost is, Pemsler admitted, but for the fact that they’ll also be meeting with educational programming staff at the theatres and museums, to learn more about how different programs conduct community-based arts education.

Six South End teachers received grants to travel abroad this summer: left to right, John Allocca, Warren Pemsler, Ronda Goodale, Ari Hauben, Cleyde Oliveira, and Christopher Busch. Photo: Ian Drumm

“It’s very exciting… This fund is meant to be enriching to the teachers and the community, they don’t want you to go to a bunch of teachers workshops,” he added. “What we’re doing is not out of the realm of what’s possible [to do with the grants], but it happens to be awesome.”

Hauben, an art teacher at the school, received his own grant of $4882, to further develop his skills as an artist, as well as to travel to the Netherlands with the two English teachers. Hauben, an industrial designer by trade who has been teaching at McKinley for three years, will spend two weeks studying “more traditional art” with two artists in the New York City area beginning July 8. He then leaves from New York on July 20 to meet up with Pemsler and Busch, before returning to New York to spend more time in the arts scene there.

“This will give me a stronger foundation in like painting and more traditional arts,” Hauben explained. “I think it will be good for the students and broaden what I’m capable of teaching them, or at least allow me to teach them better.”

Hauben also explained that the biggest impact on their students and the programs they conduct will likely come out of their meetings with individuals who run similar arts-based educational programs. “A lot of the kids [at McKinley] have emotional issues and any way that we can pique their interests [is important],” he said. “In the Netherlands, they’re into doing that and a lot of places run programs similar to the ones that we’re doing.”

Ronda Goodale, literacy coach at McKinley who received a $4185 grant, is also hoping to bring back some of what she learns in her 10 days studying creative writing in Prague with teachers from across the globe to help round out the school’s more innovative programming. “My goal is to bring what I’ve learned in terms of trying to combine across media, and using different types of intelligences, with our own kids and our own teachers,” she said.

Goodale is also planning on putting together a journal of her time abroad, to present to her students – and to show them that even for her, a literacy coach, writing can still be difficult.

“It’s a challenge… I want to show them the process for me, because some of them are challenged,” she said, “[and[ I can appreciate what it’s like for them.” (Another literacy educator at McKinley, Cleyde Oliveira, will also be working on her skills this summer, in a summer institute at Columbia University. South End News was unable to reach her to talk about her program.)

All of the teachers have been asked to put together a presentation to the Fund for Teachers board, to, as Hauben said, “show them what I did with their money.” Some also are looking to put a presentation together to share with their students just what they did for their summer vacation.

“I hope to bring back a lot of pictures, new insights, knowledge and a variety of artifacts to share with my students and the school community,” said Allocca, of his upcoming trip to Ghana. Allocca, social studies and history teacher at El Centro, says that he’ll be incorporating some of what he learns in his curriculum next year, which focuses in part on the African roots of some of the Spanish-speaking countries that his students hail from.

Asked if his students are jealous that he’ll be spending his summer vacation, Pemsler said, “It’s the adults that are most! Some of my students have never left Massachusetts, or New England… but the adults are like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so jealous.

Teachers are heading abroad to learn

David Ertischek
GateHouse News Service

WEST ROXBURY – It’s a lot easier to teach students about a place if you’ve been there. Take first-grade teacher Kerrin Flanagan, for example.

The Lyndon School educator’s curriculum dictates that she teaches her students about Ghana. But the Jamaica Plain resident has never been to Ghana. That’s all about to change, thanks to the Fund for Teachers initiative with the Boston Public Schools.

This summer, 34 BPS teachers are receiving $127,500 in grants to visit 17 foreign countries and three states.

Flanagan was awarded $4,961 out of a maximum grant of $5,000. It will help pay for her program fee, volunteer work and airfare to Ghana. Flanagan is set for her July 13 departure, and her students may be just as eager about her trip as she is.

“We’re actually talking about [Ghana] right now. My students are very excited about that I’m going,” said Flanagan.

Flanagan found out she was going in March, but decided to tell her students later on so they would be more interested in learning about Ghana, which is in western Africa.

Her students also got very into giving her advice for her long journey.

“It’s made them draw a lot of connections that wouldn’t ordinarily be drawn from a country this far away,” said Flanagan. “One of my students said that I will need to bring a lot of shorts and sunscreen. They started giving me packing advice and how I would need to drink a lot of water. They already want to come with me and send them postcards. They are very eager to learn more about Ghana, even though they will be in second grade. But I have promised them that I will come to their classroom next year and tell them about my trip.”

Flanagan will actually be teaching kindergarten next year. She stays with a class for two grade levels and then repeats the process. And she’s hoping her next class will benefit from some of her purchases.

“One of the things all of the first-grade teachers at this school [talk about] is that we notice that we don’t have as many resources as we would like [to teach about Ghana]. We have books, but not as many materials as we would like. I’m hoping to bring back as many hands-on resources as possible,” she said.

“I’m not entirely sure what I will find. Ghana is famous for kente – a kind of cloth that is woven in Ghana. I’m bringing back fabric to share with students. They’ve seen pictures of it, but to have it to touch it. It will make the curriculum that much more rich.”

Flanagan is also going to take a lot of photos to share with her friends, family, colleagues and students.

She’s also planning on visiting nature preserves, historical places and wants to get to know as many Ghanaian communities as possible. Flanagan will be doing volunteer work as well teaching in a local school in Ghana.

“My plans for when I return… I will use all my learning that I get from this trip, all my resources, tangible and intangible, the artifacts I bring back will be [put] into the curriculum so every teacher can use them to teach Ghana in the future. That is one way I will be using the grant money. It’s not just a great opportunity for me but for other students at the Lyndon School.”

Top: Gardner Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Suzanne Mason works with a student during class on Monday in Allston-Brighton. She is one of five teachers from her school who will be traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer on a grant. Bottom left: Kerrin Flanagan, a first grade teacher at the Lyndon School, will travel to Ghana this summer. Ghana is one of the countries included the in school’s social studies curriculum.

“We have so many new arrivals that come to our school. We are considered a school where some students come with very limited English-speaking skills, and we find it hard to assimilate them to our culture.”

Mason said she is interested in seeing the Dominican’s schools so she can have a better understanding of her students.

“I have one student this year who is 11 years old who has never been to school before,” said Mason. “The same thing happened last year with a boy from El Salvador.”

She added that the boy this year is also from El Salvador.

“You think of 11-year-olds who have never been to school before. The classroom routines and rules to adjust to, it is the main thing. They do it so well. It’s shocking, the way they pick up the language. They are just amazing. It is unbelievable to work with them.”

Mason said her parent conferences are often conducted with an ESL teacher, who also helps with students on a regular basis.

She added she took some classes two years ago to better her skills to make the curriculum more accessible for kids who don’t fully understand English.

“No matter what you do, they are so grateful and appreciative because so many of them come from so little. They are thankful they are in your classroom and they let you know this. The letters they write, the hugs they give. Many of their parents came here for a better life and they realize that.”

As for any expectations for the trip, “I can say there is one thing – I’m just excited about the language classes to acquire more Spanish. Just to be there and experience the culture, it’s almost changing places with some of my students. It’s going to make me a little more sensitive to what they go through every day.”

First stop – Beijing

Like Mason and Flanagan, Michael Aymie is eager to become a student this summer during his trip to China and Japan.

The West Roxbury resident, who teaches at Madison Park High, has been teaching English as a Second Language for the last seven years at the school.

He will be going to Asia by himself. This will be his second trip to China. He went back in 1996 when he was 33 and studied and taught there for a year and a half. But this trip will be different.

“I want to do some research on how minority groups retain their culture. Basically China has 56 ethnic groups. The largest is the Han. There are a lot of smaller ethnic groups that you don’t think about. Everyone knows about Tibet, but there are a lot of others,” said Aymie. “I want to see how they retain their culture and language, the problems they face, socio-economic opportunities. Do they use Mandarin, the national language? Do they have choices of schools that they can go to? What percentage of people use Mandarin? Do they use it at home or at school? If they don’t use it, does it prevent them from advancing?”

As an ESL teacher, Aymie teaches a lot of younger students who have come from different countries and need to learn English. He said despite speaking different languages, they often face the same emotional and cultural challenges.

He added that a lot of his students face a sense of loss for their culture and language.

“It causes a lot of anxiety and angst from people who come to this country,” he noted.

He said he hopes to gain some insight in the same vein in China.

“They have a lot of cultural celebrations. I want to see how they do that and have some insight to understand my students,” he said.

Aymie’s first stop will be in Beijing. He’s also headed to Tibet and Xinjiang, which is in the northwest of China. Aymie is looking forward to going north to Mongolia.

He will also be able to bone up on his Mandarin, which he spoke “fairly well” when he was traveling on his own 10 years ago. Over the last year, he’s been reviewing books and tapes to improve his atrophied Mandarin skills.

“Basically I want to see China. I want to see all the changes [that have occurred] in the last 10 years. I have friends who have traveled there and say I won’t recognize it. I want to see cultures that I’ve read about. But I never thought I’d have the chance to go to Tibet. I think it’s going to be very interesting.”


  • Ghana gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957.
  • Its capital is Accra.
  • Its official language is English.
  • Gold, timber and cocoa production are Ghana’s major sources of foreign exchange.
  • There are two modern political entities that govern China:
  • The People’s Republic of China governs mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
  • The Republic of China governs Taiwan, the Pescadores, the Matsu Islands and Kinmen.
  • Historians believe the Chinese invented gunpowder, paper, the compass and printing.
  • The Dominican Republic is two-thirds of the Caribbean Island Hispaniola, which the other third of the island is occupied by Haiti.
  • There are more than 9 million living in D.R.
  • D.R.’s greatest environmental danger is deforestation.

Boston Public Schools Teachers Win Grants for Summer Travel & Study

For the fourth year, the Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE) has awarded grants to teachers for summer travel and study as part of its Fund for Teachers/Boston (FFT) initiative with the Boston Public Schools (BPS).

For the coming summer, 34 BPS teachers have won $127,500 in grants to visit 17 foreign countries and three states. Individual grants range from $2,210 to a maximum of $5,000; the maximum for team grants is $7,500. With these awards, to date more than 200 teachers in the city’s public schools have won grants totaling $700,000 and traveled to more than 50 countries and dozens of states. Lists of winners from all four years with project descriptions are at

FFT/Boston grants fund projects that teachers design to pursue a special interest, research an area they teach, or broaden their own learning about another culture. A Wilson Middle School teacher will travel through Israel, Jordan, and Egypt to enrich with personal experience the unit he teaches on Mesopotamia. A team of five teachers from the Gardner Extended Services School in Allston will participate in intensive Spanish-language instruction in the Dominican Republic and then volunteer at a children’s center there. Two teachers from the Horace Mann School for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing will also study Spanish but in Peru, then help out at an orphanage for deaf children in Cusco. With one of two Teachers as Artists (TAA) grants awarded through FFT/Boston, an artist-educator from the McKinley South End Academy will study painting and printmaking in New York City and explore the city’s museums and galleries.

Two teachers who live and/or teach in South Boston, Megan Wise and Erin McDonough, will be seeing the world this summer, thanks to grants from the Boston Plan for Excellence. Photo: Ian Drumm.

“For Boston’s teachers, this is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Ellen Guiney, Executive Director of the Boston Plan for Excellence. “The nature of teaching is to open the world to students, and Fund for Teachers/Boston allows educators to experience the world so that what they bring back to the classroom is authentic and meaningful.” Superintendent Michael G. Contompasis added, “This is a win-win program, for teachers and students.”

Fund for Teachers/Boston is affiliated with the national Fund for Teachers (FFT) foundation, founded by Apache Corporation Chairman Raymond Plank. Already established in Denver, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Tulsa, New York, and Houston, FFT expanded to Boston in 2004 and is administered by the Boston Plan for Excellence. TAA grants are underwritten by the Surdna Foundation and an anonymous foundation.

Established as the city’s local education foundation by the corporate and foundation communities in 1984, the Boston Plan for Excellence has been for the last eleven years the district’s primary partner in improving instruction. Led by a volunteer board of trustees, the nonprofit organization also manages Boston Teacher Residency, an independent teacher preparation and licensure program, and hosts Principal For A Day each fall.

From Norman, Oklahoma to Kenya and Uganda

Oklahoma News Tonight

Pattison teachers going colonial

Andrew Glover, Katy Times

Seven Pattison Elementary third grade teachers with the help of a grant provided by Fund for Teachers, will take a trip to the Historic Triangle June 4-9, to enhance their curriculum of Early America.

The Historic Triangle is made up of the historic sites of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. The seven teachers are: Beth Emerson, Jill Hortness, Whitney LaRocca, Regina Thompson, Pennylane Lara, Laura Sanders and Cathie Paz. The group named themselves “Team Jamestown” and was all filled with excitement about receiving the grant.

Six Pattison Elementary teachers will get a real hands-on look at colonial America. Pictured here (left to right) are (front) Jill Hortness, Whitney LaRocca;,(middle) Beth Emerson, Regina Thompson;(back) Cathie Paz, Pennylane Lara and Laura Sanders.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Paz said in the Pattison Elementary Conference Room.

“This is the second time we’ve applied for the grant,” LaRocca said.

“With this being the 400th anniversary, they have done up Jamestown.” Lara aid the group is honored with receiving the grant.

“Tons of applicants applied and we were chosen,” Lara said.

The six of them agreed that the trip would definitely impact their teaching of the Early American time period.

“We (Team Jamestown) feel this trip will open our children’s eyes, as well as our own eyes, to just how far we have come in 400 years, and the gratitude we should have for those that paved the way for this great nation.” Emerson said in the grant proposal.

“It will help us bring Jamestown to life and bring it to the classroom,”

“You can only learn so much from textbooks and pictures,” LaRocca said.

“Students learn about American History in fifth grade, so hopefully our excitement for the unit will spark their interest.”

“It will be a good base for them to take to fifth grade,” Sanders said.

Emerson said the teachers would be looking at artifacts to build resource kits.

With a $7,500 budget they only have enough money for one kit but with the support of the community and third grade parents, they have raised enough money for two resource kits.

All seven teachers said they are excited about just going there.

“The fact that we can go as a team, and come back and collaborate as a team will benefit out curriculum of Early America,” Lara said.

“When you dedicate your life to teaching, you’re a lifelong learner.” Emerson said. “We can better our student’s lives and our lives by going on this trip.”

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in America and is located southeast of Richmond, VA.

Yorktown was the final battle in the American Revolution that resulted in the surrender of the British.

Teachers to study Holocaust in Europe

Two area educators with a passion for teaching about the Holocaust are going to Europe next month, with the help of a grant that provides travel opportunities for teachers.

Jenks High School teacher Nancy Pettus and Bixby Middle School teacher Jean Bundy recently received a $7,500 grant through Fund for Teachers that will enable them to get a closer look at history as they visit Holocaust-related sites throughout Europe.

Fund for Teachers is a foundation that provides opportunities for pre-K through 12th-grade educators to enrich their own education and that of their students.

Pettus, a world literature teacher who offers an elective each year related to the Holocaust, said she thinks the perspective she’ll gain from visiting Holocaust-related sites in Poland, Germany, and other European countries will help to make her “a more credible witness” to students.

“I’m certain we’ll learn a lot,” Pettus said of the experience, which will include visits to museums, memorials, concentration camps and other locations.

“You’re just a more credible witness if you can say you’ve been there.”

The teachers’ trip is scheduled for June 14-26.

Bundy, who teaches English and offers a 12-week Holocaust study, said she is grateful for the opportunity she and Pettus received.

“They (Fund for Teachers) want teachers who have a passion for something to keep that passion going,” she said.

“It’s just an awesome program.”

Bundy and Pettus said they’ve known each other for some time, and they’ve participated in Holocaust-study-related programs together.

When they found out that they were among those chosen to receive a grant, Bundy said they were excited that they would be traveling as a team while learning more about a subject that is so important to them.

“We were thrilled we got it,” Bundy said.

“Most teachers would not be able to enhance their teaching this way without financial help.”

For more about Fund for Teachers, visit

Compton teacher to explore the influence of Mesoamerican culture on modern-day pueblos and cities

Cynthia E. Griffin OW Staff Writer, Los Angeles

For eight days next month Compton teacher D’Anza Smith will have the opportunity to explore and see firsthand how the cultures of Mesoamerica influence some of the literature she and her seventh grade English students are studying at Roosevelt Middle School.

From an anthropology museum to archaeological sites to pueblos, she and a fellow Compton educator—Oscar Rodriguez, a sixth grade history teacher at Whaley Middle School-will study the food, music, dance, and culture of the Aztecs, Mayans, and hopefully the Olmecs in Mexico.

The pair got the opportunity to take the journey thanks to a grant they won from the Fund for Teachers, and there are 20 other teachers from 15 schools who were awarded a total of $77,000 in the L.A. area for summer education and travel.

“I found out about it through NeaToday, the National Education Association magazine, then I also looked it up on the National Council of Teachers of English website,” explained Smith about how she heard about the program. “I thought it was a unique grant where I could create my own professional development.”

Among the stories Smith has her students read are The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez and Lupita Manana, which both explore people crossing the border into America trying to find a better life.

To make this relevant to her African American and Samoan students, Smith said she plans to focus on the multicultural aspect. “I want to present to my students how African Americans (and Samoans) can appreciate different people by seeing how I was able to maneuver myself through a foreign country,” explained Smith, who has seen the tensions between African Americans and Latinos on her campus, and believes they are caused by misinformation.

Consequently, in the fall, she is planning to use the information, souvenirs, and other items she gathers in Mexico to create a multicultural faire that will incorporate all the cultures found within the Compton community.

She and Rodriguez are also planning to create a photographic record of the trip, as well as a daily written journal and will also share these with their students, faculty, colleagues, and the community.

Smith, a six-year veteran of the Compton Unified School District, also sees this trip allowing her to serve as a bridge between blacks and Hispanics.

“As people of color, I can tell my African American students we need to embrace all different groups, religions, and different people and different languages… I want them to understand where (Mexican Americans) are coming from, understand their struggle, and see how their struggle mirrors some of the struggles that African American have and are facing,” said Smith, who has previously told her classes about the people of African descent who live in Mexican cities like Vera Cruz and look just like her students. “They can’t wrap their minds around that. So to give them visible proof of the deep African roots in Mexico and other areas in Latin America is important.”

This is not Smith’s first trip to Mexico. The Palmdale resident said she has been there several times as a visitor, but this time she hopes to gain a more in-depth understanding and appreciation of the culture.

BVSD teachers win grants

Five local teachers to take paid trips this summer

Amy Bounds

Barbara Steiner is rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon this summer.

The fifth-grade teacher at Boulder’s Bear Creek Elementary won a teacher travel grant for the seven-day trip, saying it’s a way to add firsthand experience to her lessons on the Colorado Plateau.

“It allows teachers to take a dream vacation,” she said.

Steiner is one of five Boulder Valley teachers awarded grants for summer projects this year through the Fund for Teachers. Altogether, the Houston-based group awarded $77,000 to 33 Colorado teachers. Colorado’s Public Education & Business Coalition also contributed to the grants.

The idea is to encourage teachers to create personalized professional development experiences. Teachers must show how the activity will make them better teachers and how they’ll use what they learn in the classroom.

Bear Creek’s Steiner, who will go with an outfitter for her first rafting trip, said she wants to learn more about the river’s geology for a project that will feature her students creating stream tables out of sand. She also plans to keep a journal and take lots of pictures.

“I’m so excited to be able to get down inside the Colorado River,” she said. “Hopefully, I can bring a more realistic side to the projects we do.”

Katie Jones and Peter Mitchell, first-grade teachers from Boulder’s Crest View Elementary, are using their grant to spend two weeks in Pueblo, Mexico, for an English-as-a-second-language class.

The two are taking classes at the University of Colorado to earn their English-as-a-second-language endorsement, and going to Mexico is an optional part of the program. Along with taking a class on how to teach second-language students, they’ll also try teaching English to Pueblo students.

Mitchell said the training should help them better reach their second-language students and teach a required first-grade social studies unit on Mexico.

“We can read as much as we can about Mexico, but it doesn’t compare to actually experiencing and understanding what it’s like to be there,” he said.

The other two Boulder Valley grant winners are Kristie Betts and Megan Freeman from Lafayette’s Peak to Peak Charter School. The two are going to a Colorado writing retreat.