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.”

Chicago teacher studies bats in Madagascar

Jenny Celander
Chicago Union Teacher

According to Eileen Day, Bats have gotten a bad rap. To reverse misconceptions about the flying creatures, Ms. Day has spent much of her teaching career developing programs to educate her students about all the good bats do. This past summer, funded by a grant from the Fund for Teachers (FFT), she traveled to Madagascar to work with a scientist there doing similar work.

Each year, the FFT awards individual or team grants to teachers in selected cities across the country who propose a summer activity that will improve their teaching. In Chicago, the FFT works with The Chicago Foundation for Education and this year the two organizations distributed $194,000 in grants.

Eileen was one of 53 Chicago Public Schools’ educators to receive money, and her trip was something she had been reaching for months. A teacher at Blaine Elementary School for more than 20 years, Ms. Day has been fascinated with bats since she was a little girl. The students and teachers at Blaine have become enthusiastic about the animals because of the programs she implemented at the school.

Eileen Day (left) meeting with Dr. Richard Jenkins, Director of Madagasikara Voakajy. In Madagascar, Dr. Jenkins is leading the Flying Fox conservation effort.

Right: Julie is a Malagasy biologist working with Dr. Jenkins. She and Ms. Day will continue to share material as they work on the bat education projects.

At Blaine, Eileen works coordinating the Gifted and fine Arts Program. For a few years, the school participated in a project she started, “The bats of the month club,” so students could learn about a different kind of bat each month. Ms. Day developed everything that teachers at Blaine would need to teach about bats curriculum, bulletin boards, bat-themed projects, bat literature. The project began with species indigenous to Illinois and each month Ms. Day added a new one.

“Rather than viewing them as some rabid monster, we should look at the benefits they provide,” she says. Eileen want her students to understand that bats are important – they keep the mosquito population down and help populate certain fruit plants.

Mr. Day contacted Dr. Richard Jenkins, Director of Malagasy NGO Madagasikara Voakajy, after reading an article about a project he developed with some of the remote village schools in Madagascar. Dr. Jenkins begin his conservation project – similar to the education projects Eileen utilizes at Blaine – to help the Straw-Colored Flying Fox, a bat that is being eaten by the people on the island.

The scientist hopes that if students become educated about the benefits these bats provide, they will share information with their parents and other adults and eventually, islanders will avoid eating the creatures. After reading the article, Ms. Day recognized an opportunity to connect the tow projects.

She had heard about the FFT through the Chicago Foundation for Education, an organization in which she is active. She gives workshops on grant writing and promotes some of their project ideas can be applied to improving their schools.

Eileen was in Madagascar for just over two weeks where she met with scientists and observed the flying foxes and their roosting area. She worked with Dr. Jenkins and his assistant Julie, a Malagasy biologist, to discuss ways to bind the flying fox project to Eileen’s projects in Chicago.

At the end of the last school year, Ms. Day asked some of the upper grades at Blaine to prepare bat fact sheets for students in Madagascar. They drew pictures and clooected information about different species and when the Malagasy students saw the pictures they were amazed.

“These are remote village areas,” said Ms. Day. “They had never seen bats that looked like this.” Julie and Eileen plan to continue some sort of “bat exchange” between the Madagascar schools and Blaine. They will share information and tools for teaching about bats. This school year, Eileen’s students will also create an informational leaflet to promote “bat viewing” in the south eastern region of Madagascar.

Eileen says Dr. Jenkins’ conservation efforts have been successful. There is a big effort to try and reduce the killing of the flying foxes but also to protect areas they roost in,” she explained. “people in the villages have been very receptive to it.” The group currently is working on making the project more inclusive among communities.

Left: A Straw-colored Flying Fox in flight – the bat scientist in Madagascar are working to protect. Photo provided by Eileen Day

Right: While in Madagascar Ms. Day also had the opportunity to see other animals most of us have seen only in the zoo. Picture above is a Ring-tailed Lemur.

Eileen said her trip to Madagascar was especially unique because “this trip I created for myself.” The FFT works to “enrich the lives of school teachers and students by providing funds for direct grants and support learning opportunities of the teacher’s design” – something Eileen took full advantage of.

Teachers can apply for FFT grants if they work in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 classrooms, have at leas three years experience and spend at least half their time in a classroom. More information may be obtained by visiting the website at

Teacher’s hummingbird garden to provide natural haven

Sandra Meinke
Reflections Writer

Naomi Brown, a seventh-grade science teacher at Baines Middle School in Fort Bend Independent School District, is well on her way to creating a hummingbird garden for the school. A summer trip to Arizona funded by the Fund for Teachers Fellowship Program provided Brown with the encouragement and information she needed to begin the project.

This won’t be the first time Brown, a self-described nature lover, has established an ecologically friendly garden on a Fort Bend ISD campus. While teaching science at First Colony Middle School several years ago, Brown became interested in the monarch butterfly, which passes through the Houston area each year during its migration. With help from students and community members and by devoting two summers of her personal time, she created a butterfly garden at the school. For Brown, the study of hummingbirds and gardens that attract them was a natural progression from the butterfly garden.

“As a science teacher, I was always interested in migration patterns. Where we live on the Gulf Coast is a wonderful geographical area for northern and southern migrations,” Brown said.

When she found out about the Fund for Teachers Fellowship Program, which offers competitive grants for teachers in the Houston area, she couldn’t wait to apply. The FTFP gives fellowships for up to $5,s000 to qualified teachers who must present a proposal and budget.

Brown chose to use her money to take a three-week trip to southeastern Arizona because it is a hummingbird migratory hot spot.

“That part of the U.S. is one of the most biologically diverse areas in America. Fourteen species of hummingbirds go through there,” Brown said. “We only get the ruby-throated hummingbird in Houston. I wanted to experience, see and be involved in a big migration.”

Armed with information about hummingbird migrations and habitats, Brown came back to Houston excited about what she had learned.

“I had the unique experience of working with the University of Arizona and the Nature Conservancy, and they provided a lot of information about creating a hummingbird garden,” she said. She divided her time between studying the ecology and banding hummingbirds to track migration routes.

“My interest was in the way the (humming)birds pollinate plants down there. It was a totally new environment for me,” she said. “That region has four deserts and two mountain ranges. Summer is monsoon season there.”

Brown worked and studied in the Huachuca Mountains, where the cooler weather attracts a variety of birds, plants, insects and animals. It rained every day she was there.

“I hiked a lot. I did a tremendous amount of photography. I was involved with banding hummingbirds with the University of Arizona. Hopefully the birds will be caught at some other point on the migration path and some information about their path can be tracked,” she said.

Her garden project will begin by introducing the subject of hummingbirds and their migratory patterns in the classroom. She returned from Arizona with several hummingbird feeders that now are hung at various points around the school. The feeders already are attracting the attention of both students and hummingbirds.

“Kids today are very disenfranchised from the natural world.” Brown said. “Just getting them excited about natural events is a big deal. Awareness is huge. We teach ecology in seventh grade. This (project) is a springboard for teaching about the relationship between plants, animals and humans.”

Prior to starting the garden, Brown will have her students research what types of plants attract the birds. She said the school has a courtyard that will be used for the garden. David Yaffie, principal of Baines Middle School and a former science teacher, is very supportive of the project.

The garden probably will not be completed this school year. It could take up to three years for the project to fully come together and she hopes to get the community involved.

“We will need donations of soil or plants. We’ll need someone to come out with a back-end loader and dig holes for an afternoon,” she said.

Brown said it takes a tremendous amount of work to put a project like this together. The first step is to hook her seventh graders into the project and put them to work researching and learning some of the same information Brown learned during the summer.

“The experience of going to Arizona provided a springboard for the idea that we really can do this here,” Brown said. “Any time we can get kids and the community to be aware of the natural world, it turns them on to science.”

Oakland area teachers receive FFT Grants

ABC 7 Bay Area

‘Fund For Teachers’ Gives Perspective Of World

Amy Hollyfield

OAKLAND, Calif. Oct. Oct. 10, 2007 (KGO) – Dozens of Bay Area teachers are sharing fresh ideas and new experiences with a unique global perspective with their students. It’s all made by possible by a special grant that emphasizes learning by experiencing.

International travel on a teacher’s salary can be challenging and that is why Funds for Teachers steps in and offers grants. They are going to be looking for its next group of fellows starting today at a church in Oakland. They are hoping they are going to get a lot of new applicants who want to get out of the classroom and get out to the world.

Oakland teenagers at Skyline High School didn’t really think they had anything in common with French teenagers – until they could actually hear from them and see what they look like and how they dress.

“They were really similar to Americans. It was really interesting because I always thought France was as all about high fashion, showy and flashy but it’s really not,” said Aimee Fields, French student.

French teacher Celeste Dubois went to Paris this summer and videotaped teenagers talking about issues. She brought back 11 hours of footage to show her French students.

“I wanted to know what are the problems young people face in France, what they want help with from adults and they were very serious and cooperative,” said Celeste Dubois, French teacher.

She started showing the tapes to her classes yesterday. Students heard the French kids talk about college entrance exams and question whether obesity really is a major issue for American kids. The Oakland teenagers enjoyed the videos so much – some of them plan to e-mail the Paris kids.

“This was definitely different – they were, I think, more attentive than they were at the very beginning when we were just going to go over homework,” said Celeste Dubois.

Dubois was able to go to Paris because of a $5,000 dollar grant given to her by a group called Fund for Teachers. The non-profit agency has sent teachers around the world looking for new perspectives to bring back to the classroom.

“We all read the applications and want to go with the teachers. Many teachers have been to South Africa, the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica,” said Sofi Jiroh, Funds For Teacher Administrative Partner.

Sofi Jiroh helped select the 18 Oakland teachers who received grants this year. She says while a summer trip to Paris does sound fabulous – the teachers usually can’t wait to get home and share what they’ve learned.

“They’re more excited about that than they are the trip because the end result of the trip is really to get back in the classroom,” said Sofi Jiroh.

All teachers are welcome to apply. They have sent a language teacher, a math teacher, a science teacher – they sent 18 from Oakland this year, they sent 15 from San Francisco and they are ready to start looking for next years group.

Interested applicants can attend a meeting today at 4:00 in Oakland at First Unitarian Church located at 685 14th Street.

Fellow journey across West Texas to famous art colonies in New Mexico

Fox 26 News – Houston

What Africa taught a teacher

Kerrin Flanagan went to Ghana and came back with a wealth of ideas for her K-1 class.

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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.”

Top: While Flanagan says that she saves the classroom decorating for when the students arrive, basics like “the word wall” are prepared before their arrival. Left: Boston K-1 teacher Kerrin Flanagan displays the kente cloth she brought home from her grant-subsidized trip to Ghana. Her first-graders study Ghana and Japan. Right: Bins that have been in storage for a year are pulled out to be used for different types of blocks and toys.

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.”