A summer of learning for Boston public teachers

West Roxbury Bulletin
Jeff Gilbride, Bulletin staff

Some Parkway teachers intend to add a little national and international flavor to their students’ curriculum this year after spending the summer in exotic places as far away as Ghana.

Boston Plan for Excellence, the city’s local education foundation, awarded $172,500 in grants to 47 teachers from the Boston Public Schools to visit 24 foreign countries and more than 20 states in search of educational inspiration to bring back to their schools.

The grants were offered through a joint initiative with the Boston Public Schools and Fund For Teachers/Boston.

West Roxbury resident Elizabeth Rendon and a colleague won a team grant for their joint proposal in which they spent part of the summer in Ghana to learn first hand about the West African nation’s culture, geography, people and education.

Rendon, a first grade teacher at the Mattapan Early Education Center (MEEC), and teammate Michelle Pless-Joseph, who also teaches first grade at MEEC, chose to VISIT Ghana because they felt it was important for Boston’s first grade social studies curriculum. Rendon left for Africa Wednesday Aug. 10, and the Bulletin spoke wither the day after she returned, Thursday Aug. 25.

“We actually just got back last night. It was amazing! It’s definitely a place to see and learn. I was impressed with the people and how nice and how happy they were, even though a lot of them lived in poverty,” Rendon said. “We visited a school and the teachers were very kind and willing to learn from us. That was an amazing experience. …That’s the one thing I don’t think I’ll experience anywhere else. We actually brought school supplies and donations to their village…and they were very grateful.”

Rendon stayed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and also took some day trips to Kumasi and Cape Coast. She’s now figuring out ways that she can translate her experiences into curriculum for her students.

“We have taken a lot of pictures and videos and we plan to create thematic books for first graders,” Rendon said. “We have software that will allow us to download the pictures we have and create text to create an online library. … We also have video which we hope to set up as a website.”

That website would be accessible to teachers all over greater Boston.

Roslindale native Jessica Gorham received a grant to brush up on her Spanish this summer by taking a course in Madrid and touring historical and artistic sites in Barcelona, Valencia, Granada and Seville.

Gorham is an Italian teacher at East Boston High School, where she teaches grades 9 through 11. She said many of her students are from Latin America.

“It was really incredible. I’m an Italian teacher and I wanted to learn Spanish so I could diversify my teaching,” Gorham said. “So I went there as part of a program through the Spanish embassy, where I was able to participate in a three-week language program in Madrid. It was for Spanish teachers so I studied Spanish language and culture.”

Gorham said that while in Spain she developed an Internet BLOG, describing the places she stayed at, which she intends to integrate into her curriculum this year among other experiences.

“I won’t be teaching Spanish this year, but I’ll be able to use what I learned about the structure of the Spanish language in order to explain the difference between Spanish and Italian to my students that are regular Spanish speakers,” Gorham said.

Gorham said she liked being in the position of a student and experiencing personal triumphs that come with learning.

“It took me a few weeks to feel really comfortable with the language and then to be able to express myself with the people fluently was really the best experience,” she said.

Gorham took a course in Madrid that was designed for Spanish teachers at K-12 schools and community colleges and covered grammar, pronunciation, methods and materials, as well as techniques for incorporating Spanish history, theatre, and art into her curriculum.

Other teachers who live or teach in the Parkway area who were awarded grants include Cambridge resident Ana Vaisenstein, a math teacher-coach at Roslindale’s Sumner Elementary School who traveled 11,000 miles this summer to learn to use an ancient math tool: the soroban or Japanese abacus; Roslindale resident Teresa Marx, who attended the International Chem-Ed Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia; Roslindale resident Lisa Evans, an English as a Second Language teacher at Roxbury’s Orchards Gardens K-8 School, studied literacy and interviewed teachers in the Dominican Republic; and Roslindale resident Kathleen Doyle studied on and off-Broadway (and off-off-Broadway) plays in New York City to help teach children’s theater-related programs in Boston.

The Fund For Boston Teachers is a joint project of the Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE) and the Boston Public Schools (BPS), and this is the second year the partnership has awarded grants to city teachers.

Foundation grants teacher’s wish

Byrd Middle School instructor going to Italy

Tulsa World
David R. Million, Staff Writer

Fran Kallsnick is a dreamer. Going ice skating, going to Disney World and having healthy and fabulous children are among those dreams.

They all have come true, although it took years for a couple of them to reach fruition. This summer, a major dream that could have been many years in the making will come true just a few months after the Byrd Middle School art teacher conceived it.

Kallsnick will spend two weeks viewing artwork, especially pieces that the Medici family amassed. Her trip, which will begin soon after school ends for the summer, will be paid for by the Funds for Teachers Foundation.

Eight-two Tulsa-area teachers received about $215,000 for educational trips around the world. The money is administered locally through the Tulsa Community Foundation, said local foundation spokeswoman Annie Koppel Van Hanken.

Kallsnick said she has received grants in the past, but she is especially excited about this one.

“My whole life I have either taken art classes or taught art. When my friends couldn’t wait for summer to sleep late and hang out at the pool, I would take art lessons at the Memphis Academy of Arts. I’m originally from Memphis,” she said.

“All of my classes referred to a lot of the old masters’ works, including my art history classes. These were from the ones at the University of Oklahoma, where I was an art major.”

Byrd Middle School art teacher Fran Kallsnick (in front of her students’ works) said she has waited a long time to take a dream trip to Italy.

Kallsnick went back to Memphis last summer and saw the academy’s Medici family exhibit. She learned about the family’s influence on the art world, its contribution to Florence and the city becoming the capital of the art world.

“That exhibit stirred an interest in me to focus on their family,” she said.

Thinking ahead to the next school year, Kallsnick said, “I can’t wait to take many, many pictures to bring back and share with my students. We study some art history, especially in eighth grade. They get very enthusiastic when I teach history about a topic. Hopefully, I can get them excited about the Medici contributions and the art world once they see what I have seen.”

Kallsnick, now in her 11th year at Byrd, has taken advantage over the years of visiting family to expand her art knowledge.

“I have been to museums in many places around this country. I have a sister in New York, so I have been to all the museums there; of course, the ones in Memphis, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, I’ve been to San Francisco museums and, because I have a sister in Dallas, I’ve gone several years to the museums in Ft. Worth. I have a son in Chicago, so I have been to the Art Institute of Chicago on several occasions,” she said.

Kallsnick’s dream to travel to Italy to study art began about a year ago when she learned of another Tulsa Public School teacher who received a grant to go to Italy.

While in Italy, Kallsnick plans trips to Rome, Florence, Venice, Como and side excursions around the country.

Kallsnick’s husband will accompany her on the trip.

Kallsnick said that even though she applied for the Funds for Teachers grant, she was surprised when she learned she was among those selected.

“I would never be able to afford a trip like this without the grant,” she said.

Parkway Teachers To Go Globetrotting On BPS Grants

Hands-on experiences are ideal when it comes to educating students. Come this summer, 47 Boston public school teachers, who were awarded grants, will get to visit the lands they’ve talked about in social studies classes, educate students in far-away lands, take seminars to improve their teaching and also hopefully do some sightseeing on their own time.

Elizabeth Rendon of West Roxbury is headed to Ghana in West Africa to learn about the nation’s culture, history, people and education system. Rendon will be joined by Michelle Pless-Joseph, who wrote a joint proposal for the grant. The two chose Ghana because it’s an integral part of Boston’s social studies curriculum in the first grade. They will be developing a social studies, science, art and language arts curriculum while in Ghana and afterwards.

“This trip will deepen our awareness of Ghana, as well as help us develop an understanding and respect for Ghana’s culture,” said Rendon, a first-grade teacher at the Mattapan Early Education Center. “There is a saying that a person cannot teach what he or she doesn’t know and cannot lead where she or he will not go. We look forward to going to Ghana so that we can teach and lead more effectively.”

The pair expect to visit Ghana’s capital, Accra, along with slave castles, crafts villages, along with the country’s rainforest and desert.

Rendon and Piess-Joseph gained their grant through the Boston Public School Fund for Teachers, which is run by Boston Plan for Excellence and the BPS. This is the second year that the partnership has given grants to BPS teachers.

Mary Clark, who teaches a the Haley Elementary School in Roslindale, will be visiting the same continent, but headed to South Africa with colleague Bruce Thatcher. The two will be working together to create a curriculum to improve student’s technology, reading and writing skills.

The duo will start in the town of Dundee and make their way through 16 schools in the very rural area. They’ll also visit Cape Town.

“While there, we’ll not only see how South African schools use AlphaSmart [a portable battery-powered work processor] but also share best practices of theirs and ours,” said Clarke, a computer teacher. “We’ll document lessons learned on the most effective use of low-cost technology to share with our colleagues in Boston when we return.”

Cynthia Paris Jeffries is on her way to Deutscheland, aka Germany, to attend the International Congress for the Study of Child Language at the Freie University.

“In addition to being bilingual and bicultural and English Language Learners, my students suffer from myriad speech-language disorders, such as the inability to comprehend spoken language,” said Roslindale resident Jeffries, a bilingual speech-pathologist at Roxbury’s Tobin K-8 School. “The conference will help me acquire a deeper understanding of the causes and origins of these specific language disorders and learn different models for assisting my students.”

To better understand how she teaches math, Summer Elementary school teacher Ana Vaisenstein of Cambridge will visit Japan to learn how to use the soroban, or Japanese abacus.

“I have always been curious to learn how the Japanese, and Chinese, operate with the abacus,” said Vaisenstein. “In Asia, even though calculators are readily available, the abacus and soroban are still widely used. I am particularly interested in how to use the soroban to teach number sense and relationships among numbers.”

Throughout her stay, Vaisenstein will be photographing how the soroban is used in daily life.

Ohrenberger Elementary School teacher Patricia Dervan won”t be headed to Germany, Ghana, Japan or even across the Charles River, at least not from a grant given by the BPS. Nope, she”s going to stay in Boston and head to a seminar on early child care and education at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center in Beantown.

“I read Dr. Brazelton’s books 30 years ago when I had my first child, and his practical advice helped me with my own six children,” said Dervan, who works with special needs students.

“Most of my students are nonverbal and have special needs in the areas of cognitive, emotional and physical development. This training will help me understand why they act, learn, behave, interact and develop as they do. And that will help me work with their parents.”

How teacher spent summer vacation; new grants send educators to the corners of the world

The Boston Globe
Stephanie Vosk, Globe Correspondent

Suzanne Haile, a special education teacher at Brighton High School, plans to bring to her new classroom at Gardner Elementary in Allston this fall what she learns during a 40-day trip to Mali and Gambia in Africa this summer.

Boston Latin School teacher Son-Mey Chiu, who teaches Chinese language and culture, will bring back to her students what she finds while studying Chinese minorities and Buddhism on a monthlong trip to Southeast Asia.

The two are among 47 Boston public school teachers awarded $172,500 in grants this summer from the Boston Plan for Excellence’s Fund for Teachers program.

The grants will allow the teachers to travel nationally and internationally in ways that will benefit them and their classes.

“Africa’s sort of a dream place,” said Haile, before leaving on her trip earlier this month. “When I heard about the Fund for Teachers program, I thought I’d pick the place I wanted to go the most.”

Haile is studying the art of fabric design and dyeing techniques, and creating a kit for other teachers to use with their students.

Chiu said she heard about the program after two of her colleagues went to China last year, the first year of the fund, after the national Fund for Teachers program approached Boston about taking part.

Though 90 people were awarded grants last year, program director Dotty Engler said the money available this year was for 47, out of 130 applicants.

Though teachers have the opportunity to apply in teams, many more requested individual grants this year, she said.

Individuals could request up to $5,000, Engler said, and each team could request up to $7,500. Applicants had to explain how the trip could benefit their classrooms, their colleagues, and themselves.

“One of the things we really want to know is that this is something they’d love to do but maybe would never be able to afford on their own,” Engler said.

“In some ways, it’s a pragmatic fantasy, something that you really want to do as a professional, but meets the other criteria.”

For Marcia Young, a kindergarten teacher at Joseph Lee Elementary School in Dorchester for 33 years, an interest in knitting sparked her idea for a trip.

Young planned to spend six days learning the ins and outs of knitting in upstate New York, from visiting a sheep farm to dyeing yarn.

“It’s something that I’ve done all my life and enjoyed, so I was hoping that maybe this would be of interest to some of the children,” Young said.

For Young, the lesson will tie in to a Ukrainian folk tale called “The Mitten” that she teaches her students. As the tale tells of a grandmother knitting mittens for her grandchildren, Young often takes out her own knitting needles and explains the process to her students. After her trip, she will have more insight to share.

“By experiencing it, I hopefully can share my enthusiasm with the kids, and they usually get excited if I’m excited about something,” said Young.

Engler said the committee also considers how articulate the applications are, and how much the teachers really seem to want to take the trip.

“It’s the closest thing to being a fairy godmother,” said Engler, “that I’ll probably ever do.”

Virginia Lombard: East is East and West is West and here the twain shall meet

Alexandra Bowers, The Charlestown Bridge

When Charlestown resident and teacher Virginia Lombard returns to Charlestown High School in the fall, she’ll have quite a tale to tell about her summer vacation.

Lombard will travel for three weeks in mainland China, courtesy of a grant from the Fund for Teachers, a Boston Plan for Excellence program that funds summer travel and study for Boston public school teachers.

“The Fund for Teachers is free-form,” said Lombard. “You make your own trip and find your own connections.” She added that sometimes an idea will come from someone’s trip of a previous year, and that teachers often find connections through local residents.

Lombard, who teaches Java programming and Web design, hopes to study how computer technology is used at several Chinese high schools, and to establish relationships that will continue after her return to the U.S.

For Lombard one reason she decided to apply for the grant is that Charlestown High School is reorganizing its class structure. The emphasis across the school will be on small learning communities to focus on the skills that each group of students needs to concentrate on.

Lombard will be in the bilingual unit, which teaches English skills to Chinese and Hispanic students. Roughly 15 percent of Charlestown High School students are in the Chinese bilingual program.

“There are a lot of students who have been in the U.S. for only one or two years, and they need the ESL classes,” said Lombard, adding that there are large groups of students from Hong Kong and from the nearby province of Guandong.

“It’s primarily Chinese and some Spanish-speaking students that sign up for Web design,” said Lombard, adding that some elective courses, including the ones she teaches, will be open to the whole school.

Lombard used the tools of her trade to set up her trip. She surfed the Web to find the sites of Chinese high schools and then wrote emails to explain her goals and set up her visits to the schools. All the schools have staff members who are fluent in English, which has made the planning easy.

“I talked with [the schools], and they said they’re advanced in what they’re doing,” said Lombard. “I’m looking to see what they’re doing with technology in the schools. I want them to show me and talk about things.”

Lombard will travel in China for three weeks, leaving on July 28. She will visit high schools in four cities – Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and Chongqing. There will be time before her return for a boat cruise down the Yangzi River to see the Three Gorges before a giant dam under construction fills them in.

In addition to visiting high schools and speaking with teachers, Lombard hopes to learn about the culture and diversity of China as she travels through the country. She also has a list of sites to visit that includes the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the terra-cotta tombs of the First Emperor.

Lombard won’t be alone during her trip. Her niece, Caroline Turner, is a junior at Winchester High School. Turner is also the sports editor of her high school newspaper. When Lombard asked her if she would like to visit China, Turner’s reaction was immediate.

“She was so excited that she had her passport in the works the next day,” said Lombard.

Both Lombard and Turner are learning Mandarin Chinese using an audio foreign language course. “I’m trying to teach myself Mandarin. I drive around and people think I’m talking to myself,’ said Lombard.

Next week she’ll get a chance to find out if she’s pronouncing things correctly or not. And when she returns to her home in Charlestown, she’ll have even more chances to practice with her students as she bridges the digital divide between East and West.

Fellow Testimonial – Lori Davis

Good Day Tulsa: 82 Tulsa teachers return to the classroom this year with fellowship experiences

Fund For Teachers Announces 2005 Fellows

HOUSTON (April, 2005) — Fund For Teachers (FFT) recently recognized its 2005 fellows at a special award ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel. Ninety-six teachers from charter schools, private schools and ten different school districts from the Houston-area received grants for the opportunity to travel, attend seminars and workshops, and acquire hands-on materials and information to enrich their students in the classroom.

Teachers were honored April 4, 2005 and were awarded grants to pursue their independent projects. The teachers will embark upon a variety of trips this summer, which will include travels to Mexico, Spain, Europe and throughout the United States. Focus of studies for these trips include: Spanish immersion, literature, history, geography, science, photography, cultures and internships.

Teachers from the following school districts were awarded grants: Katy ISD; Houston ISD; Spring Branch ISD; Conroe ISD; Ft. Bend ISD; Katy ISD; Alief ISD; Cy-Fair ISD; Klein ISD; and Aldine ISD.

FFT grants are awarded to teachers who work with students in grades K-12 and have a minimum of three years teaching experience. Participants are selected based on how their summer fellowship will make the applicant a better teacher, how improved skills and capacity will be implemented in the classroom and how the teachers’improved skills or capacity will benefit students, curricula and the school.

FFT is a unique public foundation whose mission is to enrich the lives of schoolteachers and students by providing outstanding teachers with recognition and opportunities for renewal. Making a difference one teacher at a time, FFT provides funds for direct grants to teachers to support learning opportunities of their own design. FFT impacts teachers, classrooms, schools and students. Founded by Apache Corp. Chairman Raymond Plank, the foundation’s enrichment fund is supported by individual and corporate donors.