Bringing the world to class

Teacher hopes her trip to frigid Antarctica fires up students’ interest in traveling, learning

Sarah Viren
Houston Chronicle

The students in Daphne Rawlinson’s elementary school science classes don’t quite get it when she says: I am going to Antarctica.

Sure, she’s showed them on the globe, but that looks like a few inches away, not more than 13,000 miles. And when she talks about cold, many can only compare that to last week in Houston, when temperatures dipped into the 30s.

“Most of our students, or a lot of our students, haven’t even been out of the state of Texas,” Rawlinson said. “So to get them to visualize that you are going to the other side of the world… They don’t have a lot of understanding.”

That’s one reason the teacher and science specialist at Houston’s J. Will Jones Elementary School proposed the trip, and why Fund for Teachers agreed pick up the tab, which Rawlinson estimates in the thousands.

Protected continent
The Houston-based organization awards travel grants each year to teachers nationwide. It has sponsored art and cultural studies in Egypt and research on humpback whales off the coast of Brazil.

Rawlinson is the first of its fellows traveling all the way south, to the land of penguins, seals and mammoth glaciers.

The Houston native said she has always wanted to go where the ice is. But Antarctica is attractive for other reasons.

“What has been the most fascinating thing to me is to see how the entire world has come together to protect this one spot,” she said. “It is protected by the Antarctica Treaty, and it is maintained for scientific research.”

No one country governs Antarctica; instead, governments work together to allow researchers from different areas to study its habitat. Tourism is limited and military activities banned.

Rawlinson is going through a graduate study-abroad program with the University of Georgia. On Dec. 26, she and a group of students will fly to South America, where they will board a boat for a day-and-a-half trip to the ice continent.

Once there, she will spend her nights sleeping on the boat (there are no hotels or gift shops in Antarctica, Rawlinson likes to remind those asking about her accommodations) and her days researching the icy habitat, keeping a journal and taking pictures and video.

A tool to ace TAKS
Rawlinson’s plan is to return home Jan. 9 with enough material to form a life-science unit on the continent for her students.

deally her lesson plan will inspire students to travel when they grow up but also help improve their science-test passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, which three years ago were in the teens.

The scores picked up last year but still need work, said Brian Flores, principal of the school, which has a high population of economically disadvantaged students.

“The whole key for children learning is making those real-life connections,” he said.

“These kids don’t have the opportunity to go to museums all the time. They don’t have the opportunity to travel out of the country or state, so when we have the opportunity to really teach something like this from real-life experience we jump on board.”

To prepare her for her trip, the Georgia program sent Rawlinson a four-page packing list. “In 10-point font,” she emphasized.

She bought a down parka, insulated ski pants and gloves lined with fleece, which she is supposed to cover with insulated mittens. She’ll also have a journal and her digital camera, which takes video.

She hopes to get footage of her boat trip through the notoriously rough Drake Passage and shots of her alongside penguins, anything that would inspire her students.

“Kids are like little sponges,” she said. “They are so interested. If you get them talking about something, they just keep going and going.”

An investment in teachers is an investment in our children

FOX 26 News Houston

Teachers followed the Tour; now students reap benefits

Doug Belden
Pioneer Press

If you watched CBS coverage of the Tour de France this summer, you might have seen a short interview with two St. Paul teachers stopped on their bikes as they made their way up a road in the French Alps.

The clip shows DeWayne and Renee Combs, tired but smiling in sunglasses and biking clothes, telling the camera crew they’re following the Tour to learn all they can and bring it back to their students.

The couple, with help from a $6,000 grant, spent 2Ĩ weeks in France and went to five stages of the Tour.

This fall, they’re drawing on that experience to enhance the physical education and health curriculum at Battle Creek Middle School.

The school received 35 mountain bikes and helmets this fall from Medtronic, and DeWayne Combs has made cycling the centerpiece of a new class he’s offering called “Fit for Life.”

The elective also will expose students to golf, bowling, lacrosse and exercise machines. “That’s our goal. Lifelong sports,” DeWayne Combs said.

Renee Combs has put up newspaper clippings, posters, hats and other Tour mementos on the wall of her health class.

She draws on the race to help her teach \ talking about seven-time winner Lance Armstrong in a lesson about cancer, for example. The kids now come in on Mondays and tell her about their biking adventures during the weekend, she said. “They’re into it.”

The couple are both mountain bike racers, and they commute to school by bike, 14 miles each way from their home in Stillwater. One day last week, DeWayne Combs used his mud-splattered bike to teach students about riding in ugly conditions.

“Mountain biking can be done in bad weather,” he told them. To prove it, he took them outside to ride on a 45-degree, drizzly morning. “It’s a little cold now. But you will get warm,” he said.

The kids were supposed to practice keeping their butts off the seat on the downhill portions of a three-quarter-mile course DeWayne Combs set up on the huge fields at the school, next to Battle Creek Regional Park on the city’s eastern edge.

Seventh-grader Nick Bethel took a spill on one of the descents. “I was riding a little too fast,” he said.

Before taking the class, Nick had only been on a bike with a foot brake. Combs said about eight of the 70 kids in his classes had never been on any kind of bicycle before signing up.

Seventh-grader Samantha Olson has her own mountain bike at home, but she said she’s picking up tips from the class that even her older sister, who usually doesn’t listen to her, is paying attention to.

The Combses received a grant for the trip through the Fund for Teachers, which distributes about $50,000 annually in private and foundation money to help St. Paul teachers enhance their skills during the summer.

The experience is supposed to be used to benefit students, and one tangible benefit from the Combs’ trip is a duffel bag full of T-shirts, hats, pins and other Tour trinkets they lugged home for the kids.

DeWayne Combs said the prizes will be given out the same way colored jerseys are awarded at the Tour de France: “We’re going to start some racing.”

Doug Belden can be reached at or 651-228-5136.

The Combses

Teachers: DeWayne Combs, 42, and Renee Combs, 44

Occupations: DeWayne teaches physical education, and Renee teaches health at Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul

Family: Five children ranging in age from 13 to 26

Home: Stillwater

Accomplishments: Traveled to the Tour de France this summer and are incorporating lessons from the bike race into fitness instruction for students

School’s in for the summer

At the Lucy Stone Elementary School in Dorchester, Anne Roman teaches a class of 22 first graders. But this summer in Tanzania, she will teach a class three times that size.

Roman, a Scituate resident, is one of 43 teachers in the Boston Public Schools who recently won a “Fund for Teachers/Boston” grant for summer travel and study from the Boston Plan for Excellence – the city’s local education foundation. She will travel to the country of Tanzania next month in order to teach English to a class of 70, 9-year-old African students.

The overseas experience is said to be hard emotionally, physically and academically, but Roman – who will travel with a fellow teacher from the Lucy Stone School – expects it to be the most rewarding opportunity.

“We felt like we won the lottery,” she said about the chance to teach the children of the Chagga tribe in Moshi, Tanzania. “No opportunities come around like this. These are the perks to teaching.”

Roman will begin her three-week journey on July 13 under the organization and sponsorship of Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) – an international volunteering organization.

Until then she has been brushing up on her Swahili, in order to ease the language barrier with her new students.

According to Roman, in order for the younger students to attend middle and high school, they must be fluent in English.

“As teachers and English speakers, we want to do what little we can to help, to have a small impact on global change, one child at a time,” she said.

“They rely on people like us to teach them these skills in order to remain an active part in the world market.”

Roman also hopes to bring back to her Lucy Stone students – with the majority of African American descent – the experience of new cultures and traditions and the knowledge in African folk tales for the new school year.

“We as teachers always looking for ways to make teaching interesting and more fun,” she said.

With other volunteers from around the world, Roman will stay in a Moshi village dormitory, located at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. On weekends, volunteers will also take CCS-organized cultural side trips to Serengeti National Park, Olduvai Gorge, where anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey conducted research, and to Zanzibar Island, where they’ll take the “Spice Tour.”

This is the third summer that the Fund For Teachers/Boston, joined with the Boston Plan for Excellence, has awarded grants to teachers in the city’s public schools. This summer, the chosen teachers have received $169,226 in grants to travel to and study in 29 foreign countries and several states.

Teacher pursues quilting project

North Reading resident Susan Fitzgerald will nourish her long-time passion for quilting this summer at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, and plan the second year of a school-wide project on the fiber arts at the Boston elementary school in which she teaches. Fitzgerald is one of 43 teachers in the Boston Public Schools who recently won a Fund For Teachers/Boston grant for summer travel and study from the Boston Plan for Excellence, the city’s local education foundation.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to develop my skills as a quilter in a relaxed setting,” says Fitzgerald, who teaches grade 2 at Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain. “Being one of 12 students in a supportive classroom, developing my creative skills in color and pattern, is a dream, with nature as a backdrop.”

Fitzgerald is part of a three-teacher team from the Manning who will study at the folk arts school. Last year, the Manning was the “lucky recipient” of several sheep fleeces, a donation that led to a school-wide project on the fiber arts. “We all learned to skirt, scour, and pick the fleece. Hallways were filled with children lugging buckets of water to and from classrooms to wash away muck from the wool. “The children loved it!,” the team says. That project helped students understand, they emphasize, that everyday materials came from somewhere, and that production was a step-by-step process that can be broken down, identified, and with practice, mastered.

In their two weeks in North Carolina, studying under nationally known instructors and with “protected time to focus on our own education,” the three hope to master new skills in dyeing, weaving, and quilting for their project this fall. “Student learning, especially their language skills, just exploded during our fiber arts unit last year,” says Fitzgerald. “They described the activities, shared experiences, read directions, wrote stories (and directions), recorded results, predicted amounts of material and time needed for tasks.” Adding quilting will allow students to experiment with shapes, color, and pattern designs and to integrate math, Fitzgerald adds.

Fitzgerald has taught in Boston’s public schools for 34 years, including 23 years at the Manning, and has lived in East Walpole for 22 years. She has also been a member of North Parish Quilters for 20 years.

Fund For Teachers/Boston is a joint project of the Boston Plan for Excellence and the Boston Public Schools, and this is the third summer the partnership has awarded grants to teachers in the city’s public schools. For summer 2006, 43 teachers have won $169,226 in grants to travel to and study in 29 foreign countries and several states. Supported exclusively with private monies, Fund For Teachers/Boston is underwritten by the national Fund For Teachers; by the Surdna Foundation and an anonymous donor, which fund Teachers As Artists grants; and by other donors.

Fellow Testimonial – Bryan Meadows

Fund for Teachers Sends 82 Traveling

Eighty-two Tulsa area teachers, representing 36 schools, received Fund for Teachers grants this year for the opportunity to travel, attend seminars and workshops, and acquire hands-on materials and information to enrich their students in the classroom.

Participants in the program gathered at the Bok Tower downtown recently to share stories, artifacts, slide shows, photos, memorabilia and teaching tools from their summer sabbaticals.

FFT grants are awarded to teachers who work with students in grades prekindergarten through grade 12 who spend at least 50 prcent of their time in the classroom 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 or capacity will benefit students, curricula and the school.

The teachers from the Tulsa area this year traveled as far north as Alaska and as far south as Australia.

Individual teachers can apply for as much as $5,000 through the program; teams of teachers can apply for a maximum of $7,500. As part of the application process, teachers must submit a written proposal and an itemized budget.

Applicants are selected to receive grants based on how their proposed summer activity will enhance their teaching skills and better the education of their students.

Fund for Teachers was founded by Ray Plank, founder and chairman of the board for Apache Corporation in 1998. Its mission is to enrich the lives of schoolteachers and students by providing recognition and opportunities for renewal to outstanding teachers. Fund for Teachers awards grants directly to teachers for supporting professional development opportunities of their own design.

Applications for next summer are due Jan. 20. For more information, call the Tulsa Community Foundation at 494-8823 or go online to the Fund for Teachers Web site at

Fund Inspires Teachers To Inspire Their Students

Shaun Epperson, World Staff Writer

Fran Kallsnick wept as she gazed at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time.

Kallsnick, who teaches art at Byrd Middle School, visited Italy this year as part of a grant from the Fund for Teachers, a foundation that provides summer travel opportunities for educators with a goal of enriching education for them and their students.

“I finally had realized one of the major dreams of my life,” Kallsnick said of her 16-day trip, which included stops in Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and Como. “I could never imagine what it could be like in person.”

Kallsnick made the comments Tuesday during a gathering of several 2005 participants at the BOk Tower downtown. A total of 82 Tulsa-area teachers received grants through the Fund for Teachers in 2005.

Teachers of prekindergarten through grade 12 who spend at least 50 percent of their time in the classroom and have a minimum of three years teaching experience are eligible for a grant.

Kallsnick said the experience of traveling to Italy and seeing firsthand the art she teaches her students about has had a positive effect in her classroom.

She also brought back teach ing material for her class.

“When students are working, they’re always asking me about different aspects of my trip,” she said. “With the slides and all of the materials I brought back, they’re really interested in it.”

Individual teachers can apply for as much as $5,000 through the program; teams of teachers can apply for a maximum of $7,500, said Paula Wood, a program officer of the Tulsa Community Foundation, a sponsor of the program.

As part of the application process, teachers must submit a written proposal and an itemized budget.

Applicants are selected to receive grants based on how their proposed summer activity will enhance their teaching skills and better the education of their students.

Kallsnick said her experience abroad has revitalized her passion for teaching and has given her a better perspective.

“This is my 20th year of teaching, and I’m just as inspired, if not more so, now,” she said. “There are so many ideas I have that I want to do.”

Raymond Plank, the founder and chairman of the Fund for Teachers, said inspired teachers inspire students and other educators.

“The enthusiasm and the learning are very transferrable to the kids,” he said. “We do find that teachers who have gone through this program bring it back to schools where they teach and into the community.”

Wood said teachers should put a lot of thought into what destination they choose and how their time there could benefit them and their students.

“Really, the sky is the limit,” she said. “We’re hoping that teachers think of an area of the world that would be of interest to them and would be of value to the classroom.”

Applications for next summer are due Jan. 20. For more information, call the Tulsa Community Foundation at 494-8823 or go online to the Fund for Teachers Web site at