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.

Fellow Testimonial – Sharon Felty

Traveling Teachers Maximize Their Summer Off

Johnston Grier, South End News, Boston, MA

When kids return to Boston Public Schools (BPS) this fall they’ll share stories about what they did this summer. They won’t be the only ones at school with stories of visiting far away places, learning new and exciting things. This summer, 94 Boston Public School teachers – including several from South End schools – received grants from the Boston Plan for Excellence. Between them, they will visit 24 countries and 17 states, all in the name of professional development.

Established in 1984, the Boston Plan for Excellence is a nonprofit foundation working exclusively with BPS. This year it began a partnership with the National Fund For Teachers, founded by philanthropist Raymond Plank in 1998 to provide recognition and opportunities to educators. The fund’s new Fund For Teachers/Boston, has distributed nearly $250,000 in grant money for teachers to travel and study this summer. Teachers design their own trips; the fund provides between $1,200 and $7,500 to cover expenses such as airfare and lodging.

To apply for a grant, teachers must have been in the BPS system for at least three years, intend to continue teaching, and have spent at least 50 percent of their time in direct instruction.

Keri Purple and Amelia Greiner from Newmarket’s Mason Elementary School each received $7,500 from the fund to travel to Ghana this summer. Purple has been teaching at Mason for five years; Greiner has taught Mason first-graders for three years.

Purple and Greiner have been using a unit on Ghana from the Boston Children’s Museum to teach social studies. “It’s a really good kit,” said Greiner, but “some of it had started to get a little bit outdated.”

“When we first heard about the program, it was like, right away, hey, we should go to Ghana,” said Purple.

In their application, Purple and Greiner proposed to use their trip to combine the social studies unit they already teach with two additional units they teach separately. Explained Purple, “we tried to pull in two other units that we could teach through an interdisciplinary approach to the kids. So we’ll also be…comparing/contrasting our country to Ghana. That way they also learn about our own country and our own community. And we also have a large unit in science on living things. So we are hoping to go on a safari and see the animals that are there.”

Purple and Greiner see their grant as an opportunity to provide more substantive material to their students. “I’m looking forward to having those three units put into one so that not only are they condensed but they’re more meaningful,” said Greiner.

Besides going on a safari, Purple and Greiner are planning to explore Ghana’s capital city, Accra, and view monuments, castles and other historical sites to get a feel for life in this country of over 20 million people. And while they won’t be able to visit a Ghanaian school – kids there are on vacation, too – they will meet up with some local teachers.

Sandra Garzon is also taking a trip overseas this summer courtesy of the Fund For Teachers. Garzon has worked as a BPS speech therapist for 13 years, and has been at Blackstone Elementary School since 1994. She received approximately $2,800 from the fund to travel to Barcelona.

Garzon specializes in helping students who speak Spanish as a first language who have developed a stutter. Stuttering is not an uncommon problem among young children who have a great deal of language demands. Often they will repeat words as they struggle to express themselves. “What we try to do is protect the child, their environment, and make the child understand that he has all the time to express their feelings and thoughts,” said Garzon.

In Barcelona, Garzon is visiting the Spanish Stuttering Foundation, an organization founded in 2002 to promote awareness of stuttering and develop methods for helping the stutterers and their families cope. Garzon hopes to improve her own techniques.

When Garzon heard about the grants offered by Fund For Teachers she jumped at the opportunity to apply. “It was something that I was going to do anyway,” said Garzon of her trip to Barcelona, “but I found this, and I think it is a very genuine effort by Fund For Teachers to help people who are interested in expanding their knowledge.”

Garzon will use what she has learned during her visit to the Spanish Stuttering Foundation to develop a checklist and information packet to help Boston Public School teachers identify students who are developing a stutter. “Some of the teachers, they don’t know what to do when a child stutters, how to address the feelings of the child. So with that checklist and package of information for teachers it will help me to identify kids that are at risk,” she said.

In nearby Chinatown, four Quincy Elementary School teachers received grants: Dona Cavanaugh, Heidi Thomas, Ann Whaley-Tobin and Cindy Wilson. They are attending classes at the Teaching of Reading Institute at Columbia University in New York City.

Dottie Engler, the Fund For Teachers/Boston site coordinator, sees the grants as more than just a chance for professional development. “The time is so right to just show appreciation for teachers and to say, “Hey here’s a chance, take wing, $5,000, $7,500. What are you thinking? What is it you thing you need that you can bring back to the school?”

That is really the core idea behind the Fund For Teachers program. Providing teachers with the opportunity to improve kids’ classroom experience rewards teachers’ commitment, recognizes them as an integral part of the education process, and allows them to renew themselves’ as educators.

Fund For Teachers/Boston is a pilot program. The Boston Plan for Excellence will decide in the fall whether to continue the program next year. Already, Dottie Engler is seeing the program’s positive effects. “The real interesting thing about this program is that simply its existence elevates people.”