Grant Brings World Of Harry Potter To Tony Goetz Students

Cheri Fite is bringing the world of Harry Potter into her classroom at Tony Goetz Elementary School.

Fite, resource room teacher, applied for a grant from Fund for Teachers that allows her to bring the magic of Harry Potter into her classroom.

“When we come back in January we’ll start reading ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,’” Fite said. “When we read certain parts I’ll bring out photos to show them where the scene is in real life.”

Fite can do that because the Fund for Teachers grant helped her travel to England over the summer – where she went in search of Harry Potter armed with a list of questions from her students.

“I found everything and more,” Fite said. “That’s what they want you to do – experience other cultures so you can share that with your kids.”

Fite said her students were full of questions about Big Ben, bobbies and palace guards.

They wanted to see Platform 9 and 3/4, Hogwarts and Diagon Alley too.

“In the dining hall, I got goosebumps when I walked in there,” Fite said, showing a photograph of the room in Hogwarts where the magic begins. “It was so cool.”

She found Platform 9 and 3/4 in the train station where Harry Potter and friends disappear into a brick column to board the train for Hogwarts.

She took lots of pictures everywhere she went.

Fite hasn’t shown her students everything she brought back – yet.

She wants to pull out some surprises while they read the book.

Blayne Allen, 11, said the Harry Potter lesson plans are “awesome.”

“I’ve seen all of the movies and read the seventh book,” Blayne said. “I can’t wait to see the pictures when we’re reading. I can picture the scenes in my head, but not a strong picture.”

Fite put Harry Potter costumes out for her students to explore Friday morning.

The kids of all ages tried everything on, waved wands at one another and said, “Levioso!” and “Abracadabra!”

Each student compared him or herself to a character from the book and talked about scenes they liked from the movie.

All of the activities the students have done so far are preparing them for reading the first book in the series.

Fite’s lesson plans while the class reads include students dressing up and acting out scenes, mailing letters by “owl” and putting on the “sorting hat” and finding out which “house” they’re in.

Russell Bingham, 12, is a redhead – naturally everyone thought he’d make a good Ron character. But Russell said he’d rather play Malfoy, Harry Potter’s nefarious classmate.

Regardless, Bingham can’t wait to start reading the first book.

“I’m looking forward to it because I know the books are better than the movies,” he said.

For Pius teachers, administrators, trip to Rwanda becomes pilgrimage

Margaret Reist

The trip to Rwanda was supposed to be an academic journey for two high school teachers, a way for them to improve how they taught about genocide.

That isn’t exactly how it turned out.

The trip the two teachers, their principal and superintendent took last summer to prepare for a visit from a survivor of the 1994 genocide that killed a million people in three months became something much more personal.

Ilibagiza survived, unlike most of her family, hiding in a 3-by-4-foot bathroom for 91 days. Her faith — and a rosary given to her by her father when he told her to run and hide — helped her to not only survive, but to eventually forgive those who killed her family.

It was, in part, that message of forgiveness that turned a professional development trip into a spiritual pilgrimage for the Pius group. That, and meeting the people of Rwanda, seeing the poverty in which they live, and getting to know them and their giving nature.

“When we got there and saw the needs of the people and the needs in our hearts to reach out to them, it became a pilgrimage,” said Jane Connealy, who teaches English and psychology.

“What turned it into a pilgrimage for me personally was recognizing the need for forgiveness in my life.”

The idea for the trip began the summer before, when Pius staff got an e-mail from a member of a Catholic business organization planning to bring Ilibagiza to Lincoln to speak and asking if they’d like to have her speak at Pius.

The school was interested. And since both Julie Schonewise and Connealy teach a social literature class that covers genocide, they were particularly interested.

“I said, as a joke, I guess we’ll need to go to Rwanda and study genocide,” Schonewise recalled.

They applied for and got a $10,000 grant from the Fund for Teachers, which provides professional development money to teachers who want to expand their global awareness.

They decided to include Principal Tom Korta and Superintendent Jim Meysenburg to help make their trip something that could benefit the entire school.

Through a colleague who works for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Schonewise learned that Ilibagiza takes visitors on tours of Rwanda.

Some months later, the four were on a plane to Kilgali, the capital of Rwanda.

They visited the Genocide Memorial, but that really wasn’t the heart of the trip.

“It was the jumping off point,” Connealy said.

From there, they bused to a tiny village called Kibeho, where Catholics believe Mary appeared to visionaries in the 1980s and foretold the genocide. On the way, they visited an orphanage and the Cana Center retreat, where they saw the shrine to Mary, and spent time at an elementary school and a school for the blind.

Kibeho was very poor, and the Pius travelers had no running water for two days. But they found it a place of peace.

“What it was all about was building relationships with the kids of Kibeho,” Connealy said.

The trip really didn’t focus on the genocide as much as it did on the people and culture of Rwanda, Connealy said. But the teachers already knew the ruling Hutu tribe had killed nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.

Left: Pius X teacher Julie Schonewise looks on while a blind student reads Braille in Kibeho, Rwanda.

Right: Pius X Superintendent Fr. Jim Meysenburg, teachers Julie Schonewise, Jane Connealy and Principal Tom Korta (back) sit with children from a nearby village during their stay at the Cana Retreat Center near Kibeho, Rwanda.

Walking down a dusty road, Connealy said, she could almost hear the killers using the codes for their slaughter: “Cut down the cockroaches. Cut down the tall trees.”

The travelers did hear stories and visited Ilibagiza’s home, which was destroyed during the genocide but has been rebuilt as a place of prayer.

Ilibagiza’s family traveled with them from Kilgali to Kibeho, and Ilibagiza’s sister-in-law talked about how she survived the killings.

She told the travelers how she and her family were taken from their home, forced to lie in the dust while the killers fired at them. The bullets missed her, and she pretended to be dead.

Later, the 17-year-old girl was warned to flee by a boy who was among a group of killers but ran ahead and warned her they were coming.

That was something the teachers learned on their trip — that there were those among the killers who tried to help.

Throughout the trip, the Pius group learned about Ilibagiza’s ability to forgive. And they brought that message home to Lincoln, deciding forgiveness and reconciliation should be a yearlong school theme.

The teachers, with Schonewise leading the effort, had already developed curriculum ideas teachers could use to tie into Ilibagiza’s visit.

To some extent, the trip was always grounded in religion, because the travelers are all Catholics who teach at Pius.

And Immaculée Ilibagiza — who will be in Lincoln this week to talk about how she survived — is also a devout Catholic.

  • Family Consumer Sciences classes are making sundresses to send to the school in Kibeho.
  • Art classes are making Seven Sorrows rosaries.
  • Industrial arts classes are talking about building codes so they understand just how small the bathroom where Ilibagiza hid was.
  • Language classes are learning Kinyarwandan.
  • Social studies classes and social literature classes are studying the genocide.
  • Theology classes are learning about the visionaries in Kibeho.

On Wednesday, students from the 10 Catholic middle schools will join Pius students for an assembly with Ilibagiza.

Being able to reach that many students is important to the teachers — to help spread her message.

“It’s really about forgiveness,” Connealy said. “The power of forgiveness. To forgive others, and ourselves.”

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or

Teachers in African history lesson

Rob Sgobbo
NY Daily News

With the help of a fellowship, two South Bronx high school teachers jetted to Africa—and brought a taste of the continent back to their classrooms.

Catherine Mitchell, 29, and Wendy Eberhart, 32, English teachers at the East Bronx Academy for the Future in East Tremont, were awarded a fellowship grant last year from the Fund for Teachers, a non-profit that offers cash for educators to travel around the world to conduct research of their choosing.

The duo flew to Ghana and Senegal in the summer of 2009 to study the traditional art of storytelling—an experience they’ve brought back to their Bronx students this fall.

“Teaching in a high-stakes testing world, speaking and listening skills get short-shifted,” said Eberhart who teaches ninth-graders.

“Going on this fellowship totally blew up how I teach.”

The fund gave the teachers $7,500 to travel to the West African countries—where they spent three weeks asking locals to share their favorite ancestral tales.

“Everyone we spoke to had something to share and tell us,” said Mitchell, who has her 11th and 12th graders act out traditional African folklore.

Catherine Mitchell, an 11th-and 12th-grade teacher in the South Bronx, uses her experiences from trip to Africa in the classroom.

“This experience taught me how to bring something engaging back to the classroom to help my kids.”

Mitchell and Eberhart said the experience was “life-changing,” and since their trip, the two distilled their experience into a set of lessons to teach storytelling skills, while also breaking down misconceptions their students may have about the faraway continent.

“People talk about Africa like it’s a country,” said Eberhart. “A lot of our students don’t know much about it.”

Mitchell began her lessons last week, using photographs of African landmarks to spark conversation about her travels.

One particular photograph of a Senegalese “slave castle” where African slaves were kept in dungeons beneath a European mansion, particularly hit home with the young Bronxites.

“I was just so surprised,” said Monique, and 18-year old senior in Mitchell’s class. “It makes me want to go there and see this stuff for myself.”

Mitchell also brought in drums, rattles, traditional African garb and statues used in Ghanaian storytelling.

“You only hear about the bad stereotypes about Africa,” said Pablo, a 19-year old senior, who said a lot of students only think of Africa as poor and disease-ridden.

“You just don’t know these things until you learn about it.” But it wasn’t just the kids who benefitted—Mitchell said sharing her experience has changed the way she views teaching. “It keeps things more interesting, and pushes me,” she said. “I’m learning alongside them.”

“Switched on Physics”: FFT Fellow and Students Build Robot

Kristi Nix
The Journal of Pearland

Dawson High School’s Switched-On Physics program offers students creative new ways to learn about science. It’s a unique approach designed to allow students to explore and discover new ideas in the classroom.

Some say the program’s success is driven by the enthusiasm and down to earth approach of physics teacher Alexander Graham. It seems his love of learning and physics is contagious.

“Mr. Graham told me the program wasn’t too heavy on the science side of things and I wasn’t much of a science person,” Dawson High School student Jason Ko said. “But, the project turned out to be a real world application in physics. It was really fun. I had a good time.”

Last year Graham applied to Fund for Teachers and won a $5,000 grant. He used the funds to travel to the Philippines to study the Las Pinas bamboo pipe organ. It was an experience that inspired him to tackle new classroom projects such as an alternative energy-driven digital pipe organ and a student driven robotics project.

The robotics assignment offered his students a lesson in physics and computer software engineering, as well as a lesson in creative ingenuity.

Last week, his students held a demonstration of their new robot (ALFRED). The life size machine was mounted on wheels; its motion was controlled by a computer engineered and installed by the students. During the demonstration, the robot roamed the classroom. It then rolled out into the halls of the school, only occasionally crashing into the lockers.

Students also demonstrated the robot’s ability to speak. Future modifications are in the works to program the robot to speak more than one language, students said.

About Funds for Teachers:

Each year, Fund for Teachers awards grants to individual educators across the county to fund a unique, once in a lifetime professional development experience.

Fund for Teachers gives fellowships for self-designed professional growth to PreK-12 teachers who understand the value of learning and their ability as educators to make a difference.

“We recognize that the teacher is the decisive factor in students’ learning,” said Karen Kovach Webb, Fund for Teachers’ Executive Director. “We are deeply committed to the growth of teachers through strategic investments in their own areas of personal and professional interest. We’ve seen firsthand the impact Fund for Teachers fellowships have as a transformative resource for teaching and learning.”

Since 2001, 4,000 teachers have been awarded $14.2 million in Fund for Teachers grants-up to $5,000 for individuals, or $10,000 for teams. Fund for Teachers fellowships have taken place in 113 countries on every continent, empowering teachers to explore countless ideas, terrains, and cultures.

For more information about Fund for Teachers, visit

Having a blast …off!

10 Jefferson teachers walked on air while at space camp

Dan Benson
Sheboygan Press

Ten teachers from Jefferson Elementary School have returned to Earth after a week at NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala, and are starting the new school year looking to launch new classroom initiatives using what they learned there.

“We gathered a lot of information we’ll be able to use in our classrooms this year. …For years to come, actually,” said second-grade teacher Deb Ericsson.

Jefferson school reading specialist Ann Rodewald completed her tour of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration by studying the restored Saturn V rocket.

The 10 teachers attended Space Camp for one week in early August, thanks to a $10,000 Wisconsin Fund for Teachers grant. They could have applied to go somewhere else, Ericsson said.

The teachers became eligible to apply for the grant after Jefferson was recognized as a 2009 Wisconsin New Promise School, which is given to schools that demonstrate a learning climate that supports all students.

“We chose Space Camp because of what’s happening at Spaceport in Sheboygan and we don’t really do anything with space science at the elementary level,” she said. “And this experience allowed for 10 of us to go. Some others would only allow us to send one or two. Being able to send 10 allowed us to make it a building-wide experience.”

That means students at every grade level will benefit from what the teachers learned and are bringing back.

“I learned so many new applications that I can use in my classroom. I plan to incorporate new ideas to help young learners understand big ideas,” said Jeanine Roseberry, an ELL kindergarten teacher.

“During the week I attended Space Camp, I thought of ways I could integrate space science activities into the art classroom,” said art teacher Connie Berken.

At Space Camp, the 10 teachers put in 45 hours in various activities that included astronaut training simulators and two simulated space shuttle missions. They performed the duties of flight director, pilot, mission specialists and members of mission control, they said.

“I’m amazed at everything that has to happen in order for a successful launch, mission and safe return to Earth to occur,” said second-grade teacher Julie Versey.

Hundreds of students from all over the country were there, but just 33 teachers, Ericsson said, making the Sheboygan contingent the largest by far.

“We were a huge part of it,” she said.

The teachers brought back materials they can use in their classrooms, resources such as websites and a list of contacts whose knowledge and expertise they can tap into, Ericsson said.

“Many of them are other educators around the United States and even around the world — Australia and Morocco, for instance,” she said. “We’ve set up Facebook accounts where we can continue the conversation and learn how they are using what they took back to their buildings.”

Fifth-grade teacher, Vicki Kulhanek said, “This experience demonstrated what is needed to be done in our classrooms to pique students’ interest in these areas.”

An all-school “space event” is in the works for next May, Ericsson said, and plans call for making a trip to the next space shuttle launch in June 2011 in Florida, she said.

“Our hope is to use our experiences at Space Camp to motivate our students to be future scientists, engineers and astronauts,” Ericsson said.

Summer Travels Inspire Lessons

3 Zachary Elementary teachers win travel grants

James Minton

ZACHARY – Three Zachary Elementary teachers won grants this year to fund working summer vacations they plan to turn into lessons for their students.

Breigh Rainey and Kristy Gilpin, who teach gifted second- and third-graders, won a $10,000 grant from Fund for Teachers to visit sites in Italy and France associated with the Renaissance. Spanish teacher Darketa Green won a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for a week of intensive language instruction.

The three were the only Louisiana teachers chosen this year for 25 fellowships offered by Fund for Teachers, a program to encourage teachers’ professional growth founded by former Apache Corp. board chairman Raymond Plank.

“As soon as we found out about this organization, and even before we talked about the idea of applying, we were immediately drawn to it because it was for teachers to design their own really authentic, professional learning experiences,” Rainey said.

Gilpin said she and Rainey are fascinated by one of Renaissance’s most notable figures, Leonardo da Vinci, and “the whole thing about our (application) was that we would go to Italy and follow in the footsteps of these great thinkers from the Renaissance.”

Breigh Rainey, left, and Kristy Gilpin are shown this summer at the Colosseum in Rome, one of several stops on an itinerary that allowed them to experience the culture and environment that inspired some of the great thinkers of the Renaissance. The Zachary Elementary School teachers received a $10,000 Fund for Teachers grant for the trip, which they plan to turn into a learning experience for their students.

The two went to Rome, spent a lot of time in Florence, then traveled to da Vinci’s hometown, Vinci, as well as Milan to see his “Last Supper” and Paris to see his “Mona Lisa.”

Green said a grant-writing workshop and an e-mail from Superintendent Warren Drake encouraging teachers to try for Fund for Teachers grants convinced her to apply.

“The fact that they were funding international travel made me think, ‘This would be a great experience if I could go,’ ” Green said.

Green already had looked into taking one of the courses offered by Spanish Abroad Inc., a company that offers classes in many Spanish-speaking countries.

In Playa del Carmen, she lived in a house near the school.

“I felt like I needed a refresher, and I felt I would get a more authentic taste of the language if I were actually there. They only spoke Spanish at the school, so I had no choice but to draw on what I knew and jump right in. I was nervous about it at first, but you kind of just have to do it,” Green said.

The grants could be written to include buying digital cameras or artifacts for later lessons in Zachary Elementary’s classrooms.

“When we were there, and we went to a museum and saw some books we wanted to bring back to our students, we actually had budgeted money to buy those things,” Gilpin said.

Rainey said she and Gilpin were inspired by the detailed notebooks da Vinci kept and the two of them emulated his style during the trip with their sketches, quotes, observations and ideas. They plan to encourage their students to develop similar “thinking books” during the coming year.

While on the trip, Rainey and Gilpin communicated with their students by blogging and once with a Saturday Internet teleconference with a group of students.

When not in class, Green visited local shops to buy items that will help her students associate with the countries where Spanish is the primary language. She also visited a private nature preserve and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

The three want to write curricula built around their travels.

“Our focus was not on one particular topic like fossils or fiction literature, or any thing like that,” Rainey said. “It was really about those sparks and inspirational things every good teacher does to invigorate their students and get them excited about learning.”

Gilpin said the two wanted to learn what inspired the great thinkers of the Renaissance and hope to inspire their students “to be the next great thinkers, the next da Vinci or the next Einstein.”

“I’m actually going to have a whole (teaching) unit around my trip,” Green said.

“We’re going to spend three or four weeks on it, and one of the things we’re going to talk about is the Chichen Itza pyramids. I find that they’re very fascinated by that,” she said.

In addition to this year’s winners, Zachary Elementary teachers Brandie McNabb, Melanie Alexander, Leah Boulton and April Smith won Fund for Teacher grants last year to attend several workshops on cooperative learning at the Kagan Summer Academy in Orlando, Fla.

Grant helps Russell County teacher take trip to Germany, France, Netherlands

Russell County educator Pam Williamson recently returned from 17 days in Europe where she country-hopped from Germany to France to the Netherlands in an RV alongside her husband, Steve.

But this trip was not a jet-set vacation. It was more of an extended field trip for a veteran teacher in the name of lifelong learning, which was funded by a nonprofit that helps educators follow their dreams.

Williamson, a media specialist at Russell County High School, applied for and received a Fund for Teachers fellowship. The group awards teachers funds to pursue experiences to enhance their teaching.

Williamson’s fellowship included visiting WWII sites and locations where fairy tales originated, a.k.a the Fairy Tale Trail.

“I will never teach fairy tales or WWII again in the same way,” she said. “I just have a whole different view.”

Williamson said she saw information about the program in her school’s office and decided to apply. She started her application in September and finished in February. During the lengthy process, her application evolved from simply following the Fairy Tale Trail, as other fellows had done, to incorporating WWII sites.

She said she was writing the grant while students were learning about WWII and were required to create a presentation on the war. Williamson said she could help them develop the visual components but when it came to the subject matter she felt inadequate.

Her grandfather fought and died in WWII, and Williamson wanted to learn more about the area where he had spent so much time before his death.

Williamson’s grandfather was killed in the Battle of Philippsbourg, which she visited on her trip.

“Being in those places, especially WWII sites, was a really moving experience, being able to walk where my grandfather had walked,” Williamson said.

In her travels, Williamson happened to meet a woman from Philippsbourg who remembered the liberation by American troops.

“Meeting her and getting to talk to her and getting to find out my granddaddy was part of something more than the war. He was saving families’ lives,” she said, later adding, “It was just so moving to know. I will never talk to kids about WWII in the same way.”

Traveling by RV also gave Williamson a memorable experience she’ll take back to students. It gave her a real taste of the culture, she said. Her husband, who paid his own way on the trip, did all the driving. They navigated through obscure countrysides and winding roads with the help of GPS.

She also made a point to blog the entire trip, no small task considering the busy schedule.

Williamson said without the Fund for Teachers fellowship that experience wouldn’t have been possible.

Carrie Pillsbury, a Fund for Teachers spokeswoman, said the fellowship serves “teachers who are lifelong learners seeking out opportunities to grow and explore so they can bring that back to their classroom.”

Her organization, which is in its 10th year, has given $14.2 million to 4,000 teachers since its inception. Participants are eligible for up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for a group.

“We really validate teachers’ visions, visions for their classrooms, and we empower them with an opportunity they might not otherwise be able to experience,” she said.

The group will begin accepting applications for next summer in October.

Selection committees across the country evaluate the applications and choose recipients.

In the past, Fund for Teachers has had fellowships include everything from conferences and seminars to global exploration.

“I think nationally we are unique because we trust the teachers to propose what they need,” Pillsbury said. “Many other fellowship programs or grants restrict a teacher.”

She said there are no restrictions or stipulations on what teachers can do or where they can go.

Williamson, who was among 400 fellows selected to complete projects this summer, said her trip was the “chance of a lifetime.”

“It was an unbelievable learning experience. The one thing for kids to know is teachers keep on learning also,” Williamson said, adding it’s crucial to be a lifelong learner.

“That’s something we all really need to stress for kids. We all keep on learning and teachers, most importantly, need to keep on learning.”

FFT Fellow Runs into Travel Idol in Norway

Kristin Nazario, teacher at West Bronx Academy for the Future, framed much of her FFT proposal around Rick Steves’ philosophy of traveling, and even posted two of his videos on her blog while fulfilling her fellowship in Scandinavia where she’s learning about its successful educational system. So when she bumped into Mr. Steves disembarking a ferry in Helsinki, Ms. Nazario almost dropped her ice cream cone.

“I stopped for an ice cream cone and sauntered lazily towards the ferry to check the next departure from Soumenlinna, an island with a fortress here in Helsinki,” blogged Kristin. “I got there just as another ferry was unloading and proceeded to walk right by Rick Steves. I said hello, and we chatted very briefly. I expressed regret that I only had his Norway book with me on this trip. He said he hoped the Norway book was helpful and I told him it was and that we did his Norway in a Nutshell. He said, “We’re filming a TV show in Helsinki,” and was on his busy way.”

Last summer, Mr. Steves inspired Kristin with his book, Travel as a Political Act, writing: “Travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped. It has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world.” “I hold the same philosophy,” said Kristin. “While others look forward to the typical tourist sites, I try to travel through the back door, as Steves would say. The Coliseum and Eiffel Tower are worthy and beautiful destinations, but I’ve always been more excited by my own cultural discoveries, such as an invitation to a Belgian birthday party or a visit to a middle school in Japan. Through my backpacking adventures, I try to live like a local, gaining new perspectives.”

Kristin adds, “As Rick Steves says, ‘Travel becomes a political act only if you actually do something with your broadened perspective once you return home.’ I have been looking into Scandinavian culture and the educational system as well as their integration of technology. What can I bring back for my students? I am looking forward to sharing my ideas and experiences with others — both about education and about Scandinavian culture…I have countless ideas for the classroom, both through philosophy and also the great connection between literature and art. As I’ve been to so many museums, I began to sketch English lesson plans for my students. My mind is brimming with new ideas and I’m refreshed and energized. Running into one of my idols was just the cherry on top of this sweet fellowship sundae.”

You may follow Kristin’s Fund for Teachers fellowship on her blog at