TN Teacher Makes News, Promotes FFT Grants

Prior to an event recognizing the learning of our Chattanooga Fellows, a local new station highlighted the fellowship of one teacher who pursued literacy instruction at Columbia University. Watch her interview here.

Washington Post: Teachers hit the road

Teachers hit the road over the summer to recharge, build new skills

Original article appears on, accessible here.

Posted on July 28, 2015

By: Michael Alison Chandler

For teachers across the country, the summer months mean training, not just vacation. They get called back to school to learn about the latest curriculum, reading strategies or behavior-management techniques.

And every summer, hundreds of teachers embark on their own professional development that they design themselves to pursue research or enhance their instruction, and they apply for grants to pay for them. Often, such training happens far from their schools, taking them to the rain forests of Costa Rica or to drumming circles in Brazil for field research and new skills that they can share when they return.

“We ask teachers to tell us, ‘What do you need to be better with your students and your school and your community, and how are you going to share what you learned?’ ” said Karen Webb, executive director of the Houston-based Fund for Teachers, which gives teachers grants to pay for their professional development plans.

The individual grants, in amounts of up to $5,000 for individual teachers and up to $10,000 for teams of teachers, help them pinpoint specific needs as they’re happening. The projects also can give teachers a way to recharge and reconnect with their passions and interests as scholars — an energy that they bring back to the classroom, she said.

Started in 2001 by Raymond Plank, founder of Apache Corp., an oil and gas company, the fund has given out $23.5 million to 6,300 preschool through high school teachers who have pursued research in 141 countries. This year it paid $1.8 million to 487 teachers.

Teachers in the District have participated in an excavation of the ancient Roman port city Ostia, an experience that aims to help students connect with Roman history, and have visited Hiroshima, Japan, where an atomic bomb was dropped, to create an educational documentary about history and cultural memory.

This summer, they are studying conflict resolution in Israel, the Arabic language in Morocco and martial arts in Brazil. One teacher from Capital City Public Charter School is traveling in Tanzania and Kenya to learn about Masai culture so she can build on a project offered at her school.

Another teacher from Paul Public Charter School traveled to Accra, Ghana, to learn about a “Reusable Bag Project,” so she can promote recycling and social entre­pre­neur­ship back home.

Heidi Batchelder, a reading specialist at Capital City, took part in two training opportunities to learn how to respond to students who have experienced trauma, as a number of students who live in poverty have, and to learn about the effect trauma can have on learning. She attended workshops in the District and at nearby Eastern Mennonite University and plans to share what she learned with other teachers when she returns to school.

She said that the training has given her some tools to help students in ways that are not solely academic. In the past, she said, if students shared something difficult from their personal life, she did not always know how to respond.

“I’m not a therapist, and that’s okay, but I can still put in place things that are therapeutic for my students,” she said.

Some teachers, like Batchelder, use the grants for workshops or course work that they pursue close to home.

Michael Martini, a world geography teacher at Alice Deal Middle School, said he seeks out travel opportunities whenever possible. He recently returned from a trip to Western Europe, where he studied organizations dedicated to international cooperation.

With stops in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland, he visited the International Red Cross and the International Olympic Committee, respectively. In Paris, he visited UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. And in Brussels, he met with someone at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters and toured the European Union Parliament.

He learned about different forms of diplomacy, through sportsmanship or trade or humanitarian aid, and he is bringing back ideas for new lessons and assignments for his students and those who are members of his Model United Nations club. For example, he plans to ask his students to nominate new landmarks to be recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“I want my students to understand they can find diverse ways of connecting with people across the world,” he said.

$10K Trip for Education

2 N.J. teachers won a $10K trip to Fiji for education

Original article appears on, accessible here

Posted August 12, 2015

By: Laura Herzog

JERSEY CITY – When Learning Community Charter School teachers Emily Litman and Joan Buonafide received word this April that they had won a $10,000 grant to go to Fiji, it was an out-of-body experience.

“(Emily) came flying down the hall,” said Buonafide, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher. “It was like ‘Oh my God.’ It was unbelievable.”

Earlier this year, they were discussing proposals for an educational travel grant fromFund for Teachers, an organization Litman found online that has invested $22 million in nearly 6,000 teachers. Fiji was their shoot-for-the-stars dream destination, the teachers said.

To continue reading, click here

Contra Costa Times: Oakland Teachers Receive Grants

Six Oakland school teachers receive summer professional development grants

Original article appears on Contra Costa Times, accessible here

Posted: 07/07/2015

By Theresa Harrington

OAKLAND — Six Oakland school district teachers from five schools have received summer professional development grants through the Fund for Teachers.

The grants were awarded based on the teachers’ ideas for training to help them inspire students when they return to their classrooms.

To continue reading, click here

To Eat, or Not to Eat? That Is the Question on Class Pets

To Eat, or Not to Eat? That Is the Question on Class Pets
Students debate whether to kill the fish they cared for

Original article appears on The Wall Street Journal, accessible here.

Posted: Tuesday, June 2, 2015

This year, the seventh- and eighth-graders at Ella Baker, a public school on the Upper East Side, have painstakingly cared for a tank of tilapia. They monitored the ammonia levels of the 120-gallon fish tank, rationed daily food pellets, and refreshed the water at least twice a month.

The tilapia have been fine fish, the students agree.

Now they are trying to decide whether to eat them.

In recent years, classrooms across the U.S. have begun experimenting with school gardens, growing produce for consumption by students. A handful of private schools offer access to farms, where students milk cows and herd sheep that might later be eaten.

But the students at Ella Baker have added a spin to the local-food movement, asking whether it is ethical to raise a class pet—and then eat it.

The project is the brainchild of math teacher Michael Paoli. It is part math, part ethics and part science.

The fish tank fertilizes a vertical garden of vegetables growing above the tank. Mr. Paoli had received a grant to study aquaponic systems in Europe from the nonprofit group Fund for Teachers. His students have calculated the amount of weight the garden structure can hold and the right ratios of water to dechlorinating liquid.

“You want to make something matter,” Mr. Paoli said. “I want to think of it as an idea that matters to everybody and math is one of the ways we can learn about it.”

But looming over the year has been the prospect of a summer barbecue, leading to heated classroom discussions and occasional tears.

In a recent class, the debate still raged.

Class pets had died before, and without causing deep emotions, some students pointed out. They sensed hypocrisy.

“Suddenly this one fish matters?” asked 14-year-old Raven Garcia.

It is different to actively kill the pets instead of watching them die accidentally or of natural causes, others responded.

“It’s taking a life,” said  Julianna Angalada, 13.

You eat meat, some advocates of eating the fish noted. It shouldn’t make a difference whether you buy fish in a supermarket or kill it in a classroom. It is still dead.

But we raised them, the argument went on. It does make a difference.

That wasn’t true for everyone. Raven said she spent summers in Puerto Rico with her family. She grew used to raising chickens, caring for them and slaughtering them for dinner, she said.

“Eventually things are going to go and things are going to die,” she said her family taught her. “You might as well make use of how they go.”

Emilia Cooper, 12, said she aspires to be a doctor, and that meant she straddled the class divide. She favored killing the fish, but only so she could dissect them.

“I don’t want to eat them,” she said. “I just want to kill them.”

In a twist for Mr. Paoli’s project, the tilapia won’t be big enough to be grilled until next year. So he bought five full-size fish, all of which would have been ready to be eaten. Four died, however, and on a recent morning, the survivor swam around a second tank, puckering its mouth at students who watched.

Kaila Ayala, 13, said if the class decided to kill the fish she would stay home.

“Who are we to kill this fish?” she said. The tilapia darted behind a pipe. “Look how cute they are.”

Hiram Scott, 13, said the debate had forced him to reconsider his positions. During an earlier discussion, he was adamant the fish should be killed. Whether the class personally killed them or not, “they’re still going to die,” he said.

Now, he wasn’t so sure.

Unlike with packaged supermarket fish, “We have the choice and the option to kill this fish or let it live,” he said. “I think there is a difference because we have a choice.”

J. Nicholas Tarr, 13, who argued against the killings, said he would come to school if the fish were to die.

He would feel like “I could have worked harder to convince people they shouldn’t be killed,” he said. “It would be partially my responsibility and I feel like I would be a coward to not see them die.”

Write to Sophia Hollander at


Appreciating Newest Fellow Class

Appreciating Teachers With Checks, Not Tchotchkes
Fund for Teachers hands teachers checks totaling $1.8 million for self-designed summer fellowships

May 5, 2015 (HOUSTON) A wooden apple necklace, “I love my teacher” coffee mug or $10,000? Fund for Teachers appreciates educators by distributing grants of up to $10,000 for self-designed summer fellowships. Over the past two weeks, 475 teachers in 35 states and the District of Columbia received checks and the message: “You’re worth a $1.8 million investment and so are your students.”

Each fall, the national not-for-profit invites preK-12 public, private and parochial school educators to analyze learning gaps and propose unique solutions for bridging them. The 2015 Fund for Teachers Fellows designed odysseys ranging from a local dyslexia workshop to an archaeological dig in Ireland.

  •  “This kind of professional development lets teachers grapple with big ideas and inject deeper learning into their classrooms,” said Chris Dolgos (Rochester, NY) who will research across the United Kingdom public works projects from the Classical to Modern Eras.
  • “This fellowship gives me control over the type of professional development I want and need,” said Michelle Rahn (Claremore, OK) who will participate in Science in the Rockies teacher training.
  •   “The opportunity to conduct fieldwork in India is career-affirming because I’m able to incorporate international research and outside perspectives into student work while recharging my teaching,” said Paul Creager, Saint Paul, MN.
  • “We’re thrilled to not only broaden our own horizons studying Apartheid in South Africa, but, more importantly, to share these experiences with our students to enrich their educational journeys,” said Karis Parker and Princeston Grayson (Raytown, MO).

A complete list of 2015 Fellows, their schools and fellowships is available on the organization’s website.

“We believe teachers know best what they need to maintain a level of excellence,” said Karen Webb, FFT executive director. The self-initiated/self-designed nature of our fellowships contrasts with traditional professional development and our Fellows return to classrooms more energized, informed and effective.”

Fund for Teachers is one of the largest funders of teacher learning in the country, investing $24 million in more than 6,500 teachers since 2001. For information about the application process, grant recipients or student outcomes, visit

About Fund for Teachers
Fund for Teachers supports preK-12 teachers’ pursuit of learning experiences that impact their practice, students and school communities. By awarding grants for self-designed fellowships, Fund for Teachers empowers educators as professionals, role models, explorers and scholars.

Click here for a one-minute motion graphic video depicting how educators use Fund for Teachers grants to bridge learning gaps, inspire students and change the world.

Local teacher ‘turns off’ lights so that South Africans can ‘turn on’ theirs

Local teacher ‘turns off’ lights so that South Africans can ‘turn on’ theirs

Original article appears on Citizen Standard, accessible here.

Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2015

Managing Editor

VALLEY VIEW – Tri-Valley High school teacher Pam Ulicny has teamed up with a solar energy entrepreneur to develop a financially feasible way for South Africans in poverty to afford clean, safe solar power as a substitute for conventionally used kerosene lanterns.

During a trip to South Africa in 2011 (courtesy of the Toyota International Teacher Program), ‘Mrs. U.’ as she is referred to by her high school students, was lucky enough to have the trip of a lifetime. It was during that trip that her life was forever changed.

To continue reading about Mrs. U and her fellowship, click here.

Fellowship let two teachers expand their knowledge

Fellowship let two teachers expand their knowledge

Original article appears on Stillwater News Press, accessible here.

Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stillwater News Press

Two teachers, Susan Weaver, Highland Park Elementary and Sheila McMurry, Meridian Technology Center, were awarded grants by Fund for Teachers to use on summer fellowships.

What fellowship will you be doing?

Weaver: I will be participating in Cedarsong’s Forest Kindergarten Teacher Training Program on Vashon Island, Washington. Their mission is to “inspire and educate others about how to successfully implement a nature immersion program” with young children. I will be working with the school’s director, Erin Kenny, an expert in integrating a commitment to nature time every day within preschool programs.

McMurry:  She will spend a week in Burbank, California, working side-by-side with young filmmakers and industry experts to produce a short film.

To continue reading the Q&A with Weaver and McMurry, click here.