NHS teacher serves dual role as documentary filmmaker

Aaron Wright Gray
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN – Judith Blake haphazardly discovered her passion for film. It started with a membership in a food co-op. She wanted to publicize the benefits of being a member and thought that video might be a good medium.

To gain the skills needed to produce the video, she took classes at Norman Cable, where she learned movie-making basics and discovered her knack for producing films. She continued her education by taking classes at Rose State College.

“So, then, I started producing all over the place,” Blake said.

She began with the community access channel, but soon extended her passion into Norman, filming “The River Crossing 1889-1989,” her first documentary, narrated by James Garner, in honor of the Norman Centennial.

Following this documentary, Blake made several more before deciding she wanted to share her love of film with others through teaching. She got her certificate and began teaching speech, drama and yearbook at Alcott Middle School in 1997.

In 2002, she reached her goal of teaching television production at Norman High School. Blake serves as adviser to the student program “Tiger Den,” as well.

But teaching didn’t hold Blake back from producing her own work. As part of a Hitachi teacher exchange program, Blake created the film “A Mosaic of Japan,” which won a Marshall Gregory Award from the Oklahoma Education Association.

In the summer of 2009, she received a $5,000 grant from Fund for Teachers to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to film a documentary focusing on four different schools in the city.

Blake said the question she wanted the film to answer was, “What do our high school kids look like compared to Cape Town, South Africa?”

The work is titled “Ubuntu, Sharing Voices from Cape Town, South Africa.” It is currently in the final stages of completion.

Parts of this documentary will be shown at the Cinematic Artists of Norman meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday at Norman High School Fine Arts Building.

During, “An Evening with Judith Blake,” Blake will address the group of local filmmakers and film affiliates about her film career. The first CAN meeting for the public is free.

When it comes to maintaining a balance between teaching and producing her own work, Blake said they go hand-in-hand.

“I think it makes me a better teacher,” Blake said, noting that producing her own work puts her in the shoes of the students. She faces trials, such as learning new equipment, experimenting with various styles and having film plans suddenly change.

Experience, Blake said, translates into the classroom.

“You have to stay a step ahead. And the best way to learn anything is to do it,” she said.

Fund for Teachers Helps Teachers Travel the World

Grantwrangler.com

What will you do this summer? A learning odyssey may be just the journey you need to rejuvenate and energize your teaching. Funds for Teachers, a national, donor-supported grant giver, honors the professionalism of dedicated teachers with a unique fellowship program to help teachers travel the world. They fund life-long learning opportunities for teachers to transform learning for their students.

Design Your Own Journey
Our Fellows use $5,000 individual grants or $10,000 team grants to explore ideas, terrains and cultures on all 7 continents,” said Stephanie Ascherl, Supervisor, External Relations. “Each Fund for Teachers fellowship application is as unique as the teacher who designed it.

Beth Mowry, a 2010 Fellow, pursued her interest in paleontology by joining a dinosaur dig in Wyoming. The staff paleontologist offered to send her home with 150+ million year old dinosaur bones for her students to study. Not only did the fellowship transform Mowry’s classroom, she presented her work at a poster session at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology.

“My Fund for Teachers grant changed my life,” Mowry writes. “I’m a do-er and a teacher…I’m networking and currently have a list of at least 20 paleontologists from around the WORLD who are willing to support our kids.”

10 Years of Supporting Teachers
Over the past decade, Funds for Teachers has invested more than $14 million in 4,000 preK-12 educations, creating a rich pool of project ideas. The teacher project online search tool allows you to search by keyword, subject area, year or location to get ideas and connect with local Fellows.

Not only do teachers pursue an individual odyssey, they become part of a larger network. An online forum at Fund for Teachers encourages Fellows to share experiences, curriculum ideas, travel tips and thoughts about fellowships.

Winning Applications
Eligible teachers in 18 program locations around the country apply online to be a fellow for the upcoming summer. (Check for eligibility.) Applicants are asked to describe the object of their odyssey and reflect on how the proposed experience will make a difference for them as teachers, for their students, and for their community.

Applications are judged by a regional selection committee made up of past grant winners, community members, local district or school administrators, and donors. Using a scoring rubric, judges evaluate applications to find the programs that will have the greatest impact on participating teachers, their students, and their communities. (View the scoring rubric.) Fund for Teachers receives about 1,500 applications each year and awards an average of 20% of those applicants.

“Turning away teachers who are actively seeking ways to improve their practice is the most challenging aspect of our work,” said Ascherl. “While we can’t accept applications from every teacher, the projects we are able to fund make an enormous difference in our Fellow’s teaching and in their students learning.”

Resources
Fund for Teachers grant application are due at the end of January for the following summer. Applications for summer 2011 are due Friday, January 28th.

Start your application today: www.fundforteachers.org

o find more summer grants, go to Grant Wrangler Search and select Professional Development in the category drop-down.

An Interview with Karen Kovach Webb: Fund for Teachers

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

Fund for Teachers has an important contribution to make toward an expanded notion of what constitutes teacher’s professional development.

Karen, what exactly is this FUND FOR TEACHERS and where does this money come from?

Fund for Teachers has an important contribution to make toward an expanded notion of what constitutes teacher’s professional development. Quality, depth and authentic work with purposeful processes, skills and craftsmanship that will directly impart student learning as proposed by an individual or a team of teachers is what we aspire to fund with each of our grants. We are a donor supported public not-for-profit set up to fund the continuing, self-designed professional development and scholarly exploration of teachers. Research shows that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors for student achievement.

Founded ten years ago by Raymond Plank in an effort to change the learning experiences of American students; Fund for Teachers received seminal funding, along with early introductions to energy sector peers, from Apache Corporation. We continue to grow and diversify our outreach in alignment with an ever expanding donor base of individuals and corporations and an increasing number of strategic partnerships forged with a geographically diverse group of local education foundations.

Tell us about the application procedures- how many sheets of paper have to be filled out and can this be done on line?

Applications and the scoring rubric are available online, October 1st, through the January 28th deadline. Applicants fill out two online forms, and the proposal, which is comprised of seven sections. Proposals cannot exceed 18,000 characters (around 4 typed pages). The Fund for Teachers application is incredibly user friendly, and we take pride in our simple, but effective proposal requirements. Many grants seem overwhelming, strictly because of the application process. In addition to FAQ’s and very specific instructional information; the applicants may also participate in frequent webinars or attend local information sessions in person. Fund for Teachers has removed the “hoops” that so often prohibit teachers from applying.

Is this only for teachers or can guidance counselors, and computer support people also apply?

Our grants are available to PreK-12th grade “teachers” who have three years teaching experience and spend at least 50% of their fulltime position in a classroom or classroom like setting. Librarians, counselors and technology specialists who engage in classroom instruction with students for half of their work week are eligible.

Do you encourage national investigation or international?

We encourage teachers to make that decision for themselves. Some of the best work can take place in a teachers own “back yard”—if that is where they determine their questions can be answered. What makes Fund for Teachers so special, is the belief in a teacher’s knowledge and choice of what learning experience will be the best for their personal and professional growth AND what will translate into the most beneficial experience for their students and communities.

Could you just give us a few sample projects to whet the interest of teachers out there?

Fund for Teachers Fellowships are as unique as the teachers who design them. Here are a few:

  • Travel to England to explore the world of Harry Potter to bring literature to life in the classroom.
  • Study and chronicle early Roman architecture in order to enhance and enliven the teaching of mathematics through visual imagery.
  • Paddle a sea kayak the entire length of the Lower Mississippi River to conduct scientific research and develop a river ecology unit.
  • Follow the path of Georgia O’Keeffe across TX and NM looking at art, petro glyphs and pictographs, and attending a workshop at Ghost Ranch and International Folk Art Market.

Let’s face it- we would all like a vacation in Iceland, I mean Hawaii- but what are you looking for in terms of these grants?

Successful Fund for Teachers’ Fellowship proposals show evidence for the possibilities of both personal and professional growth for the teacher scholar, as well as project the potential impacts on their students’ learning. The rigor of the application is complimented by the rigor of the scoring rubric. The step by step on-line process allows the teacher to review both sets of criteria prior to making application.

How many people read and review these grants?

Applications are reviewed by committee assembled in each program locale of diverse group of community members. Each application is independently read and scored by a cluster of at least three individuals. Final scoring is determined by “cluster” group discussion. Last year, there were nearly 200 readers nationally. The same scoring rubric and selection process is used across the country. Funding is a collaborative decision based solely on the merit of the proposal as evaluated by the local cluster and the funds available. Committee members include past grant winners, donors, school or district leaders, and community volunteers.

Do you have a web site where teachers can get more information?

Teachers and all other interested parties are invited to visit www.fundforteachers.org.. Information may also be obtained by calling 800 681-2667 or by email to info@fundforteachers.org.

And what do you have for college professors to expand their horizons?

Fund for Teachers’ grants are designed specifically for PreK-12th grade teachers.

Young Entrepreneurs Learn Their Craft at English

The high school’s Entrepreneurship Class hosted a community-wide Holiday Bazaar.

Wagner Ríos
Jamaicaplain.patch.com

On Thursday, 22 English High Entrepreneurship Class students tested their newly-acquired business acumen by offering a variety of items for sale at the high school.

There was a festive atmosphere with dozens of youths — either Entrepreneurship Class participants or organizers and helpers — exhibiting a variety of items in colorful displays, and encouraging the public to make their holiday purchases. Class participants where distinguishable by their business attire.

Program organizers Meredith Innis and Wendy Lai lived and studied micro entrepreneurship (business initiatives funded with very small amounts of capital) in the Dominican Republic as 2010 Fund for Teachers Fellows.

The Fund for Teachers provides resources for educators to investigate their own areas of inquiry and then share their research and discoveries with their students. Both English High Entrepreneurship Class founders are now applying their learning to help students explore business opportunities.

Shortly after 10:00 am customers begun trickling in.

Lai explained that “A group of 22 students received a $50 loan each from the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and after a careful market analysis purchased season items such as warm cloths, sports memorabilia, jewelry, gadgets popular with high school students like phone chargers, etc. The goal is to make a profit from the sale of the merchandise, part of which will be invested in micro entrepreneurship programs in developing countries.”

“I enrolled in the program” said student Armando Cruz, “to explore career choices: to decide whether I want to go into business by myself or into management; to look into different possibilities.”

The program provides a combination of classroom instruction and real world experience. The class studied business principles during the fall, and then traveled to New York City’s Garment District to purchase the items that were for sale at the bazaar.

The Entrepreneurship Class runs a store at English High where students and faculty may purchase refreshments and other convenient items. The outlet provides students with hands-on experience in the basics of running a business.

The public had an opportunity to see future business leaders of Jamaica Plain and other areas of Boston in action, displaying their recently learned business skills and polished professionalism.

View more photos.

Face to Face With Karen Kovach Webb, Executive Director, Fund for Teachers

Christine Hall
Houston Business Journal

Karen Kovach Webb teamed with Apache Corp. founder Raymond Plank to bring his personal initiative of recognition and reward for school teachers to the public in 2001. The resulting foundation, Fund for Teachers, aims to enrich teachers’ lives by offering them the opportunity to self-design summer sabbatical experiences, returning to the classroom re-energized in ways that impact students on a daily basis. To date, Fund for Teachers has granted over $14 million to over 4,000 teachers working in 47 states. In addition to positions in the corporate arena and as a small business owner, Webb has worked in nonprofit management, strategic planning and development for over 25 years. She has served on various community school boards and concerned citizens and advocacy groups that seek to ensure adequate resources and opportunities for basic services and education. She was interviewed by Christine Hall.

How did the Fund for Teachers program get started?

During the early 1980s, Raymond Plank, having been the fortunate beneficiary of many good teachers in his life, chose to honor the influential role those teachers played in his success by establishing a modest fund at his Minneapolis high school. Fast-forward to 2001: It was serendipitous; I was ready for a new professional challenge when Raymond approached me with the idea of scaling up his pilot program. From idea to pilot program to today: Fund for Teachers has grown from inspiration to a Houston-based, national public nonprofit program that helps teachers from across the country pursue their own self-designed learning opportunities.

How do you think Houston is advancing beyond other cities or markets in terms of education?

It is hard to ignore the national debate about education reform and its impact on the economy, today and tomorrow. Houston, like cities across the country, is facing the challenge to determine and sustain effective school improvement that will equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the globally driven marketplace. A pause for reflection should be part of the deliberations as we all determine the best path forward.

What is the organization doing to supply the area with a quality base of employable people?

One in four Americans is in a school building every day. Research proves that teachers make schools successful. Fund for Teachers attributes its growth to the concerted effort to define our partnering relationships with corporate supporters and local education foundations with a commitment to shared purposes. To reach teachers across the country we affiliate with various locally based education reform groups. Fund for Teachers is somewhat unique in mission and program. We give money directly to teachers for the work that they know will most directly impact their efforts. We have been successful in bringing education reform groups from New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and other places together in collaboration around our mission and granting program to foster teacher growth and learning and thereby student growth and learning. The definition and scope of “community” grows exponentially through the constructive exchanges around our “table” – teachers and students benefit immediately.

And how is the private sector, i.e. companies and corporations, reciprocating?

We use the same approach with our donors. The Houston corporate community, led by Apache, cradled FFT: Its continuing support has served as the model and inspiration for national funders. Employers have a stake in hiring future graduates who are high achievers. The purpose of business cannot separate from the purposes of education. As companies struggle to articulate and act on value propositions, Fund for Teachers provides them with a way to support teachers and education directly, with immediate impact. Our teachers’ stories are proof that doing the “right thing” is good for business. Corporations feed the pipeline to the future. Let me give you an example: Understanding that a mastery of math concepts is integral to competing on the global business front; Steve Farris, chairman and CEO of Apache, started the Fund for Teachers Pi Society. He challenged other CEOs to join him in pledging funding earmarked specifically for math-related fellowships hoping to inspire the current generation of math students through their teachers.

What’s next for the organization?

As I look to the next decade, I know that Fund for Teachers must remain focused on achieving our goals and vigilant measuring our progress. We are nowhere near the fulfillment of our aspirations for a full-scale national coverage program making self-designed learning opportunities available to all professional teachers charged with guiding our future. Our continued successful partnerships will allow us to recruit the donors and local education partners aligned around that purpose. I am confident that the Fund for Teachers’ community table will expand and grow in positive, inspiring ways. Without doubt, more students will benefit from teachers who have explored their own curiosity and deepened their own scholarship. This is my passion.

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Health & Fitness magazine Fitness Enthusiast participates in Fund Run

Clair Maciel
Healthandfitnessmag.com

Running in February’s 5K Fund Run for Teachers has become an annual tradition for Christa Blyth. But she doesn’t do it solely for the purpose of staying fit. She runs as a representative of the many Houston teachers who have benefited from this local event and to give back to an organization that provided her with the experience of a lifetime.

In the summer of 2006, Blyth, a teacher in the Spring Branch ISD, received a grant from Fund for Teachers (Fundforteachers.org), a non-profit organization that raises money through the Fund Run and awards grants to teachers to support their professional growth and learning. With her grant, Blyth had the opportunity to travel to Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, a trip she said inspired her as a teacher and enabled her to share her amazing experience with her students.

“Teachers don’t necessarily have a lot of opportunities to explore the world, but this organization really gives teachers the chance to experience new cultures,” Blyth said. “It’s a great, great cause, and as a past recipient of the grant, I wanted to support the group by running this year.”

Blyth, 29, has her plate full as a mother of two, a 5-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, a day job as an eighth grade history teacher at Northbrook Middle School, and all the responsibilities of a graduate student pursuing a degree in administration to eventually become a school principal. And to maintain the energy to keep up with juggling all of her roles, she makes regular exercise a priority whenever she can fit it into her schedule.

“It’s important for me to exercise because I want to have a lot of energy during the day. I’m so busy that I have to exercise in order to keep up with my crazy schedule. I also do it because I enjoy having the time to myself.”

A native of Lafayette, La., Blyth admits she rarely took the time to exercise on a regular basis before she moved to Texas a few years ago.

“I wasn’t really into sports before. I didn’t start becoming athletic until I moved to Houston about three years ago. That’s when I decided I wanted to get in shape and start exercising regularly.”

These days, she makes it a point to squeeze in a run at least two or three times a week, whether it’s on a treadmill or at the local park. And if she’s not running, she and her sister will occasionally hit the bike trails and go for a ride together.

Not only does Blyth bike and run for exercise or to support a good cause, she also participates in running events simply for the fun of it. “I’ve also done the Women’s Race in Austin for the past two years. It’s so much fun because it’s a two-woman team event where you partner up with someone and compete against other teams in running, walking, some mind games and a water activity. We have so much fun doing that.”

Of course, Blyth is not the only one in the family who has taken up the athletic lifestyle. It seems her two children are following closely in her footsteps. Her son has started playing T-ball, her daughter is active in dance and both enjoy riding bikes.

It’s that kind of activity Blyth said she tries to encourage in her children, not only because it’s healthy, but also because she sees the importance of staying fit even at a young age.

“I definitely promote a healthy lifestyle with my kids. I’m very conscientious of their health and what they eat. I’d much rather have them playing outside and running around than sitting inside in front of the TV.”

View photos.