Bringing European Art to the Classroom

Samira Rizvi
Ultimate Katy

Trekking through Western Europe nearly three years ago, Nancy Hess was busy thinking how she could bring the experience back to her students at Katy Independent School District’s Griffin Elementary School.

By all accounts, Hess went over and beyond the call to duty and has recently been presented with one of only eight Plank Fellowship Awards in the nation. The award was in recognition of the programs she developed after her European visit as part of her Fund for Teachers fellowship and was awarded by Carrie Pillsbury from the Fund for Teachers program on National Teacher’s Day this month.

“The program uses your own creativity to set up your experience,” Hess explained. “I called mine ‘Walking in the Footsteps of the Masters’.”

The Fund for Teachers provides $5,000 grants for individual teachers or $10,000 grants for teams of two or more teachers. Hess’ fine arts grant was for a trip to Western Europe to study and observe the homes and workplaces of such artists and musicians as Mozart, Handel, Monet and Michelangelo. Her 2½-week visit included sites in France, Italy, Germany, Austria and England. Traveling with her on the 2007 trip was her daughter Ashley, 22, and a student at the time, who paid her own way.

Based in Houston, the national foundation takes applications each year from October through January, with awards announced in April, according to national director Karen Kovach Webb. Now in its 10th year, the Fund for Teachers provides the funds for experiences anywhere in the world for “self-designed learning experiences,” Webb said.

The Plank Fellowship Award acknowledges the programs teachers design using the information they have from their travels and was established in honor of Raymond Plank, the founder of Apache Corp. in Houston as well as the Fund for Teachers, Webb said.

“Plank wanted to positively impact the learning experience of students,” Webb explained, “and decided giving the awards to teachers would affect more students than giving an award to one student.”

There is one national winner, who receives a $1,000 stipend and several regional winners, each of whom receives $500. Hess is the fellowship winner for the Houston region, Webb said.

“The fellowships are available for teachers in pre-K to 12th-grade classrooms, who spend at least 50 percent of their time in the classroom,” Webb said. “There were 465 awarded this year, and 4,000 awards in the past 10 years. The total amount awarded this year was $1.9 million, given to 55 teachers in 38 different schools.”

Hess, 52, has been a teacher for 27 years, spending 14 of those years in Katy ISD schools. She has been at Griffin Elementary School since it opened in 2006. A graduate of University of Houston and a native of Houston, Hess has a master’s degree in elementary education. She is married to Rusty and is the mother of Ashley, now 24 and a graduate of University of Houston, and Dusten, 21, a University of Houston student. She is the teacher for Griffin Elementary School’s gifted and talented program.

“The benefit of the Fund for Teachers program was that I wanted to learn more about each of the artists and musicians I teach. For most of the kids, this isn’t their art or their music, but I want to teach them a love and recognition for this style of art and music.

The programs she devised at the end of her journey are taught through Power Point slide shows and some video, as well as some hands-on materials she brought back from Europe.

“Walking into the back of Claude Monet’s house is like walking into Disneyland,” she smiled. “It gives you the feeling of walking through there when he was there. So many subjects tie together, like architecture and architectural terms. When you like something you’ve done you love to talk about it. Being able to portray that to my students made it much more exciting for them.”

Points of interest on her trip included the Vatican, the Forum and the Colosseum in Rome and the city of Venice.

“I learned that Venice is where all the Renaissance artists went to study,” she said, “and the Dome of Basilica is an example of Michelangelo’s architecture.

Hess, who had applied twice for the Fund for Teachers award, said she received a lot of support from school administrators.

“I have a lot of great teachers on campus,” said Griffin Elementary School principal Jacki Keithan, “and she is definitely one of the greats.

“She went to Europe and brought back a lot of first-hand information. I have other teachers who have applied, who are looking for experiences that they can grow with and present to their students, but she is the first one I have had win.

“She’s done some really good things with kids this year.”

Part of the unit Hess teaches includes a “Living Museum.”

“I have the students pick an artist or musician or dancer who worked sometime before 1920,” Hess explained. “The students must research their person and dress up as that person. They are seated next to a ‘buzzer’ and when it is pressed, they have to stand up and give a presentation about that person. It’s like the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland. We had adults and students lined up in the hallways. Some of these kids were so into their characters you’d almost believe they’re real.”

According to national director Webb, the Fund for Teachers will be bringing Plank Fellowship winners together in June in a small town in Wyoming.

“We want them to help us look at how we ask teachers what they’re going to do with all this information when they get back from their journey.”

“A lot of people think, ‘wow, a European vacation’,” Hess laughed. “But it was a very fast-paced trip. I really appreciated being able to travel like that. Without the Fund for Teachers we wouldn’t be able to do that. But to have it be a learning experience is different from a vacation. If I went back I sure wouldn’t take it at as fast-paced as I did.”

Teachers to Share Travel Experiences with Students

Cathy Spaulding, Phoenix Staff Writer

Six area teachers will be able to open new worlds and cultures to their students next school year after returning from study trips sponsored by the Fund for Teachers.

The teachers were among 66 Oklahoma teachers to receive the fellowship grants awarded by Fund for Teachers, through the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Tulsa Community Foundation. Each year, Fund for Teachers awards grants to enable teachers to experience summer learning treks and bring their experiences to their students.

These area teachers received grants:

• Tony Goetz Elementary School resource specialist Cheri Fite will go to England and explore the world of literary hero Harry Potter in an effort to bring literature to life in her classroom.

• Tahlequah High School career-technology teacher Brenda McClain will visit World War II locations in Germany and collect video, photographs and global positioning coordinates.

• Paula Galbraith, Vanessa Gilley and Delicia White of Eufaula Elementary School will go to Costa Rica and learn how the indigenous Indian culture compares to Oklahoma’s Native American culture.

Fite said she wants her trip to show her students the differences not only between the United States and England, but also between fact and fiction. She said she will visit many of the places mentioned in the books or shown in the movies based on the books.

“I’m going to take pictures all over England,” she said. “I’m going to the train station at King’s Crossing, where Harry Potter left on Platform Nine and Three-Fourths. I’ll show there is a Platform 9 and a Platform 10, but Harry’s platform is fictional. I’ll show that the witchcraft and wizardry in the books are fictional.”

Fite said many of her students have reading disabilities.

“A lot of my kids struggle. So one of the things I’m going to show is how Harry Potter struggled with things such as learning to fly the broom,” she said. “I’ll show that he never gave up on what he wanted to accomplish.”

She said she’ll also use the trip to answer students’ questions such as, how do people in England get around or how do they buy things.

The Eufaula teachers said they will find all sorts of things during their 11-day trip to Costa Rica. For example, they will collect data on sea turtles that lay eggs on the beach and learn about reforestation programs. The three also will spend time with a family belonging to the Bribri tribe in Central America.

“We want to compare their life with the Native American culture we have here,” Galbraith said. “We could bring back artifacts to donate to the library with video records of sounds and games.”

The three also will do some in-service training for other teachers.

“A main purpose of our visit is conservation and the need to care for the environment,” Galbraith said.

The teachers said the grant is worth about $10,000.

“We’re very excited about it,” White said.

At Tahlequah, McClain will use global positioning systems, geographic information systems and podcasting to help her students learn technology and her fellow instructors teach history. McClain said she had lived in Germany for six and a half years.

She said the GPS will use longitude and latitude to find a location while the GIS will plat the location on a map. She said she also will take pictures and video, which students will be able to make into a podcast, which history and English teachers could use.

“I’m really excited, because this allows me the opportunity to use history and incorporate technology into it,” she said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

Oklahoma Fellow Gives Unique History Lesson

Darla Splike
The Oklahoman

PONCA CITY – When she was in the eighth grade, Maurisa Pruett asked a friend to join an invitation-only group at their school.

Other group members rejected the girl because of the color of her skin, Pruett said. It was 1978, and segregation was illegal. Pruett got no support from adults she consulted, so she ended up quitting the club.

But the situation changed her outlook.

Now a science teacher at East Middle School in Ponca City, Pruett uses that experience to teach her students about history and civil rights. “My hope is that they will be brave enough to take a stand if they’re ever in a situation that needs that to happen,” the Ponca City teacher said.

During a three- to four-week enrichment class called “Taking a Stand,” Pruett discusses historical movements and contemporary events where courageous individuals made a difference by standing up for what they believed in.

Pruett received a fellowship last summer to visit some of the places about which she teaches. She spent three weeks driving across part of the southern United States. She visited museums and historic sites along the way.

One of the most moving experiences on her trip was when she visited a slave museum and saw cramped quarters where slaves lived, Pruett said.

She said she was appalled by stories she heard about children whose job was to drink water from the rice paddies to make sure no salt was getting through when the paddies were flooded.

Visiting those sites and talking to people who had lived through the history has helped her to connect those experiences to her students in a more dynamic way, Pruett said.

“When you go there and you hear people’s stories, it starts to come to life,” Pruett said. “You feel how humid it was and how miserably hot in the summertime, and yet the people worked from sunup to sundown in terrible conditions.”

Those travel experiences fuel many of her class discussions.

On Friday, Pruett paused a civil rights documentary her eighth-grade students were watching to interject with a story from her summer travels.

She met a man in Birmingham, Ala., who lived there when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four girls in 1963. More than 45 years later, the man still got misty eyes as he recalled the chaos of that day, Pruett said.

Students said the class has been inspiring. “It’s really opened my eyes,” said eighth-grade student Lexi Smith. Smith said the stories make her want to visit some of those historic sites, too. Her classmate, Megan Alexander, agreed.

Alexander said many students at school forget that certain words or actions can be hurtful to others. Pruett’s class is a good reminder, Alexander said.

“I think more people should learn about this, and more people should be thinking about this,” Alexander said.

My Summer Vacation

A nonprofit organization allows teachers to bring the world back to their classrooms.

Roy Deering
Oklahoma Magazine

Mary Kathryn Moeller is an Oklahoman who considers London her “spiritual home.” After visiting the city full of history years ago, she vowed to someday return. This summer, thanks to the Fund for Teachers program and the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, she’ll have her chance.

Moeller is one of dozens of Oklahoma teachers taking exotic Fund for Teachers trips this summer, spending four weeks in London attending the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. For Moeller, it’s a chance to revisit her favorite city in the world.

“I am thrilled to be going back,” says the AP art history teacher at Jenks High School.

Fund for Teachers is a nonprofit group that funds summer sabbaticals for thousands of teachers across the country every year. The program is set up to enrich the personal and professional growth of teachers by recogniz- ing and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their prac- tice, the academic lives of their students and on their school communities.

Jenks art history teacher Mary Kathryn Moeller will visit London this summer thanks to the nonprofit group Fund for Teachers.

“I never realized my inner passion for art and art history until I started teaching the class three years ago,” Moeller says. “Now, I have this burning desire to learn more, to experi- ence it and to teach it to the best of my ability. This trip gives me the chance to do all of that.”

During her month-long stay at the Sothe- by’s Institute, Moeller will study contempo- rary art at one of the premier facilities in the world. Taking part in the Sotheby’s Institute will provide her with knowledge that cannot be learned anywhere else in the world, allow- ing her to better pass along this knowledge and passion to her students back in Jenks.

Audrey Nelson, French and Spanish teacher at Shawnee High School, is also liv- ing her dream through the Fund for Teachers program. Nelson, along with good friend and fellow teacher Kim Earle of Ada, will travel on horseback across the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain during their two- week excursion.

“I’m still pinching myself because it doesn’t seem possible,” Nelson says. “It’s like a fantasy that I’ve dreamed about and it’s really hard to believe it’s actually going to take place.”

Nelson and Earle will arrive in France in early June, spend two days in Paris and take a train to Bayonne where they will begin their week-long journey through the mountains. Riding five to seven hours per day, their tour group will cover hundreds of miles through some of the most incredible scenery on earth, following a pilgrimage route that has been used for thousands of years.

“This is the route that so many people throughout history have taken,” Nelson says. “This trip will not only allow us to see and experience the landscapes of this incredible region, but will help us to become engulfed in the culture and the language and allow us to be much more capable of teaching these cultures to our students when we return to Oklahoma.”

Oakland teacher brings African experience back to classroom

Elizabeth Skow
Oakland Tribune Correspondent

When she awoke each day in Mali, Oakland teacher Kathryn Parman took a bucket to the neighborhood spigot to fetch water for her shower. Then she sat with the community women and helped prepare food, an all-day affair in Mali.

Evenings, Parman, 31, tagged along with her host family’s son as he performed his duties as a Griot, a traditional Malian musician and oral historian, at celebrations and parties.

Parman, who teaches Humanities to seventh- and eighth-graders at Oakland’s Lighthouse Community Charter School, traveled to Mali and Ghana on a 2008 fellowship from Fund for Teachers, a nonprofit that sends teachers on self-designed summer sabbaticals around the globe.

“It was interesting to be in Africa,” Parman said. “I was surprised at how comfortable I was there. I felt at home right away.”

In March, Parman’s students will study Africa, focusing in particular on the history of West African music and its influence on American music. They will study traditional African music through spirituals, blues, jazz and hip-hop, and learn how it came from Africa to Oakland.

Parman has been interested in African-American history since she was a college student at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and always dreamed of traveling to Africa. She heard about the FFT fellowship from Lighthouse science and math teachers Megan Jensen and Robert Feldstein, who won a fellowship in 2007. They traveled to the Galapagos Islands to study science and urged Parman to apply last year.

Parman knew Africa was her destination.

She had a friend from Mali and his family invited her to visit with them in Bamako. The family has passed down traditional Griot music and storytelling skills for many generations. Parman said living with them gave her a firsthand look at traditional Malian life.

“There is a real sense of community and it’s organic and it’s natural and it’s necessary,” Parman said. “It’s really inspiring to see a different way of structuring your society that values community.”

She noted that “coming from a very individualistic society and going to a place like Mali where people are 100 percent dependent on one another (one notices) they have very tight-knit communities and everybody knows everybody.”

Creating a safe, tight-knit community is also a focus at Lighthouse Community Charter School, where about 80 percent of the students come from families that have severe financial challenges and 73 percent are English language learners.

In addition to academics, the students participate in an advisory “crew,” a group of 12 to 14 students plus an adviser, to practice community- and character-building skills and work on their guiding principles.

“Nothing will happen until we look at what makes people successful in groups. These kids are coming from Oakland, and that has its challenges. Some kids lack a stable, safe environment. So we need to create that safe environment here before we can do academic work,” Parman said.

Along with the broader study of Africa, Parman’s students also will study the African slave trade and look at people’s historic resistance to slavery.

Fund for Teachers enables teachers like Parman to enhance their teaching skills through the sabbatical program.

“Most good teachers become administrators eventually,” said Karen Kovach, executive director of FFT. “Our goal is to help good teachers stay inspired. We want to keep these teachers in the classroom.” She said FFT is trying to bridge the disconnect between the people with the money and those who need it, and going local is the only way to make that happen.

FFT fellows are chosen with help from local partners, in this case Oakland’s Marcus A. Foster Education Institute.

Leo Lamanna of MAFEI said that one-third of the selection panel is made up of former fellows, with the remainder being school administrators, community members and MAFEI donors. He said Fund for Teachers awarded 18 fellowships to Oakland teachers in 2008.

“Teaching can be a pretty thankless thing,” Parman said, “and if someone wants to give money to teachers, I am willing to take that money. If I go and have this experience and bring it to my students, that’s pretty powerful.”

The hardest thing about her job, said Parman, is keeping her life balanced. She helps create the curriculum for her classes as well as teaching, often putting in 60 to 70 hour weeks. She knows she can’t keep it up forever, so she hopes to create a system that is easier to follow when she’s no longer there.

To Parman, the most rewarding thing about being a teacher is “those ‘aha!’ moments, where they get something they didn’t get before. It’s great to see them gain confidence and buy into the possibilities that they have in life.”

Geography Teacher’s World Travels Provide Glimpses in Cultures for Students

Ed Mayberry
KUHF 88.7 FM – Houston Public Radio

A high school teacher at Thurgood Marshall high school in Missouri city spent time this summer in Brazil, studying fair trade coffee. This trip – and others like it – help her develop a curriculum that incorporates first-hand knowledge about the region.

World Geography teacher Lorelei Clark spent time studying how fair trade coffee comes to market after winning the trip to Brazil through a national competition.

“It was an essay-a pretty extensive essay. There were five components-you know, how am I going to use this in the classroom, why should they pick me? – And I submitted the essay and just was one of the lucky ones.”

Clark’s trip was sponsored by coffee roaster Café Bom Dia, as well as Sam’s Club and TransFair USA, an independent certifier of fair trade goods.

“I can’t afford to do this myself, so I get to go to these places and really learn about the culture and the people and see sights that I normally wouldn’t be able to see and then bring it back to my classroom, not only for my students but also for other teachers, so…”

Ed: “Are languages easy for you?”

“No!”

This isn’t the first trip Clark has made overseas.

“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia with Aramco. I’ve been to, this summer, I went to Japan. There’s a great group in Houstno called Fund, F-U-N-D, for Teachers, and they provide a cash grant for you, for teachers to go wherever they want to go. So you just design the program and you submit it, and I went to China with that one.”

Karen Kovach-Webb is executive director of Fund for Teachers.

“We’ve sent math teachers to prove the Pythagorean theorem. We’ve sent math teachers to actually go and measure the curvature of the earth the way it was originally done. But we also send Shakespearean teachers to go study at the Globe. We send social studies teachers to go and study some of the social ills that affect the entire world like the holocaust, or go to Rwanda.”

Fund for Teachers was started by Apache chairman Raymond Plank to help underwrite summer trips for teachers to get first-hand glimpses into cultures and issues that they can bring back to the classroom.

“Raymond did have great teachers that he was inspired by, but I think his primary inspiration was his father who told him that he had to leave the world a better place. He started putting money aside everyyear to do something small for teachers because he knows that teachers can touch many more than one kid.”

Lorelei Clark says studying fair trade coffee gives her the rare opportunity to bring real world lessons on global issues into the classroom.

“You know, I’m, you know ‘Ms. Clark, she’s been everywhere!’ And I think my enthusiasm and excitement, and I have so many students that I really encourage them to study abroad. You know, they’ll go to university. I’m like, you know, ‘take that year and do some traveling, and we can figure out a way. If you can’t afford it, let’s find a way for you to go anyway.’”

Poe pupils in festival spotlight

Heidi Shellhorn, a teacher at Poe Elementary School, returned from a Fund for Teachers fellowship to Europe last summer armed with hands-on experiences to enrich her curriculum. Recently that fellowship led to another benefit for her class.

Shellhorn and her third-graders were picked to participate in the Sister Cities International Children’s festivities at the opening ceremonies of the Houston International Festival Friday. The Poe pupils are representing Houston’s sister city Huelva, Spain.

The youths will chant a Spanish song they’ve learned for the occasion, wear special costumes provided by the SCIC and carry handmade banners.

Each year, the festival chooses a class to represent each of Houston’s 16 sister cities. After reading a recent story about Shellhorn and her fellowship abroad, a representative from the festival invited her class of 18 students to participate.

As the big day approaches, the pupils’ excitement is more and more obvious, Shellhorn said. It’s a big deal for the children to have someone outside the class notice them.

“They’re convinced they’re celebrities now,” she said, adding that the children have been extra motivated on their special research project since learning others will see the results.

Shellhorn’s class has been doing research projects on the culture, language and food of Spain, and are creating banners to represent Huelva and the different agricultural products the city produces. They are also planning to begin a pen pal program with school children in Huelva.

Shellhorn traveled to Spain and Portugal last July through a grant from the Fund for Teachers. The Houston-based non-profit organization awards grants to school teachers, allowing them to bankroll independent studies that enrich their curriculums and enhance their own personal growth.

In Shellhorn’s case, she joined a National Geographic iExplore tour group to visit a Portuguese castle, explore Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and witness the famed running of bulls in Pamplona.

Shellhorn said she continues to be amazed at the ways her FFT fellowship has enriched her classroom curriculum. The invitation from the festival is perhaps the most significant, she said, as it is an opportunity for her students to be directly involved.

Her FFT experience has helped her introduce a focus on different cultures in her classroom. Her students are aware that the lessons she brought back from her journeys in Spain and Portugal are based on the lives of real people.

Having received one grant, Shellhorn must wait to qualify for another application to the program.

“As soon as I can, I definitely will,” she said.

Longfellow teacher’s lessons inspired by European museum exhibits

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Linda “Lynn” Gerbode has employed Dr. Seuss and a few innovative ideas borrowed from Europe to help her teach such concepts as shadows and light to pupils at Longfellow Elementary School, 3614 Murworth.

Gerbode is creating lessons from interactive children’s exhibits she saw during a trip last summer to science museums in Europe, and adapting them for 720 pupils in kindergarten through the fifth grade who visit her science lab each day.

It was a journey paid for by Fund For Teachers, a national nonprofit organization that provides grant-funded summer trips to teachers who want to research ideas that will augment and stimulate their classroom curriculum.

“I saw how sound travels at four different museums – from kids talking into a straw to the French museum’s bank of PVC pipes in different colors. A child could lean in to an opening at one end of a pipe and talk to a friend who found the other end of (that color) pipe,” said Gerbode, 56. “It gets kids thinking. It’s not the same old boring workshop.”

Gerbode said she’s so grateful to Fund for Teachers for the trip — and the excitement the ideas are already generating in her classroom — that she is readily encouraging people to support the nonprofit’s local fundraising event, the third annual Fund Run for Teachers on Feb. 9.

The run/walk will begin with registration 7-8 a.m., then a Kids K Race from 8-8:30 a.m., with the main 5K race beginning at 8:30 a.m. All events will be held near the Galleria on South Post Oak Road, between Ambassador Way and Lynn Lane. Top male and female finishers in the 5K run/walk each will receive a $100 gift certificate to Fleet Feet.

The 2007 trip is the second Gerbode has taken under Fund for Teachers. Five years ago, the mandatory period the organization requires between trip proposals, she visited Equador’s rainforest to create grade-appropriate ecology lessons.

Gerbode, who has degrees in architecture as well as education, also teaches the Explorations! summer camp sponsored by the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Education Department, 1 Hermann Circle Drive. For 11 years she has helped to develop – then head — the hands-on student activities at Longfellow and the school’s annual Family Science Night and science fair in the spring.

Longfellow’s science lab has evolved into one of of the most complete facilities in the Houston school district, Gerbode said, and “I wanted to see what major science museums in other countries offered through education departments to their young patrons,” from hands-on children’s galleries to philosophies behind educational programs.

During her trip, she visited London’s Science Museum and Natural History Museum; the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie outside Paris at Parc de La Villette, France; and the History of Science Museum in Florence, which houses Galileo’s instruments. Gerbode also took in smaller museums in Italy and Switzerland.

Gerbode gave her highest marks to the French.

“From presentation to execution to comprehensive youth-age inclusion, the Cité’s dual age-appropriate children’s galleries were engaging, informative and often cleverly simple but very visually effective,” said Gerbode, a resident of the Linkwood subdivision.

She plans to use a Cité-inspired exhibit for treasure-hunt lessons in directions, including map and compass readings, and an exhibit on shadows that lets children fit their shadows cast by lights inside wire sculptures on turntables into chalk outlines.

“The things I saw I can reproduce in my classroom,” she said.

This trip and the one to Equador five years ago, the first year Fund for Teachers opened its grant program to teachers in the Houston school district, are having a direct impact on the excitement levels among her pupils, Gerbode said.

“I can foresee virtually everything I encountered in these museums turning up in my classroom, adapted for all grade levels in an appropriate setting, shared with whichever of my colleagues wish to use them, for a very long time,” she said.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has awarded grants totalling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million.