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.

Roberts Elementary teachers bring Peru to second-graders

Group helps instructors learn first-hand about various cultures

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Since returning from Peru, Roberts Elementary School second-grade teachers Jennifer Kirstein and Cristina Boyer have incorporated the country’s currency, mountainous terrain, grain-heavy diet and an assortment of animals and habitats into teaching tools for their pupils.

But both say they were the real students during the trip sponsored this summer by the nonprofit national foundation Fund for Teachers. The grant-paid journey taught them as much or more than they may ever be able to impart to their classes.

The trip certainly widened their perspective about their own profession, Kirstein and Boyer say.

“It’s probably the most important event in our lives. We look at the world differently now,” said Boyer, 25.

Both say they will be available to lend their support to this year’s third annual Fund Run for Teachers, set for Feb. 9, that annually raises funds to allow the coming summer international trips for teachers who successfully apply to the program. The event’s catch phrase this year is “Love Houston Teachers, Heart and Sole.”

Kirstein, who lives in the Montrose area, and Boyer, 25, who resides near the West University Place-area campus at 6000 Greenbriar, said they both love to travel and think expanding cultural knowledge is essential in their jobs as part of Roberts’ International Baccalaureate program.

The two brought back coin and paper money, lessons about Peru’s mountainous terrain that “we hiked the first three days, and a history lesson about how the Incas managed trade,” Boyer said. The lessons are especially germane to Roberts pupils, who represent more than 125 countries and several native languages.

“We made a movie while we were there, and we showed it to our faculty so they could learn about Peru and see what we did,” Kirstein said.

This is Boyer’s second year as a teacher. Kirstein has taught for six years and is in her second year at Roberts. In 2004 she went on a Fulbright Memorial Fund trip to Japan.

“Getting to interact with kids in the international community makes us feel more in tune, seeing how kids learn all over the world. It helps you relate more to the students, and the families really appreciate it when you try to learn about their culture,” Kirstein said.

They left in July 2007 and hiked the “physically challenging” terrain, visiting ruins and resting in tents in below-freezing weather in the high altitudes and meeting indigenous people who make their home in the Andes.

In Cusco, the two teachers volunteered at a shelter to help children with homework, meal preparation and craft-making, “to teach the kids something they could use,” Kirstein said. Outside of town, they stayed with a family for two nights and spent some time at the area school.

“That was really amazing,” Kirstein said. “At the school, there are only three classes for the combined indigenous population. We just helped with alphabet sounds and math problems.”

Hiking the area around Machu Picchu, the teachers witnessed primitive living that hasn’t changed much since the Inca civilizations roamed the mountains and taught their children.

Since 2001, the national Fund for Teachers has provided grants totaling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million in grants.

Fund for Teachers provides grant to AMS teacher

A tourist’s trip to England, Wales and Scotland might typically include tours of historic castles, shopping for souvenir tea towels or a round of golf at St. Andrews. But Atascocita Middle School science teacher Jill Hobbs had something far from typical in mind when she planned her summer trip to the British Isles. Hobbs wanted to see the Earth’s entire geologic history in rock specimens.

Hobbs applied for and received a grant from Fund for Teachers that allowed her to bring back 250 pounds of rock specimens, spanning the geologic time scale, from areas of the British Isles that played instrumental roles in the development of modern geology.

Fund for Teachers, a non-profit organization, enriches the personal and professional growth of teachers by providing funds for them to pursue opportunities around the globe that impact their teaching practice, the academic lives of their students and their school communities. To date, 417 teachers from 286 Houston area schools along with 1,642 teachers from around the United States have received more than $4.5 million in grants.

Left: Visiting Siccar Point on the eastern coast of Scotland was a highlight of Atascocita Middle School teacher Jill Hobbs’ trip to the British Isles. The trip was provided by a grant from Fund for Teachers. Siccar Point is important the history of geology.

Right: Atascocita Middle School science teacher Jill Hobbs will use photos and rock specimens from her Fund for Teachers trip to the British Isles to enrich her lectures about historical geology.

For Hobbs, who previously worked as a geologist for an oil company, visiting rock formations in the British Isles was a dream come true. Geology, as a science, began in the British Isles in the 1700s after two curious men, James Hutton and William Smith, began asking themselves questions about the rock formations they saw around them. Their curiosity led them to discover scientific principles that geology is based on today.

“I collected rock specimens, maps, photos and GPS data and left with a deeper appreciation of what these men accomplished over two centuries ago,” Hobbs said. “Traveling through the countryside and communities that remain virtually unchanged for hundreds of years offered me the opportunity to experience the same lifestyle early geologists practiced while completing their original studies.”

Hobbs and her husband Tom brought home 250 pounds of rock samples, including chalk, slate, sandstone, granite and more. Hobbs will use these specimens, as well as photos from her 21-day trip, to enrich her lectures of historical geology at Atascocita Middle School. Hobbs teaches seventh and eighth graders.

“Visual displays will provide parents with the knowledge that their children’s curriculum includes so much more than reading a book and taking tests,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs has taught for four years. A former geologist, Hobbs worked at Kingwood High as a secretary until her children graduated. She then pursued alternative certification to become a science teacher. She loves showing students how science can help them understand their world. “We all use the scientific method to answer questions,” Hobbs said.

‘Fund For Teachers’ Gives Perspective Of World

Amy Hollyfield

OAKLAND, Calif. Oct. Oct. 10, 2007 (KGO) – Dozens of Bay Area teachers are sharing fresh ideas and new experiences with a unique global perspective with their students. It’s all made by possible by a special grant that emphasizes learning by experiencing.

International travel on a teacher’s salary can be challenging and that is why Funds for Teachers steps in and offers grants. They are going to be looking for its next group of fellows starting today at a church in Oakland. They are hoping they are going to get a lot of new applicants who want to get out of the classroom and get out to the world.

Oakland teenagers at Skyline High School didn’t really think they had anything in common with French teenagers – until they could actually hear from them and see what they look like and how they dress.

“They were really similar to Americans. It was really interesting because I always thought France was as all about high fashion, showy and flashy but it’s really not,” said Aimee Fields, French student.

French teacher Celeste Dubois went to Paris this summer and videotaped teenagers talking about issues. She brought back 11 hours of footage to show her French students.

“I wanted to know what are the problems young people face in France, what they want help with from adults and they were very serious and cooperative,” said Celeste Dubois, French teacher.

She started showing the tapes to her classes yesterday. Students heard the French kids talk about college entrance exams and question whether obesity really is a major issue for American kids. The Oakland teenagers enjoyed the videos so much – some of them plan to e-mail the Paris kids.

“This was definitely different – they were, I think, more attentive than they were at the very beginning when we were just going to go over homework,” said Celeste Dubois.

Dubois was able to go to Paris because of a $5,000 dollar grant given to her by a group called Fund for Teachers. The non-profit agency has sent teachers around the world looking for new perspectives to bring back to the classroom.

“We all read the applications and want to go with the teachers. Many teachers have been to South Africa, the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica,” said Sofi Jiroh, Funds For Teacher Administrative Partner.

Sofi Jiroh helped select the 18 Oakland teachers who received grants this year. She says while a summer trip to Paris does sound fabulous – the teachers usually can’t wait to get home and share what they’ve learned.

“They’re more excited about that than they are the trip because the end result of the trip is really to get back in the classroom,” said Sofi Jiroh.

All teachers are welcome to apply. They have sent a language teacher, a math teacher, a science teacher – they sent 18 from Oakland this year, they sent 15 from San Francisco and they are ready to start looking for next years group.

Interested applicants can attend a meeting today at 4:00 in Oakland at First Unitarian Church located at 685 14th Street.