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.

What Africa taught a teacher

Kerrin Flanagan went to Ghana and came back with a wealth of ideas for her K-1 class.

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Her students won’t step into the classroom for another four weeks, but Kerrin Flanagan is here on a humid afternoon, padding around in flip-flops and contemplating how to make every corner welcoming. One moment she’s on the floor filling bins with giant Legos; the next she’s pawing through a box, thrilled to discover the small set of wind chimes she uses to get the children’s attention.

Now in her ninth year as a teacher at the Patrick Lyndon School in Boston, Ms. Flanagan “loops” with her students – following them from kindergarten to first grade. This year she’s starting with a new batch of 22 kindergartners.

“I like everything to be organized when the children come in … and because I want the classroom to be their classroom, we will decorate it together,” she says in a soft voice that matches her petite frame. The students will create alphabet art and self-portraits for the walls, giving her a chance to get to know each one along the way.

“Children need to feel safe and cared for and heard before they can start learning anything academic. We start out at the very beginning with learning how to be a group,… how to listen to each other,… how to wait our turn, how to use crayons…. I don’t give them the rules when they come in. They figure out what they hope to learn during the school year, what they hope to do. In kindergarten it’s usually very simple – it might be I want to make a friend or I hope to paint…. And from that we figure out what our classroom needs to be like in order to achieve those hopes and dreams.”

Top: While Flanagan says that she saves the classroom decorating for when the students arrive, basics like “the word wall” are prepared before their arrival. Left: Boston K-1 teacher Kerrin Flanagan displays the kente cloth she brought home from her grant-subsidized trip to Ghana. Her first-graders study Ghana and Japan. Right: Bins that have been in storage for a year are pulled out to be used for different types of blocks and toys.

The types of rules that evolve are simple, too: “We care about each other; we take care of the things in our class; we respect one another; we do our best work…. And then we practice them for a very long time,” she says with a laugh.

Like many teachers, Flanagan didn’t have much time for vacation this summer – but she did something even better: She traveled to Ghana through a grant from the Fund for Teachers, an education foundation in Houston. For three weeks, she volunteered with a Global Solutions group in the town of Hohoe.

Both Ghana and Japan are part of Boston’s first-grade curriculum, as a way to teach children how to compare and contrast. But it’s always been easier for teachers to find materials related to Japan, Flanagan says. Now she spreads out the treasure trove of objects from Ghana that she’ll incorporate into a curriculum kit for her students and fellow K-1 teachers: wood carvings, musical instruments, colorful strips of kente cloth.

“We’ve had pictures of people weaving kente cloth … but having the actual kente cloth itself is really important,” she says. She tried weaving it when she was there.

In June, when her first-grade class knew she would be visiting Africa, they were “so much more excited about learning about Ghana than children had ever been in the past. They were drawing on everything else we had learned about, [saying,] ‘Oh, Ghana’s near the equator, you’re going to need to bring lots of sunscreen!’ ”

She also brought back her experience of teaching mentally challenged students in a school in Ghana with hardly any resources. “I had to be really flexible. I was able to draw on a lot of strengths as a teacher that I didn’t necessarily know I had…. It makes me feel very different about coming back to school,” she says, gazing around at the shelves she’s stocking with books and toys. “I realize how much I have here in this classroom.”

Educator returns from Costa Rica with life lessons

David Riley, Daily News staff
Townonline.com

Boston Day and Evening Academy math teacher Janet Platt of Ashland spent five weeks in Costa Rica.

Ashland, Mass. – On a five-week trip to Costa Rica this summer, a math teacher from Ashland found countless lessons to bring back to her students.

At a banana farm, Janet Platt discovered ways to teach high school teens about the economics and science behind their food.

In cooperatives run by Costa Rica’s indigenous people, she found ways to talk to students about what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Platt, who teaches at a public charter school in Roxbury called Boston Day and Evening Academy, made the trip with a grant from the Fund for Teachers. The nonprofit Boston Plan for Excellence awarded the grant in the spring.

“I’m really grateful to have had this opportunity,” Platt said yesterday, four days after returning to her Rodman Road home. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford this on my own.”

During the trip, she spent weeks in an intensive program to learn Spanish, toured indigenous farming communities, and saw such sights as a volcano and a mountain cloud forest.

Platt traveled to the coastal Central American country with a science teacher from her school, Alison Hramiec. Last winter, they worked together to complete an elaborate application for the grant.

The Fund for Teachers offers grants for teachers to pursue special interests that can play a role in their classrooms.

Platt said she and Hramiec picked Costa Rica in part because the nation has a good record of sustainability – limiting humanity’s impact on the environment and society. Both teachers wanted to bring that concept to their classes.

“We also teach in Boston, so about 50 percent of our students come from Spanish-speaking families,” Platt said. Though many speak English, knowing Spanish can help in talking to their families, she said.

The teachers also wanted to learn through community service, something they urge their students to do.

Platt left July 14, two weeks after school ended for the year. She began the trip by attending Centro PanAmericano de Idiomas, a language school in Monteverde where she took Spanish classes for four hours every morning.

Platt then toured organic and fair trade farms and cooperatives in indigenous towns and villages, where she said people are trying to hold onto their culture as they do business in the wider world.

“They’re trying to stick to their old farming practices, but they also realize they can’t live apart from the rest of Costa Rica,” Platt said.

She also learned about the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a new set of trade rules countries in the region are struggling to understand.

That leg of the trip was organized by Global Exchange, a human rights group that supports the communities it tours, she said. She said she was impressed with the organization and stayed with families or in Costa Rican establishments only, traveling with local guides.

Before the trip, Platt said she mainly thought of living sustainably in environmental terms, but came back seeing it differently.

“I went down thinking it was about the environment and recycling and being green,” she said. “But in Costa Rica, it’s also about preserving their culture while making sure people have jobs.”

In her down time, Platt said she toured Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, where she saw turtles lay eggs en masse; the volcano Arenal, where she saw lava flowing down its side; and a cloud forest where she saw sloths and toucans.

“Their beaks really are like Toucan Sam,” she said.

Platt, who spent three years in the Peace Corps more than a decade ago, said she hopes to talk to her students about sustainability by relating it to their own neighborhoods and cultures.

She and Hramiec also are working together on teaching about the economics of trade and food, and the science of growing crops organically.

Even puzzling over an ATM to figure out how many Costa Rican colons add up to an American dollar, she thought of a lesson on currency exchange rates.

But one of the biggest lessons was a personal one, which Platt found while staying with a Costa Rican family.

“People in general don’t have so much stuff. We really have a lot of stuff here that we think we need,” she said. “People there might not have everything we have, but they may still have everything they need.”

(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or driley@cnc.com.)

Teacher brings sights of Europe to school

Carla Rabalais
Chron.com

THIRTY-three museums in 31 days. Six countries and 7,500 miles and all for under $5,000.

That’s the feat that Cavan Leerkamp, art teacher at Queens Intermediate School in Pasadena, proposed to accomplish. And last spring, representatives of the Fund For Teachers said “Go for it.”

Leerkamp, 29, spent a month last summer touring Europe’s most famous art museums. He sketched and wrote in his journal as he observed Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s She Goat, and the barbed wire of Dachau concentration camp.

Shares trip with pupils

He photographed cathedrals and countrysides and compiled them all into a sketchbook-travel journal that is now digitized to share with pupils and teachers. His goal was to develop a simpler approach to art – even by the Masters – that students can grasp.

“I started showing my students the photographs, and we spent the rest of that day and the next looking at all of them,” Leerkamp said. “They were eyes wide open. They wanted to hear every detail.”

Fund For Teachers, a nonprofit organization, has sponsored more than 400 teachers in the Houston area since Raymond Plank, founder of Apache Corp., created the public foundation. It offers grants of up to $5,000 to teachers for self-designed professional development experiences. Houstonians will gather near the Galleria at Post Oak Boulevard on Saturday for Fund For Teacher’s second annual Fund Run. Last year, the Fund Run raised more than $150,000 as part of the $3 million raised area-wide all for local educators.

“You could give money to one child, and that could make a difference,” said Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of Fund For Teachers, “but one teacher can impact as many as 3,000 students.”

As a Fund For Teachers fellow, Leerkamp now brings the breath of Europe to hundreds of seventh and eighth graders in southeast Houston. He saw the scope of impact his grant could have last fall when he brought five students to participate in a street art festival in Houston.

“Some of them had never even been downtown, not even into Houston,” Leerkamp said. “This trip to Europe was a much grander scale – it’s like me going to the moon and coming back and talking about it.”

To qualify for a grant, teachers must have at least three years experience, provide a detailed budget for the learning experience and show how the opportunity will help them to impact the community. Most of the grants involve cultural immersion, whether that culture is in the U.S. or abroad, but all have a common goal of better teaching.

Making kids more global

“With today’s global economy, we need a populace that’s more informed about how the rest of the world thinks,” said Kovach-Webb. “We need to expose our teachers so they can expose kids, and encourage children to dream. The world is much bigger than Pasadena or Harris County.”

For Leerkamp, the experience has brought more than interesting stories and photos to inspire students.

“I think the biggest thing I took away is confidence,” Leerkamp said. “Now when we go through the textbook and I see a painting, I’ll tell kids, ‘Whoa, I just saw that!’ They really listen when they know you’ve been there.”

To view Leerkamp’s art, visit www.cavanarts.com.

Bringing the world to class

Teacher hopes her trip to frigid Antarctica fires up students’ interest in traveling, learning

Sarah Viren
Houston Chronicle

The students in Daphne Rawlinson’s elementary school science classes don’t quite get it when she says: I am going to Antarctica.

Sure, she’s showed them on the globe, but that looks like a few inches away, not more than 13,000 miles. And when she talks about cold, many can only compare that to last week in Houston, when temperatures dipped into the 30s.

“Most of our students, or a lot of our students, haven’t even been out of the state of Texas,” Rawlinson said. “So to get them to visualize that you are going to the other side of the world… They don’t have a lot of understanding.”

That’s one reason the teacher and science specialist at Houston’s J. Will Jones Elementary School proposed the trip, and why Fund for Teachers agreed pick up the tab, which Rawlinson estimates in the thousands.

Protected continent
The Houston-based organization awards travel grants each year to teachers nationwide. It has sponsored art and cultural studies in Egypt and research on humpback whales off the coast of Brazil.

Rawlinson is the first of its fellows traveling all the way south, to the land of penguins, seals and mammoth glaciers.

The Houston native said she has always wanted to go where the ice is. But Antarctica is attractive for other reasons.

“What has been the most fascinating thing to me is to see how the entire world has come together to protect this one spot,” she said. “It is protected by the Antarctica Treaty, and it is maintained for scientific research.”

No one country governs Antarctica; instead, governments work together to allow researchers from different areas to study its habitat. Tourism is limited and military activities banned.

Rawlinson is going through a graduate study-abroad program with the University of Georgia. On Dec. 26, she and a group of students will fly to South America, where they will board a boat for a day-and-a-half trip to the ice continent.

Once there, she will spend her nights sleeping on the boat (there are no hotels or gift shops in Antarctica, Rawlinson likes to remind those asking about her accommodations) and her days researching the icy habitat, keeping a journal and taking pictures and video.

A tool to ace TAKS
Rawlinson’s plan is to return home Jan. 9 with enough material to form a life-science unit on the continent for her students.

deally her lesson plan will inspire students to travel when they grow up but also help improve their science-test passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, which three years ago were in the teens.

The scores picked up last year but still need work, said Brian Flores, principal of the school, which has a high population of economically disadvantaged students.

“The whole key for children learning is making those real-life connections,” he said.

“These kids don’t have the opportunity to go to museums all the time. They don’t have the opportunity to travel out of the country or state, so when we have the opportunity to really teach something like this from real-life experience we jump on board.”

To prepare her for her trip, the Georgia program sent Rawlinson a four-page packing list. “In 10-point font,” she emphasized.

She bought a down parka, insulated ski pants and gloves lined with fleece, which she is supposed to cover with insulated mittens. She’ll also have a journal and her digital camera, which takes video.

She hopes to get footage of her boat trip through the notoriously rough Drake Passage and shots of her alongside penguins, anything that would inspire her students.

“Kids are like little sponges,” she said. “They are so interested. If you get them talking about something, they just keep going and going.”

An investment in teachers is an investment in our children

FOX 26 News Houston