If you watched CBS coverage of the Tour de France this summer, you might have seen a short interview with two St. Paul teachers stopped on their bikes as they made their way up a road in the French Alps.
The clip shows DeWayne and Renee Combs, tired but smiling in sunglasses and biking clothes, telling the camera crew they’re following the Tour to learn all they can and bring it back to their students.
The couple, with help from a $6,000 grant, spent 2ƒ® weeks in France and went to five stages of the Tour.
This fall, they’re drawing on that experience to enhance the physical education and health curriculum at Battle Creek Middle School.
The school received 35 mountain bikes and helmets this fall from Medtronic, and DeWayne Combs has made cycling the centerpiece of a new class he’s offering called “Fit for Life.”
The elective also will expose students to golf, bowling, lacrosse and exercise machines. “That’s our goal. Lifelong sports,” DeWayne Combs said.
Renee Combs has put up newspaper clippings, posters, hats and other Tour mementos on the wall of her health class.
She draws on the race to help her teach \ talking about seven-time winner Lance Armstrong in a lesson about cancer, for example. The kids now come in on Mondays and tell her about their biking adventures during the weekend, she said. “They’re into it.”
The couple are both mountain bike racers, and they commute to school by bike, 14 miles each way from their home in Stillwater. One day last week, DeWayne Combs used his mud-splattered bike to teach students about riding in ugly conditions.
“Mountain biking can be done in bad weather,” he told them. To prove it, he took them outside to ride on a 45-degree, drizzly morning. “It’s a little cold now. But you will get warm,” he said.
The kids were supposed to practice keeping their butts off the seat on the downhill portions of a three-quarter-mile course DeWayne Combs set up on the huge fields at the school, next to Battle Creek Regional Park on the city’s eastern edge.
Seventh-grader Nick Bethel took a spill on one of the descents. “I was riding a little too fast,” he said.
Before taking the class, Nick had only been on a bike with a foot brake. Combs said about eight of the 70 kids in his classes had never been on any kind of bicycle before signing up.
Seventh-grader Samantha Olson has her own mountain bike at home, but she said she’s picking up tips from the class that even her older sister, who usually doesn’t listen to her, is paying attention to.
The Combses received a grant for the trip through the Fund for Teachers, which distributes about $50,000 annually in private and foundation money to help St. Paul teachers enhance their skills during the summer.
The experience is supposed to be used to benefit students, and one tangible benefit from the Combs’ trip is a duffel bag full of T-shirts, hats, pins and other Tour trinkets they lugged home for the kids.
DeWayne Combs said the prizes will be given out the same way colored jerseys are awarded at the Tour de France: “We’re going to start some racing.”
Doug Belden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5136.
Teachers: DeWayne Combs, 42, and Renee Combs, 44
Occupations: DeWayne teaches physical education, and Renee teaches health at Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul
Family: Five children ranging in age from 13 to 26
Accomplishments: Traveled to the Tour de France this summer and are incorporating lessons from the bike race into fitness instruction for students
Teachers come back fired up after spending summer picking up ideas for classroom
Gloria Moyer rediscovered her passion for teaching this summer in a French village called Coupvray, fingering some of Louis Braille’s reading slate in the home where he invented his literacy code for the blind.
Lucy Klocksin was renewed on a New Zealand mountaintop, during a predawn “Matariki” ceremony shared with Maori schoolchildren blowing softly into conch shells.
Michelle Greenfield felt a rush during the deafening takeoff of the space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an experience narrated by a former astronaut who shared his firsthand knowledge.
For the first time, 51 Chicago Public School teachers won the opportunity to travel to six continents this summer-all-expenses-paid adventures designed to inspire classroom educators and their students.
These city teachers will return to their classrooms Tuesday refreshed and toting a trove of memorabilia-wood carvings, spacesuits, pen-pal letters, Johannesburg prison photos, Italian mosaics and chunks of meteorite.
“We were like little kids, watching the launch,” said Greenfield, a science teacher at Armstrong Elementary in Rogers Park, who won the summer fellowship in Florida with her husband Dan, who teaches math at Eberhart Elementary in Chicago Lawn. “To know you can share that excitement with kids, it makes you want to go back to work. It excites your passion.”
The summer professional development program was created by the non-profit Chicago Foundation for Education, which partnered with the Fund for Teachers to sponsor $200,000 worth of exotic travel.
The winners were chosen among 250 applicants and awarded grants ranging from $1,800 to $7,500 for 39 solo and team projects. The organization hopes to fund another 40 study proposals next summer.
“What we were looking for is ultimately how these grants were going to impact children and increase student learning,” said Kris Reichmann, executive director of the Chicago Foundation. “Teachers had to justify how this was going to improve their teaching practice, help students and the broader school community. If teachers were looking for funds for a summer vacation, that was automatically cast aside.”
The screening committee said no to a teacher looking to take a Mediterranean cruise with other educators.
Otherwise, no idea seemed too offbeat to qualify.
Yoga in Ecuador. Conservation in Botswana. Whale research in Brazil. Bicycling along the Tour de France course.
“I will have the opportunity to explore nearly all the regions of France, cheering on the racers as I stand shoulder to shoulder with actual French citizens, in real French villages, against authentic French backdrops,” Abby Imram, a French teacher at Walter Payton College Prep, wrote in her grant application. “While I will be seeking an authentic and intimate experience, every moment of every day will be a potential lesson to share with my students.”
A special education teacher for 31 years, Moyer brought back more concrete lessons to share with students and colleagues at Otis Elementary. Her pilgrimage to the birthplace of Louis Braille will enrich the lessons she creates for Braille Literacy Month. She will team-teach a unit on French culture in a 1st grade bilingual class.
Her class of 16 vision-impaired students will be encouraged to find pen pals from a stack of letters she brought home from South Wales, also a part of her travels. Her experience volunteering at a British adventure camp for the blind taught her new challenges she can share with her students.
“I have always wanted to visit schools in England to see the difference in how kids are taught in Braille,” she said. “I’ve always loved what I do, but to be able to develop something that was entirely my own idea… it’s just an incredible fantasy come true. I truly feel so energized.”
For Cynthia Townsend, a dream of studying apartheid in South Africa first took shape six years ago, when she and her classroom of 4th graders immersed themselves in a monthlong study of the country.
She was awed by the history she discovered and angered by the racism that still plagues Soweto and Capetown neighborhoods. They toured schools and museums, and interviewed residents about their lives.
“Socially, things were much better, but economically it was a mess,” said Townsend, a North Lawndale native who said she drew suspicious stares at restaurants and inns where the only black faces were those of the workers.
Yet this is not the lesson Townsend wants to impart to students about her adventure. “There’s nothing like being able to teach from experience, for the kids to be able to see that I talked to these people, I visited this orphanage. I want my students to realize this is possible, to know that Madison [Street] is not the limit of their world.”
Bear Creek pupils, parents treated to virtual tour
It might have be Mona Lisa’s indecipherable smile or the white-marbled beauty of the armless sculpture of Aphrodite.
And it might have been that Bear Creek Elementary School parents and pupils only had to make a short trip from home to experience these and other masterpieces of the Louvre.
But parent Stacey Vincent is giving rave reviews for a recent virtual tour of the Paris museum by more than 300 adults and children, mostly pupils in art classes taught by the tour’s host, Bear Creek teacher Lisa Sitz.
“Come Away with Me to the Louvre,” an evening featuring Sitz’s filmed trip through the museum plus a sampling of French cuisine and a few artsy activities, premiered Feb. 16 at the school, 4815 Hickory Downs.
The event was the result of a project that began last year when Sitz received a $4,500 grant through the Fund For Teachers foundation to record her actual trip to the Paris museum and create a program for her students.
“When everybody came in, we got little passports and boarding passes. (Sitz) made it like we were going on the trip with her,” said Vincent, whose 10-year-old daughter Savannah is in Sitz’s fifth-grade art class. “We started off with the food — croissants with ham and cheese, crepes with strawberries — then she welcomed us to Paris.”
Through video footage, Sitz took the “tourists” down the Louvre’s hallways, stopping at various art works. When it was complete, young assistants passed out candy that children in the audience used to form portraits.
Children also made wearable pens and magnets out of square-inch porcelain pieces Sitz stamped with the image of Paris’s famed Eiffel Tower.
“Savannah had a lot of fun with that. She thought it was great, especially making the little faces, and she got to eat the candy afterward,” Vincent said.
Sitz has what nearly amounts to a fan club among her students and their parents, Vincent said.
For Sitz, who began teaching in 1980 when she helped to open Cimarron Elementary School in Katy, the love of art is secondary to the joy of sharing it with her students.
“I took a break when my daughter was born and stayed home with her for 12 years, when I had a the Blue Bonnet Pottery Studio in Katy,” said Sitz, 50. “But besides making and selling pottery, I was usually teaching while I was there, so six years ago I came back to the classroom at Bear Creek Elementary.”
Sitz still keeps two pottery wheels at the school and uses them to help her students make sculpture art.
“I love art history and I have a history-based curriculum,” said Sitz, a former commercial artist for Houston’s Sakowitz store.
She had toured major museums in Paris and London before her 2005 trip, one reason she undertook the lengthy application process for the Fund For Teachers grant to create a project that would capture the Louvre on film and in more than 1,000 digital images.
“I came up with the project idea to do a virtual tour with hand-held cameras, where the kids are (mentally) walking with me through the museum — ‘OK, kids, let’s gather around and look closely at this Rembrandt,’ ” Sitz said.
Sitz, who has a 1977 art degree with an emphasis on sculpture from Trinity University in San Antonio, made the project interactive, with students keeping art journals and sketching the pictures or making notes about what they saw along the way.
“It was educational and it was a lot of fun for all ages,” Vincent said.
Think Olympics. Think art. Combine the two, and there’s well, paintball shot put, paint dot fencing, wheelchair wheel print-dash, scooter board finger-paint luge and dipped arrow archery.
These are just some of the events art teacher David Butler and his wife Jody, a life skills teacher, have designed for special needs students in the Spring Branch school district to compete in their upcoming Arts Olympiad.
“It’s going to be wild,” said David Butler, who teaches at Spring Branch Middle School. “All of it has never been done before.”
And it’s going to be messy.
Athletes will fence by dipping sticks in paint to strike a canvas. Archery involves dipping foam arrows in paint to shoot at a canvas, while swimming involves flippers and a scooter board to leave tracks on canvas.
The resulting art work will be exhibited later.
The Butlers expect to host about 50 middle and elementary athletes in this first-of-its-kind Olympiad, inspired by their trip last year to Italy and Greece to study ancient sculpture and the modern Olympic athlete.
Helping them are teachers, students, artists and other volunteers who will work with the athletes.
The event, featuring everything Olympic from torch and flags to medals and closing ceremonies, is from 6:30-8 p.m. today at Spring Branch Middle, 1000 Piney Point.
David and Jody visited 28 art museums, met with archeologists, attended an athletics meet and watched athletes train during their visit, which was funded by a grant they won through the Fund For Teachers organization.
With David’s background in art and athletics, he coaches pole vaulting at Rice University, and Jody’s in-life skills, the two wanted to combine their loves of art, sport, children and the Olympics.
“I thought it would be neat to do something with life skills students,” David Butler said.
“This is the perfect culmination of the experience we had, and it gives children, athletes and parents a way to celebrate the Olympic spirit.”
Jody Butler said in brainstorming the events, they found nothing was off limits.
“We’ve found there isn’t anything these kids can’t do if you adapt and modify,” she said.
Pippa Day, whose 15 year-old daughter Laura Lodge has cerebral palsy, thinks the Olympiad is a fantastic and innovative concept.
She said Laura, who attends Spring Branch Middle School, is “very excited about getting involved.”
“Laura’s passion is art and sports, and combining the two together is awesome,” Day said
What would you like to do next summer? That’s the question that teachers who apply for a grant from the nonprofit Fund for Teachers foundation, get to answer.
Some of the winning respondents have gone on to: explore volcanoes in Hawaii, trek across Laos to learn about the Hmong culture, hike the rainforests of Costa Rica, or participate in a hands on study of Beluga whales.
Three Pearland residents who teach in the Houston Independent School District have procured these prestigious grants. They are Marilyn Horn, Laura Aasletten, and Lisa Webber.
More than 2,000 teachers nationwide have received grants from Fund for Teachers. The nonprofit’s vision is to grant 2,000 awards annually by 2010. The organization awards grants directly to teachers “to support professional development opportunities of their own design.” The foundation’s founder and CEO of oil and gas exploration giant Apache Corp. – Raymond Plank – said that as a boy, he was inspired by his Latin teacher.
Some time after service as a bomber pilot in World War II, Plank decided that he wanted to find a way to help exciting teachers stay in their profession.
“One teacher can effect 3,000 students in his or her lifetime,” said Plank. “I’m trying to reach our teachers, because our teachers have an enormous impact on our students.”
To help raise funds, The First Annual Fund for Teachers Fund Run will be held 8 a.m., Sat., Jan. 21, at Allen Parkway and Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby in Houston. For more information about the 5 K Run/Walk, free to kids, and $20 for adults early registration, call 1-800-681-2667.
The top 25 teachers will receive prizes. Long-sleeve t-shirts will be given out to contestants, and there will be a celebratory event at Sam Houston Park after the run.
Former zoo keeper and now Pearland resident Lisa Webber said she used the grant to visit the habitat of creatures she was used to seeing in cages.
“I was awarded a Fund for Teachers grant of $5,000 and went to Tanzania for two weeks in July” Webber said.
“The first week of the trip I was on safari and visited 4 national parks – Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro. I also visited a Masaii village. I was a zoo keeper for 9 years prior to becoming a teacher, so I was really excited at seeing the animals I worked with – elephants, rhinos, zebras, and giraffes – in their natural habitat.”
During her second week in Africa, Webber taught in a public school in Arusha, Tanzania, composed of 550 children, grades K-5.
“It was wonderful and eye opening,” Webber said. “This experience opened my eyes to how fortunate we are in this country. But at the same time the experience showed me that no matter where you live, children are still children and want to learn about the world around them.”
The school where she taught had no electricity, or breakfast or lunch, had pit toilets, and there were no supplies.
“At the same time,” said Webber, “the teachers do not complain and are dedicated. The students are great to work with.”
Webber said she brought pencils, pens, rulers, maps, crayons, soccer and gym balls, jump ropes, Frisbees, and bubbles with her.
“They were so appreciative and thankful,” said Webber. The children had to share one book amongst 10 classmates, and copy all of their work in newsprint booklets, said Webber. There were no literature books to read to the children.
Webber’s roommate, Jane Sordillo, practiced her physical therapist skills by working at the only facility in Tanzania that helps children with disabilities.
Webber, who can communicate with the teachers in Tanzania by e-mail, says that she is now in the process of adopting the school.
“It is called the Julius Nyerere School, so named after their late president and the person responsible for Tanzania becoming independent.”
“We will collect school supplies, have students be pen pals, and have students write reviews of books and send them to the students,” Webber said.
Everyone knows that in a vibrant democracy, education is the keystone to all other endeavors in life. In a recent PBS special, titled, “The Lost Prince,” the documentary focused on the remarkable achievements of a child epileptic, Prince John, due to the remarkable pugnaciousness and determination of his teacher. Though epilepsy was little understood back then, the child became an artist and musician.
Fran Kallsnick wept as she gazed at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time.
Kallsnick, who teaches art at Byrd Middle School, visited Italy this year as part of a grant from the Fund for Teachers, a foundation that provides summer travel opportunities for educators with a goal of enriching education for them and their students.
“I finally had realized one of the major dreams of my life,” Kallsnick said of her 16-day trip, which included stops in Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and Como. “I could never imagine what it could be like in person.”
Kallsnick made the comments Tuesday during a gathering of several 2005 participants at the BOk Tower downtown. A total of 82 Tulsa-area teachers received grants through the Fund for Teachers in 2005.
Teachers of prekindergarten through grade 12 who spend at least 50 percent of their time in the classroom and have a minimum of three years teaching experience are eligible for a grant.
Kallsnick said the experience of traveling to Italy and seeing firsthand the art she teaches her students about has had a positive effect in her classroom.
She also brought back teach ing material for her class.
“When students are working, they’re always asking me about different aspects of my trip,” she said. “With the slides and all of the materials I brought back, they’re really interested in it.”
Individual teachers can apply for as much as $5,000 through the program; teams of teachers can apply for a maximum of $7,500, said Paula Wood, a program officer of the Tulsa Community Foundation, a sponsor of the program.
As part of the application process, teachers must submit a written proposal and an itemized budget.
Applicants are selected to receive grants based on how their proposed summer activity will enhance their teaching skills and better the education of their students.
Kallsnick said her experience abroad has revitalized her passion for teaching and has given her a better perspective.
“This is my 20th year of teaching, and I’m just as inspired, if not more so, now,” she said. “There are so many ideas I have that I want to do.”
Raymond Plank, the founder and chairman of the Fund for Teachers, said inspired teachers inspire students and other educators.
“The enthusiasm and the learning are very transferrable to the kids,” he said. “We do find that teachers who have gone through this program bring it back to schools where they teach and into the community.”
Wood said teachers should put a lot of thought into what destination they choose and how their time there could benefit them and their students.
“Really, the sky is the limit,” she said. “We’re hoping that teachers think of an area of the world that would be of interest to them and would be of value to the classroom.”
Applications for next summer are due Jan. 20. For more information, call the Tulsa Community Foundation at 494-8823 or go online to the Fund for Teachers Web site at www.fundforteachers.org.
Developing global thinkers requires global-thinking teachers.
Going out into the world, bringing back and sharing experiences with Saint Paul school districts students is the goal of a unique grant program for teachers made possible by support from the Saint Paul Foundation.
This past summer, 14 Saint Paul Public Schools teachers were awarded grants, through the Fund for Teachers, ranging from $2,500-$5,000 to travel all over the planet.
Beverly Alsleben, an English as a Second Language teacher at the International Academy-LEAP School, and Rady Yang, first-grade teacher at Battle Creek Elementary, traveled to a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand. Seeing the challenges Hmong refugees face in getting an education inspired Yang to remember the reasons he became a teacher. Alsleben brings back first-hand experience of the Hmong culture to incorporate into her teaching this year.
Speaking Swahili in Tanzania and living in Zanzibar (a place where many cultures have crossed) were the goals realized by Mary Dorow, an Prep teacher at World Cultures Magnet. For Washington Technology Middle School science teacher Stephanie Erickson, walking on glaciers and landing on the island nation of Iceland on the summer solstice were important experiences to bring back to share with her students.
Kimberly Colbert, an English teacher at Central Senior High School, participated in an arts literary program at Brown University.
Seeing the beaches of Omaha in Normandy and places he only dreamed about as a child was a dream come true for Peter Grebner, a physics science teacher at Como Park Senior High, who traveled to The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.
Thanks to money raised through the Latino Culture Club at Johnson High School where Scott Hall teaches English as a Second Language, he was able to deliver new childrens books to a bustling library in Jinotega, Nicaragua.
Meeting the Dalai Lama was one of many life-changing highlights for Pamela Hoff, an Emotional/ Behavioral Disorder teacher at Boys Totem Town, who traveled to India.
On the Atlantic coast of southern Brazil, Sarah Horns, a science teacher at Harding Senior High School, studied dolphins through Earthwatch, which pairs scientists with volunteers from around the world.
Arlington Senior High art teacher Angela Ruddy participated in a 10-day workshop on creativity in Aix-en-Provence in France, a small town whose beauty was painted by Van Gogh, Matisse and Cezanne.
Lynn Schultz, a fourth-sixth grade teacher at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet Elementary School, participated in an Explore Cubas Geography program.
Nancy Veverka, a Spanish teacher at Arlington Senior High School, studied the influence Africans had on the shaping of Brazilian history, culture and religion.
And finally, Heidi Geimer and Annette Lopez, third-grade teachers at Capitol Hill Magnet Elementary, travel to Mexico in February to study monarch butterfly migration. This will benefit their students who raise monarchs in their classrooms each fall and focus on their migration.