Fund Run finances inspiration for teachers

Flori Meeks, Chronicle Correspondent
Chron.com

When Jo Ann Arlitt feels stress coming on, she likes to look at the photos from her summer trip to Greece.

The Spring Forest Middle School teacher and colleague Teresa Cardwell attended a creativity seminar there with a $7,500 grant from the national Fund for Teachers organization.

“It has helped me see things from a different perspective,” said Arlitt, who teaches eighth-grade math. “It was just incredible.”

Fund For Teachers, 2000 Post Oak Blvd., gives teachers grants for summer professional development opportunities.

Art teacher Susan Smith of Aldine’s Carroll Academy used an organization grant to learn to create mosaics in Italy last July with Carroll German teacher Birgit Langhammer.

“We are still kind of in shock that we were able to do this,” Smith said. “Learning a new medium is so eye-opening and overwhelming. It’s almost like being a kid again.”

During the last five years, Fund for Teachers has awarded more than 2,000 grants.

The recipients include 417 Houston-area teachers representing 286 schools.

The nonprofit organization will strive to raise funds for more grants Saturday when it hosts a Fund Run in uptown Houston.

The event, sponsored by the Galleria Chamber of Commerce, will include a 5-kilometer run/walk and a 1-kilometer Kids K race. The top male and female finishers in the 5K events will receive roundtrip domestic tickets from Southwest Airlines.

Fund for Teachers launched the run last year.

“It was just a way of introducing ourselves to the broader city,” said Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director. “We want to make sure every teacher knows about us.”

The run went so well the organization decided to make an annual fund-raiser.

This year, Bayou City Road Runners is administering it.

Fund for Teachers’ grants are $5,000 for individuals and $7,500 for groups.

“One teacher can affect 3,000 students,” said Kovach-Webb, who lives in the Memorial area. “They’re being totally re-charged.”

The program has sent teachers to the Galapagos Islands, Auschwitz, the Freedom Trail in Boston, Vietnam, Space Camp and the Antarctica, among other spots.

Arlitt’s and Cardwell’s initial idea was to ask Fund for Teachers to help them attend a summer math workshop.

“Then we thought how this is supposed to rejuvenate us, too, as individuals,” said Arlitt, who teaches eighth grade. “We thought a creativity workshop would help us add something to those mundane lessons and add some zip and pizzazz.”

Fund for Teachers approved their request to attend a workshop in Crete, and the teachers spent nine days there last June.

“This just opened our eyes to another world,” Arlitt said. The workshop students started each day with relaxation exercises, followed by activities designed to strengthen their creative sides.

“Now, it really helps me,” Arlitt said. “I’m having my students do a lot more modeling of things.”

Arlitt is using much of what she learned with her at-risk students.

“It’s really helped us bring this (math comprehension) to students who didn’t think they could do anything,” she said.

Smith said her experience has had an impact in the classroom, too.

She and Langhammer attended a mosaic art school in Italy, where they learned the techniques of Byzantine artists.

Their instructor is one of a handful of people worldwide with the training and expertise to restore mosaics from the third and fourth centuries, Smith said.

“The whole experience was incredible. She was very interesting.”

Now, she said, her students are fascinated with her stories about Italy and her lessons on mosaics.

“When they feel you believe in what you’re doing they learn so much better,” said Smith, who has volunteered to help with the Fund Run.

“Whatever Fund for Teachers wants me to do in the future I’m there because I want other teachers to have this experience.”