Funds helps teachers bring world back to class

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.