How teacher spent summer vacation; new grants send educators to the corners of the world

The Boston Globe
Stephanie Vosk, Globe Correspondent

Suzanne Haile, a special education teacher at Brighton High School, plans to bring to her new classroom at Gardner Elementary in Allston this fall what she learns during a 40-day trip to Mali and Gambia in Africa this summer.

Boston Latin School teacher Son-Mey Chiu, who teaches Chinese language and culture, will bring back to her students what she finds while studying Chinese minorities and Buddhism on a monthlong trip to Southeast Asia.

The two are among 47 Boston public school teachers awarded $172,500 in grants this summer from the Boston Plan for Excellence’s Fund for Teachers program.

The grants will allow the teachers to travel nationally and internationally in ways that will benefit them and their classes.

“Africa’s sort of a dream place,” said Haile, before leaving on her trip earlier this month. “When I heard about the Fund for Teachers program, I thought I’d pick the place I wanted to go the most.”

Haile is studying the art of fabric design and dyeing techniques, and creating a kit for other teachers to use with their students.

Chiu said she heard about the program after two of her colleagues went to China last year, the first year of the fund, after the national Fund for Teachers program approached Boston about taking part.

Though 90 people were awarded grants last year, program director Dotty Engler said the money available this year was for 47, out of 130 applicants.

Though teachers have the opportunity to apply in teams, many more requested individual grants this year, she said.

Individuals could request up to $5,000, Engler said, and each team could request up to $7,500. Applicants had to explain how the trip could benefit their classrooms, their colleagues, and themselves.

“One of the things we really want to know is that this is something they’d love to do but maybe would never be able to afford on their own,” Engler said.

“In some ways, it’s a pragmatic fantasy, something that you really want to do as a professional, but meets the other criteria.”

For Marcia Young, a kindergarten teacher at Joseph Lee Elementary School in Dorchester for 33 years, an interest in knitting sparked her idea for a trip.

Young planned to spend six days learning the ins and outs of knitting in upstate New York, from visiting a sheep farm to dyeing yarn.

“It’s something that I’ve done all my life and enjoyed, so I was hoping that maybe this would be of interest to some of the children,” Young said.

For Young, the lesson will tie in to a Ukrainian folk tale called “The Mitten” that she teaches her students. As the tale tells of a grandmother knitting mittens for her grandchildren, Young often takes out her own knitting needles and explains the process to her students. After her trip, she will have more insight to share.

“By experiencing it, I hopefully can share my enthusiasm with the kids, and they usually get excited if I’m excited about something,” said Young.

Engler said the committee also considers how articulate the applications are, and how much the teachers really seem to want to take the trip.

“It’s the closest thing to being a fairy godmother,” said Engler, “that I’ll probably ever do.”