Teachers followed the Tour; now students reap benefits

Doug Belden
Pioneer Press

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 2Ĩ 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 dbelden@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5136.

The Combses

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

Home: Stillwater

Accomplishments: Traveled to the Tour de France this summer and are incorporating lessons from the bike race into fitness instruction for students

Trips abroad inspire new lessons

Teachers come back fired up after spending summer picking up ideas for classroom

Chicagotribune.com

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.”

Galleria Chamber to sponsor family event / Fund Run scheduled for February 2007

Houston Chronicle

The Galleria Chamber of Commerce will serve as the presenting sponsor for the Fund for Teachers’s Fund Run, which is scheduled for Feb. 10, 2007 in the Galleria-area.

The family-friendly event increases community awareness and raises funds for self-designed professional development opportunities for local teachers.

“We are so glad to be partnering with (Fund for Teachers) since they are making a valuable investment in keeping teachers from our community inspired and involved in the classroom,” said Darrell Roth, 2006 chairman of the board, Galleria Chamber of Commerce.

“It is refreshing and gratifying to have a national nonprofit with such strong roots in our neighborhood.”

Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of Fund for Teachers, said she thinks the alliance is a “perfect fit.”

“We feel this is a perfect fit since the (chamber) has a strong commitment to education in the Houston community.”

More than 450 runners took part in the inaugural event in January 2006 at Sam Houston Park downtown, Kovach-Webb said.

The event raised $168,000 for self-designed professional development opportunities for Houston-area teachers, she said.

The Galleria Chamber of Commerce is a business alliance serving the business and cultural interests of their service area which includes The Galleria, Uptown, Greenway Plaza and West Houston.

The Chamber is proud to represent their 750 plus members.

For more information, visit www.fundforteachers.org or call 713-296-6127.

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School’s in for the summer

TownOnline.com

At the Lucy Stone Elementary School in Dorchester, Anne Roman teaches a class of 22 first graders. But this summer in Tanzania, she will teach a class three times that size.

Roman, a Scituate resident, is one of 43 teachers in the Boston Public Schools who recently won a “Fund for Teachers/Boston” grant for summer travel and study from the Boston Plan for Excellence – the city’s local education foundation. She will travel to the country of Tanzania next month in order to teach English to a class of 70, 9-year-old African students.

The overseas experience is said to be hard emotionally, physically and academically, but Roman – who will travel with a fellow teacher from the Lucy Stone School – expects it to be the most rewarding opportunity.

“We felt like we won the lottery,” she said about the chance to teach the children of the Chagga tribe in Moshi, Tanzania. “No opportunities come around like this. These are the perks to teaching.”

Roman will begin her three-week journey on July 13 under the organization and sponsorship of Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) – an international volunteering organization.

Until then she has been brushing up on her Swahili, in order to ease the language barrier with her new students.

According to Roman, in order for the younger students to attend middle and high school, they must be fluent in English.

“As teachers and English speakers, we want to do what little we can to help, to have a small impact on global change, one child at a time,” she said.

“They rely on people like us to teach them these skills in order to remain an active part in the world market.”

Roman also hopes to bring back to her Lucy Stone students – with the majority of African American descent – the experience of new cultures and traditions and the knowledge in African folk tales for the new school year.

“We as teachers always looking for ways to make teaching interesting and more fun,” she said.

With other volunteers from around the world, Roman will stay in a Moshi village dormitory, located at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. On weekends, volunteers will also take CCS-organized cultural side trips to Serengeti National Park, Olduvai Gorge, where anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey conducted research, and to Zanzibar Island, where they’ll take the “Spice Tour.”

This is the third summer that the Fund For Teachers/Boston, joined with the Boston Plan for Excellence, has awarded grants to teachers in the city’s public schools. This summer, the chosen teachers have received $169,226 in grants to travel to and study in 29 foreign countries and several states.

Teacher pursues quilting project

North Reading resident Susan Fitzgerald will nourish her long-time passion for quilting this summer at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, and plan the second year of a school-wide project on the fiber arts at the Boston elementary school in which she teaches. Fitzgerald is one of 43 teachers in the Boston Public Schools who recently won a Fund For Teachers/Boston grant for summer travel and study from the Boston Plan for Excellence, the city’s local education foundation.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to develop my skills as a quilter in a relaxed setting,” says Fitzgerald, who teaches grade 2 at Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain. “Being one of 12 students in a supportive classroom, developing my creative skills in color and pattern, is a dream, with nature as a backdrop.”

Fitzgerald is part of a three-teacher team from the Manning who will study at the folk arts school. Last year, the Manning was the “lucky recipient” of several sheep fleeces, a donation that led to a school-wide project on the fiber arts. “We all learned to skirt, scour, and pick the fleece. Hallways were filled with children lugging buckets of water to and from classrooms to wash away muck from the wool. “The children loved it!,” the team says. That project helped students understand, they emphasize, that everyday materials came from somewhere, and that production was a step-by-step process that can be broken down, identified, and with practice, mastered.

In their two weeks in North Carolina, studying under nationally known instructors and with “protected time to focus on our own education,” the three hope to master new skills in dyeing, weaving, and quilting for their project this fall. “Student learning, especially their language skills, just exploded during our fiber arts unit last year,” says Fitzgerald. “They described the activities, shared experiences, read directions, wrote stories (and directions), recorded results, predicted amounts of material and time needed for tasks.” Adding quilting will allow students to experiment with shapes, color, and pattern designs and to integrate math, Fitzgerald adds.

Fitzgerald has taught in Boston’s public schools for 34 years, including 23 years at the Manning, and has lived in East Walpole for 22 years. She has also been a member of North Parish Quilters for 20 years.

Fund For Teachers/Boston is a joint project of the Boston Plan for Excellence and the Boston Public Schools, and this is the third summer the partnership has awarded grants to teachers in the city’s public schools. For summer 2006, 43 teachers have won $169,226 in grants to travel to and study in 29 foreign countries and several states. Supported exclusively with private monies, Fund For Teachers/Boston is underwritten by the national Fund For Teachers; by the Surdna Foundation and an anonymous donor, which fund Teachers As Artists grants; and by other donors.

Newsletter – Volume 2, Summer 2006

In This Issue:
News Corporation, Jones Apparel donate $1.8 million
The Pure Life: Costa Rican Style
Petrellos Host Gala

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.

 

 

Raymond Plank on Fund for Teachers

Murdoch Pushes To Bridge U.S. – Asia ‘Culture Gap’

Greg Levine
Forbes.com

New York – As China and India rise in the 21st century, some say the “culture gap” between the U.S. and the rest of the world could be fatal to its place in the sun.

And as a naturalized American, Rupert Murdoch is keenly aware of the phenomenon. Being Australian-born and well-traveled gives the News Corp. (nyse: NWS – news – people ) chairman and chief executive a global perspective.

And so the billionaire is taking action. In a press release on Tuesday, Murdoch’s media colossus and Jones Apparel Group (nyse: JNY – news – people ) said they’re joining forces to show America the world-in person.

News Corp. and Jones Apparel announced a major grant to Fund For Teachers (FFT), an entity that furnishes “outstanding teachers” with shots at exotic summer learning and exploration.

The two corporations have donated to enable educators from America’s most “global” metropolis, New York City, to study in Asian nations. The hope is that said teachers will be better able to instill, first-hand, a broader understanding of Asia into American students.

With an infusion of $1.5 million, the News Corp. Asian Grant Program will be managed by New Visions for Public Schools, the New York metro area’s administrative partner of FFT.

Through its Jones New York In The Classroom organization, the clothier has pledged $300,000 to FFT. Teachers will create their own Asian itineraries, and this donation will be used to develop curricula to “enrich the learning experience in the classroom and in cities and towns across” America.

Raymond Plank, founder of FFT said in the statement that “Children need to understand and embrace the global environment to survive as adults. The culture gap is a huge threat to the global workforce.”

Murdoch echoed that sentiment – with a dose of optimism: “We are proud to sponsor a program that will prepare our students to face the challenges and opportunities of a globally connected world.”

Ojala. One can only hope.