Spending a summer trip in a place like Crete or India might sound like a dream vacation to some people, but for a few local teachers, it became a reality.
Thanks to grants from the Houston-based, nonprofit Fund for Teachers, 94 teachers from 59 area schools were able to participate in self-designed professional development opportunities around the globe during the summer of 2006.
Teresa Cardwell, a seventh-grade math teacher at Spring Forest Middle School, was one of those teachers.
In June, she went to the Greek island of Crete with eighth-grade Spring Forest math teacher Jo Ann Arlitt for a nine-day creativity workshop, in which they explored writing, drawing, photography, map-making and visualization techniques.
But, what did a writing workshop in Crete have to do with teaching math? That’s the question Cardwell had to answer when she applied for the grant that funded her trip.
Other than the fact that many of the first mathematicians came from ancient Greece, she and Arlitt were looking for new ways to teach their at-risk and gifted and talented students, and they believed the program would help.
It did. “As I was thinking and writing I really wasn’t thinking about anything at home,” Cardwell said. “When I came back to school I was totally refreshed and had an open mind about how to teach my children.”
During the first days of the school year, Cardwell was able to incorporate an exercise she did herself on the first day of the workshop into two of her classes, which consisted of students who did not pass the math portion of the TAKS test last year.
She had the students fold and unfold sheets of paper and, within the resulting squares, write down the reasons they thought they couldn’t do math. Then, she told them to mark through each square and write how they could overcome those obstacles. She collected the papers and plans to hand them back at the end of the school year.
The idea to use a writing exercise to help students with math is something she wouldn’t have considered before, she said, but she learned that when things aren’t working a certain way it’s beneficial to try new methods.
The grants are an investment in the teachers, who bring their experiences back to their classrooms, which is an investment in the future, FFT Executive Director Karen Kovach-Webb said.
“We invest money in teachers who are investing their time impacting the lives of our students,” Kovach-Webb said. “They (the students) are our future workforce and the future of the world. The return is so important.”
Community members can help invest in future grant recipients Saturday, Feb. 10, by participating in the second annual Fund for Teachers Fund Run, which is taking place in the Galleria area.
The Fund Run will begin at 8 a.m. with a free Kids K Race, which will be followed by a 5K run/walk at 8:30 a.m. The races will begin at the intersection of Post Oak Boulevard and Ambassador Way. The first place male and female runners will receive roundtrip domestic Southwest Airline tickets.
Registration costs $25 for adults and $15 for participants younger than 18. Proceeds will fund grants for Houston-area teachers. Sign-in and registration will take place from 7-8 a.m. Last year’s run raised $168,000.
FFT is an opportunity for professional development, just as other professionals would have in their given fields, Kovach-Webb said. It also allows teachers to be global citizens and experience other parts of the world.
“It’s an excellent way to get teachers out of the classroom and help them bring the world to the kids,” Johnston Middle School teacher Gail Medina said. “It’s an opportunity for the teachers to be able to experience a life-changing experience and to share with their family, friends, students and coworkers.”
A seventh-grade Texas history teacher, Medina chose to go on a maternal and child health care expedition to India as a volunteer with Earth Watch.
She wanted to learn more about the intriguing culture. What she found there was a new appreciation for living and teaching in America and an understanding of newly immigrated students at Johnston.
When a student from China who didn’t know English came to her class this school year, she understood the anxiety of not knowing a country’s native language. She explained to her students how warm and welcoming people had been to her in India, even though she didn’t know their language, and asked them to be the same to others who are different from them.
While many grant recipients travel across oceans, some going as far south as Antarctica – as one J. Wills Elementary School teacher did – other teachers choose to stay within the borders of the United States.
T. H. Rogers special education teacher Carolyn Johnican went to Atlanta for a week so to attend the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Conference and learn more about the technologies she uses with her students, whom, she says, mean the world to her.
“I was able to go do something for them and bring something back to enhance their opportunities in the classroom,” Johnican said, adding that she’s happy she had the opportunity because many special education teachers have a tendency to feel like they are the least respected in the profession.
The opportunity was like a renewal for special education teachers to her. Johnican is humbled that she and her students were able to benefit from the program.
One of the things she brought back was knowledge about an assistive technology device called the Voice Pal, which allows persons with speech impediments to communicate using pre-recorded messages. She said it allows every student to have a sense of independence.
Although there have been the occasional district and campus development opportunities, nothing has been quite like her experience with FFT.
“It’s such a wonderful opportunity to do something that you pick yourself,” she said.
WHAT: Fund for Teachers Fund Run
WHEN: Feb. 10; Sign-in and late registration from 7-8 a.m. Kids K Race begins at 8 a.m. and 5K run/walk at 8:30 a.m.
WHERE: Starting line at the intersection of Post Oak Boulevard and Ambassador Way
HOW MUCH: Registration is $25 for adults and $15 for participants younger than 18. Kids K Race is free.
WHY: Raise funds for grants for local teachers’ summer professional development opportunities.
A visionary maverick with a philanthropic soul, Raymond Plank arrived in Houston in the mid 1990s, bringing with him the company he founded in 1954. With the disgrace of Enron still slapping Houstonians daily, Raymond, the chairman of Apache Corporation, is a welcome change.
Early on in the scandal, Raymond said publicly of Enron’s management, “They ought to be breaking rocks in the hot sun.” His blunt, straight talk is just one of the reasons everyone loves Raymond. Growing up on a Minnesota dairy farm, he comments on his formative years by saying, “… the most important influence in my life other than my father was a man named Noah Foss. He was a Latin teacher, a towering figure who inspired, challenged and motivated countless young men at the small country day school that I attended in the 1930s. But for Foss, who gave me the focus and self-respect I needed, I wouldn’t have received an honors score on my college entrance exams. And, almost certainly, I never would have gone to Yale.”
Before Yale, he served his nation as a pilot in WWII. After college, Raymond and two partners began a small accounting services company in Minneapolis. That company became Apache Corporation. Today, Apache has $15.5 billion in assets scattered around the globe. Raymond told Business Week in 2001 one of the secrets of his success, “… when others zig, we’re zagging.”
From his very first paycheck, Raymond set aside money for teachers. He did it as a way of honoring his mother and Noah Foss. His private efforts morphed into a public charity, The Fund for Teachers. It provides grants of up to $5,000 for teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade for sabbaticals of their own design. Last year in Houston alone, 94 teachers from 71 schools received grants. Some of their stories can be found at www.fundforteachers.org.
When I first met Raymond, he was sporting a bright African knit cap. It was to support another educational effort; this one was half a world away. Springboard – Educating the Future, founded by Raymond and Apache, is currently building 36 schools for girls ages 6-14 in Egyptian villages. They are committed to building 200.
In May 2005, the world learned of this effort when the first ladies of the U.S. and Egypt, Laura Bush and Suzanne Mubarak, visited the first school. It is in Abu Sir, 10 miles south of the Giza Pyramids. The innovative, environmentally friendly design is being replicated for the other schools.
That he would make sure these schools work with the environment is vintage Plank. The Nov. 28, 2005, issue of High Country News says of Raymond, “He’s worked to protect Wyoming landscapes, consulting with a series of governors and working with the Sierra Club… The Ucross Foundation, which he founded, runs a 22,000-acre ranch near Sheridan that’s a model of holistic land management.”
The Ucross Foundation has an artist in residence program. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize novel, “The Shipping News” and Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas did some of their creative work for the Broadway hit “The Light in the Piazza” at Ucross.
A smaller version is now just up the road from Houston in New Ulm, Texas. In looking for a weekend retreat, Raymond found a beautiful vista with a house that was built in 1853. Rather than tear it down, he has saved Restoration House. Apache makes it available for groups during the day.
Plain words, support for education, respect for the world’s people and the environment are more of the reasons Houston loves Raymond. – Fran Fawcett Peterson H
Teacher hopes her trip to frigid Antarctica fires up students’ interest in traveling, learning
The students in Daphne Rawlinson’s elementary school science classes don’t quite get it when she says: I am going to Antarctica.
Sure, she’s showed them on the globe, but that looks like a few inches away, not more than 13,000 miles. And when she talks about cold, many can only compare that to last week in Houston, when temperatures dipped into the 30s.
“Most of our students, or a lot of our students, haven’t even been out of the state of Texas,” Rawlinson said. “So to get them to visualize that you are going to the other side of the world… They don’t have a lot of understanding.”
That’s one reason the teacher and science specialist at Houston’s J. Will Jones Elementary School proposed the trip, and why Fund for Teachers agreed pick up the tab, which Rawlinson estimates in the thousands.
The Houston-based organization awards travel grants each year to teachers nationwide. It has sponsored art and cultural studies in Egypt and research on humpback whales off the coast of Brazil.
Rawlinson is the first of its fellows traveling all the way south, to the land of penguins, seals and mammoth glaciers.
The Houston native said she has always wanted to go where the ice is. But Antarctica is attractive for other reasons.
“What has been the most fascinating thing to me is to see how the entire world has come together to protect this one spot,” she said. “It is protected by the Antarctica Treaty, and it is maintained for scientific research.”
No one country governs Antarctica; instead, governments work together to allow researchers from different areas to study its habitat. Tourism is limited and military activities banned.
Rawlinson is going through a graduate study-abroad program with the University of Georgia. On Dec. 26, she and a group of students will fly to South America, where they will board a boat for a day-and-a-half trip to the ice continent.
Once there, she will spend her nights sleeping on the boat (there are no hotels or gift shops in Antarctica, Rawlinson likes to remind those asking about her accommodations) and her days researching the icy habitat, keeping a journal and taking pictures and video.
A tool to ace TAKS
Rawlinson’s plan is to return home Jan. 9 with enough material to form a life-science unit on the continent for her students.
deally her lesson plan will inspire students to travel when they grow up but also help improve their science-test passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, which three years ago were in the teens.
The scores picked up last year but still need work, said Brian Flores, principal of the school, which has a high population of economically disadvantaged students.
“The whole key for children learning is making those real-life connections,” he said.
“These kids don’t have the opportunity to go to museums all the time. They don’t have the opportunity to travel out of the country or state, so when we have the opportunity to really teach something like this from real-life experience we jump on board.”
To prepare her for her trip, the Georgia program sent Rawlinson a four-page packing list. “In 10-point font,” she emphasized.
She bought a down parka, insulated ski pants and gloves lined with fleece, which she is supposed to cover with insulated mittens. She’ll also have a journal and her digital camera, which takes video.
She hopes to get footage of her boat trip through the notoriously rough Drake Passage and shots of her alongside penguins, anything that would inspire her students.
“Kids are like little sponges,” she said. “They are so interested. If you get them talking about something, they just keep going and going.”
In This Issue:
Students tackle Erie Canal rewatering project
Fellows head back to school with a renewed focus, energy
Teachers foster community of understanding
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