THIRTY-three museums in 31 days. Six countries and 7,500 miles and all for under $5,000.
That’s the feat that Cavan Leerkamp, art teacher at Queens Intermediate School in Pasadena, proposed to accomplish. And last spring, representatives of the Fund For Teachers said “Go for it.”
Leerkamp, 29, spent a month last summer touring Europe’s most famous art museums. He sketched and wrote in his journal as he observed Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s She Goat, and the barbed wire of Dachau concentration camp.
Shares trip with pupils
He photographed cathedrals and countrysides and compiled them all into a sketchbook-travel journal that is now digitized to share with pupils and teachers. His goal was to develop a simpler approach to art – even by the Masters – that students can grasp.
“I started showing my students the photographs, and we spent the rest of that day and the next looking at all of them,” Leerkamp said. “They were eyes wide open. They wanted to hear every detail.”
Fund For Teachers, a nonprofit organization, has sponsored more than 400 teachers in the Houston area since Raymond Plank, founder of Apache Corp., created the public foundation. It offers grants of up to $5,000 to teachers for self-designed professional development experiences. Houstonians will gather near the Galleria at Post Oak Boulevard on Saturday for Fund For Teacher’s second annual Fund Run. Last year, the Fund Run raised more than $150,000 as part of the $3 million raised area-wide all for local educators.
“You could give money to one child, and that could make a difference,” said Karen Kovach-Webb, executive director of Fund For Teachers, “but one teacher can impact as many as 3,000 students.”
As a Fund For Teachers fellow, Leerkamp now brings the breath of Europe to hundreds of seventh and eighth graders in southeast Houston. He saw the scope of impact his grant could have last fall when he brought five students to participate in a street art festival in Houston.
“Some of them had never even been downtown, not even into Houston,” Leerkamp said. “This trip to Europe was a much grander scale – it’s like me going to the moon and coming back and talking about it.”
To qualify for a grant, teachers must have at least three years experience, provide a detailed budget for the learning experience and show how the opportunity will help them to impact the community. Most of the grants involve cultural immersion, whether that culture is in the U.S. or abroad, but all have a common goal of better teaching.
Making kids more global
“With today’s global economy, we need a populace that’s more informed about how the rest of the world thinks,” said Kovach-Webb. “We need to expose our teachers so they can expose kids, and encourage children to dream. The world is much bigger than Pasadena or Harris County.”
For Leerkamp, the experience has brought more than interesting stories and photos to inspire students.
“I think the biggest thing I took away is confidence,” Leerkamp said. “Now when we go through the textbook and I see a painting, I’ll tell kids, ‘Whoa, I just saw that!’ They really listen when they know you’ve been there.”
To view Leerkamp’s art, visit www.cavanarts.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.”
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