SUMMER IS A TIME TO UNWIND for students and teachers, but many of Boston’s 5,000 teachers will spend part of July and August taking courses, attending workshops, and planning for the coming school year.
Ninety-four lucky Boston teachers will travel and study this summer, thanks to grants from the Boston Plan for Excellence and its partners, the Boston Public Schools and Houston’s Fund For Teachers. The projects the winning teachers designed vary, from learning about the culture of Ghana to exploring the ecology of the Southwest. Whatever their destination, they will bring back experiences that deepen their own understanding, enrich their teaching, and benefit their students next September.
Leslie McGowan, Grade 2 Teacher, Farragut Elementary School Destination: Italy
Several times each year, teachers and students from the Farragut walk to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, just a few blocks away, where they study the artistic and cultural history of Boston and Europe.
This summer, Ms. McGowan and fellow teacher Barbara Casserly will do some walking of their own, to deepen their knowledge of the arts so they can help students make a stronger connection with the Gardner. Their project, “In the Footsteps of Isabella Stewart Gardner,” will take them to the cities and museums of Italy that inspired Mrs. Gardner to create her unique art collection and museum.
A Boston native, Ms. McGowan is especially excited about this trip because she has been going to the Gardner since she was a child. “It has always been very special to me,” she says. Her favorite spot is the East Cloister, which looks into the courtyard. “I really look forward to visiting the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice, which was the model for that courtyard,” she adds.
The teacher team will trace Mrs. Gardner’s travels through Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. They will shoot videos, keep journals, make sketches, and collect artifacts – all of which will be used as primary source material for Farragut students and teachers.
“When a teacher has a passion for a subject, it is contagious to the students,” Ms. McGowan emphasizes. “At the Farragut, we have a passion for the Gardner, and we’ve found that using the museum as a resource helps get even hard-to-reach students interested in their learning.”
Alicia Carroll, Kindergarten Teacher, Young Achievers K-8 Destination: Kenya
In the 15th century, ambassadors from what is now East Africa took a giraffe to China on the ship of a Chinese Muslim explorer. Yes a giraffe.
This unusual fact, says Ms. Carroll, inspired her to develop a children’s book and curriculum unit, Malindi’s Story. She’s worked on the project with Lucy Montgomery, a teacher at New Boston Middle School, for two years. Berit Bowman, also from Young Achievers, just signed on.
This summer all three will travel to Kenya to see the setting first hand. They’ll learn how a giraffe might have been captured, shipped across the Indian Ocean, and cared for along the way; investigate the tools that African and Arab sailors used to guide them on their journey; and meet with scholars who study the connections between Africa and China and the influence of Islam in the time of the Silk Routes.
This is a complex topic, grants Ms. Carroll. “Focusing on the giraffe lets us take a big idea and translate it into a story that is exciting and interesting for young children.” In fact, when she first shared the story with her students, “they were so fascinated, they wanted to learn everything they could about giraffes,” she says.
The team has many goals for Malindi’s Story, including helping students understand that Africans and Asians, and their descendants, had a shared history for centuries before European influence.
Students aren’t the only ones who will benefit from this project. “Teachers have to be researchers and scholars,” she emphasizes. “Like students, we benefit from pursuing our intellectual passion. It keeps us vital.”
Ullsses Goncalves, History Teacher, Madison Park High School Destination: Cape Verde Islands
Although many Madison Park students are of Cape Verdean descent, their history books rarely mention those West African islands. Mr. Goncalves will soon begin to fill the gaps, when he travels to Cape Verde this summer to research its role as a center for the Portuguese slave trade.
What is now Cape Verde was uninhabited when the Portuguese settled there around 1460, says Mr. Goncalves, and the islands eventually became holding places for captives from Africa until they were traded to slave owners in the Americas and the Caribbean.
One of his prime destinations is Cidade Velha, an ancient city and fortress on Santiago Island. Its many ruins, which Cape Verdean officials are hoping to preserve, date back to the 17th century.
“I plan to meet with government officials,” says Mr. Goncalves, “and encourage them to move forward with the preservation.”
That’s important for two reasons, he argues: a restored Cidade Velha would not only illuminate the history of slavery but also dramatize changes and improvements in the Cape Verde islands over time.
“I also hope to share with them my perspective as a history teacher with students of Cape Verdean descent,” he adds.
Mr. Goncalves will meet also with Daniel Pereira, Cape Verdean historian and expert on slavery. Additionally, he’ll do research at the national library, shoot video, and gather artifacts to share with students this fall.
In short, he wants nothing less than “to make history come alive” for himself and all his students.