Poe third-grade teacher brings Spain, Portugal to her pupils

Group helps instructors learn first-hand about various cultures

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Poe Elementary School teacher Heidi Shellhorn’s third-graders have expanded their notion of the world this year, taking virtual trips to taste Spanish cuisine, run with the bulls of Pamplona, and traipse through Portuguese castles during social studies, math and art classes.

Shellhorn is presenting her pupils lesson plans she developed while on a National Geographic Explorer tour to Spain and Portugal made possible to her through a $3,800 grant from the Fund For Teachers organization.

For pupils who are 40 percent Hispanic or bilingual, and with 43 percent eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, it’s a big deal to learn that you can connect to places on the globe rich in culture and history, said Shellhorn, 34, who lives off of Westheimer between Kirby and Shepherd.

“I have kids in my classes who couldn’t believe that castles exist. Their notion of what’s out there has grown,” said Shellhorn, 34.

Except for a brief trip to an English-speaking part of Canada, Shellhorn had also stayed inside U.S. borders, so sampling the Latin cuisine in Barcelona, canoeing down a river, touching a Roman-built bridge and watching, from a safe distance, the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona provided her with a big cultural boost, she said.

“It’s eye-opening to be submersed in a different language, surrounded by history with so many layers of influences,” Shellhorn said.

She praised the school for successfully incorporating students, many of whom speak very little English. Opening them to the idea that a growing number of people throughout the world speak a different language than their host country may help her students to feel less marginalized, she said.

“They aren’t just a separate group who doesn’t fit in here,” Shellhorn said.

One third-grade boy was so inspired by the souvenirs and photos Shellhorn brought back — and by the idea that she got to visit other countries, different shapes on the globe – announced that his life goal would be to learn every language of the world.

“He’s already started studying and he corrected me on a Portuguese word,” Shellhorn said.

A lesson in Portugal’s ceramic tile-making, which originated among the Arabic Moors who first brought the craft to Spain, provided overlapping lessons in art, social studies, language and history. A teaching unit on celebrations allowed Shellhorn to share her experience of watching the “very quick” Pamplona run of bulls and street runners in red-and-white bandanas from the safety of an upstairs window.

Even when two of the most common disasters to befall tourists hit Shellhorn – her luggage was lost and her camera was stolen – she was enjoying her visit too much to really care.

“It was hard to be unhappy there,” Shellhorn said.

She and other teachers who traveled with Fund for Teachers grants this summer plan to return the nonprofit organization’s support by encouraging participants during the third annual Fund Run for Teachers on Feb. 9.

The run/walk will begin with registration 7-8 a.m., then a Kids K Race from 8-8:30 a.m., with the main 5K race beginning at 8:30 a.m. All events will be held near the Galleria on South Post Oak Road, between Ambassador Way and Lynn Lane. Top male and female finishers in the 5K run/walk each will receive a $100 gift certificate to Fleet Feet.

Registration fees – $20 for those age 18 and older and $10 for 17 and under through Friday; $25 and $15, respectively, after Friday – include a complimentary T-shirt and chip timer. Children 10 and younger must be accompanied by a parent, and city ordinances prevent pets from accompanying runners or walkers.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has awarded grants totalling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million in grants.