Roberts Elementary teachers bring Peru to second-graders

Group helps instructors learn first-hand about various cultures

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Since returning from Peru, Roberts Elementary School second-grade teachers Jennifer Kirstein and Cristina Boyer have incorporated the country’s currency, mountainous terrain, grain-heavy diet and an assortment of animals and habitats into teaching tools for their pupils.

But both say they were the real students during the trip sponsored this summer by the nonprofit national foundation Fund for Teachers. The grant-paid journey taught them as much or more than they may ever be able to impart to their classes.

The trip certainly widened their perspective about their own profession, Kirstein and Boyer say.

“It’s probably the most important event in our lives. We look at the world differently now,” said Boyer, 25.

Both say they will be available to lend their support to this year’s third annual Fund Run for Teachers, set for Feb. 9, that annually raises funds to allow the coming summer international trips for teachers who successfully apply to the program. The event’s catch phrase this year is “Love Houston Teachers, Heart and Sole.”

Kirstein, who lives in the Montrose area, and Boyer, 25, who resides near the West University Place-area campus at 6000 Greenbriar, said they both love to travel and think expanding cultural knowledge is essential in their jobs as part of Roberts’ International Baccalaureate program.

The two brought back coin and paper money, lessons about Peru’s mountainous terrain that “we hiked the first three days, and a history lesson about how the Incas managed trade,” Boyer said. The lessons are especially germane to Roberts pupils, who represent more than 125 countries and several native languages.

“We made a movie while we were there, and we showed it to our faculty so they could learn about Peru and see what we did,” Kirstein said.

This is Boyer’s second year as a teacher. Kirstein has taught for six years and is in her second year at Roberts. In 2004 she went on a Fulbright Memorial Fund trip to Japan.

“Getting to interact with kids in the international community makes us feel more in tune, seeing how kids learn all over the world. It helps you relate more to the students, and the families really appreciate it when you try to learn about their culture,” Kirstein said.

They left in July 2007 and hiked the “physically challenging” terrain, visiting ruins and resting in tents in below-freezing weather in the high altitudes and meeting indigenous people who make their home in the Andes.

In Cusco, the two teachers volunteered at a shelter to help children with homework, meal preparation and craft-making, “to teach the kids something they could use,” Kirstein said. Outside of town, they stayed with a family for two nights and spent some time at the area school.

“That was really amazing,” Kirstein said. “At the school, there are only three classes for the combined indigenous population. We just helped with alphabet sounds and math problems.”

Hiking the area around Machu Picchu, the teachers witnessed primitive living that hasn’t changed much since the Inca civilizations roamed the mountains and taught their children.

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