South End teachers spend summer vacation abroad

Linda Rodriguez

This summer, six South End educators, with the help of nearly $20,000 in grants, will be traveling to far off places in the hopes of becoming better at what they do.

This is the fourth year that the Boston Plan for Excellence has awarded summer grants to teachers, as part of its Fund for Teachers partnership with the Boston Public Schools. The McKinley South End Academy, a high school for students with emotional, behavioral and learning needs on Warren Avenue, snagged a significant number of the 34 grants awarded – five teachers will be taking trips this summer with funds from the program. Another South End teacher, John Allocca from alternative high school El Centro Del Cardenal, won a $5000 grant to travel to Ghana for three weeks.

“The Fund for Teachers is an opportunity for teachers to enrich themselves. We plan on coming back to enrich our programs,” said Warren Pemsler, an English teacher at McKinley who, along with fellow English teacher, Christopher Busch, received $3560 to travel to London and the Netherlands. The two teachers, along with McKinley art teacher Ari Hauben, run collaborative arts and writing-based programs with both the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Huntington Theatre, taking their students to exhibitions and shows and working the experiences into their curriculum.

Pemsler and Busch will leave July 8 for what sounds like a great, if artsy, vacation – they spend a week in London, attending plays every night and visiting contemporary art museums during the day, before meeting up with Hauben in the Netherlands to visit art museums there. Sounds like a vacation, and it almost is, Pemsler admitted, but for the fact that they’ll also be meeting with educational programming staff at the theatres and museums, to learn more about how different programs conduct community-based arts education.

Six South End teachers received grants to travel abroad this summer: left to right, John Allocca, Warren Pemsler, Ronda Goodale, Ari Hauben, Cleyde Oliveira, and Christopher Busch. Photo: Ian Drumm

“It’s very exciting… This fund is meant to be enriching to the teachers and the community, they don’t want you to go to a bunch of teachers workshops,” he added. “What we’re doing is not out of the realm of what’s possible [to do with the grants], but it happens to be awesome.”

Hauben, an art teacher at the school, received his own grant of $4882, to further develop his skills as an artist, as well as to travel to the Netherlands with the two English teachers. Hauben, an industrial designer by trade who has been teaching at McKinley for three years, will spend two weeks studying “more traditional art” with two artists in the New York City area beginning July 8. He then leaves from New York on July 20 to meet up with Pemsler and Busch, before returning to New York to spend more time in the arts scene there.

“This will give me a stronger foundation in like painting and more traditional arts,” Hauben explained. “I think it will be good for the students and broaden what I’m capable of teaching them, or at least allow me to teach them better.”

Hauben also explained that the biggest impact on their students and the programs they conduct will likely come out of their meetings with individuals who run similar arts-based educational programs. “A lot of the kids [at McKinley] have emotional issues and any way that we can pique their interests [is important],” he said. “In the Netherlands, they’re into doing that and a lot of places run programs similar to the ones that we’re doing.”

Ronda Goodale, literacy coach at McKinley who received a $4185 grant, is also hoping to bring back some of what she learns in her 10 days studying creative writing in Prague with teachers from across the globe to help round out the school’s more innovative programming. “My goal is to bring what I’ve learned in terms of trying to combine across media, and using different types of intelligences, with our own kids and our own teachers,” she said.

Goodale is also planning on putting together a journal of her time abroad, to present to her students – and to show them that even for her, a literacy coach, writing can still be difficult.

“It’s a challenge… I want to show them the process for me, because some of them are challenged,” she said, “[and[ I can appreciate what it’s like for them.” (Another literacy educator at McKinley, Cleyde Oliveira, will also be working on her skills this summer, in a summer institute at Columbia University. South End News was unable to reach her to talk about her program.)

All of the teachers have been asked to put together a presentation to the Fund for Teachers board, to, as Hauben said, “show them what I did with their money.” Some also are looking to put a presentation together to share with their students just what they did for their summer vacation.

“I hope to bring back a lot of pictures, new insights, knowledge and a variety of artifacts to share with my students and the school community,” said Allocca, of his upcoming trip to Ghana. Allocca, social studies and history teacher at El Centro, says that he’ll be incorporating some of what he learns in his curriculum next year, which focuses in part on the African roots of some of the Spanish-speaking countries that his students hail from.

Asked if his students are jealous that he’ll be spending his summer vacation, Pemsler said, “It’s the adults that are most! Some of my students have never left Massachusetts, or New England… but the adults are like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so jealous.