Teacher brings sights of Europe to school

Carla Rabalais
Chron.com

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.