The theme “Equality for women is progress for all” highlights International Women’s Day 2014 on Saturday, March 8th. The United Nations established in 1975 this official day to commemorate the achievements of women and to raise awareness for the social and political equality of women around the world. This mission motivates Mindy Burger every day so she designed a Fund for Teachers fellowship to learn more about the plight of young girls in Tanzania and build solidarity between them and her students at Nativity School in Cincinnati.
Burger, an art teacher and longtime supporter of women’s rights, founded an after-school group three years ago called Girl Up-Craft Guild for Good, which is affiliated with the United Nations’ Girl Up movement. Every Thursday afternoon, middle school girls make crafts to sell and subsequently fund girls’ education in developing countries. The group also hosted a “Girls Night Out” showing of the Pixar movie “Brave” at school, as well as the film, Girl Rising, in a local theatre. Members chose to send a portion of their $4,000 profits to the Saint Theresa’s Girls School outside of Moshi, near Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, which is where Burger ultimately arrived on her fellowship.
In Limestone County, AL, 82% of the citizens are white. That percentage jumps to 96% when looking at the student body of Ardmore High School where Starr Weems teaches. Fearing her students’ first encounter with racial, cultural and religious diversity would be on the job, in college or not at all, Weems designed a Fund for Teachers grant to study three of the world’s major religions in Jerusalem. Her goal was to create a combined art/foreign language curriculum that introduced her homogenous students to the beauty of diversity and tolerance.
“As the only high school art teacher in the county and the only foreign language teacher at my school, it’s my responsibility to bring the cultures of the world to my students — many of whom will never leave our state. Somehow, I needed to inspire them to learn about the world around them so that they can be prepared to take part in a diverse society. It’s this responsibility that inspired my fellowship,” said Weems.
For one week last June, the holy city of Jerusalem became her classroom for intercultural studies. After journaling and sketching at the Dome of the Rock and surrounding gardens, she ventured to the Souq al-Qattanin to experience the colorful markets. In the Christian quarter, she followed and documented the Stations of the Cross on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Weems spent an afternoon plein air painting at the Wailing Wall, explored the Western Wall tunnels and toured the Ophel Jerusalem Archaeological Park. She also collaborated with Israeli educators through pre-arranged visits to the Hebrew University High School and witnessed the Holocaust’s impact on art at Yad Vashem. Lastly, she met with Isareli working artists at the Huztot Hayotzer Artists’ Colony before viewing Chagall’s stained glass windows at the Chadassah Medical Center.
Three days after returning home, she boarded a plane to Rochester, NY, where she attended a symposium on the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions at Nazareth College – also funded by her $5,000 grant.
Finally back in Ardmore, Weems implemented her new art/foreign language curriculum this fall (schedule and budget restraints necessitated the combined class). As part of the curriculum, her students heard from a local Holocaust survivor and experienced the Darkness into Life: Alabama Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art exhibit at the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. After the field trip, students created their own art to reflect on what they witnessed (see below).
"A Hebrew proverb says that children are not vessels to be filled, but candles to be lit. How can a teacher light the fire of curiosity in her students if her own spark has grown dim?” said Weems. “Teaching is rewarding and exciting as no other career, but success comes only when educators take care to stoke the fires of creativity and inspiration. Guarding the spark (as I did with my Fund for Teachers fellowship) is an obligation that protects our longevity and influence as educators.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. saw the function of education as teaching others to think intensively and critically. “Intelligence plus character,” he said, “that is the goal of true education.” In honor of Dr. King’s birthday today, we also celebrate Starr Weems’ work toward building students of intelligence and character for a future of tolerance.
You can learn more about this fellowship and download the resulting new lesson plans from Weems’ blog Art in Jerusalem.
Fifty years ago, President Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty and enlisted states, cities and generations for the conflict. Teachers function on the front lines of this war daily and many Fund for Teachers grant recipients pursue teaching strategies to help students in poverty succeed.
For the past two years, teaching teams from Wisconsin and Tennessee converged on San Antonio, TX, to learn research-proven strategies for “Teaching with Poverty in Mind.” Led by former teacher Eric Jensen, these educators participated in role-playing, hands-on projects, physical activity, movement and repetition to introduce more kinetic learning into standards-based curriculum.
“Children raised in poverty struggle against obvious external factors that inflict internal results. We needed help identifying ways to help this particular group of students at our school – a group that grows every year,” said Amy Monka, team leader and teacher at Hoover Elementary in Neenah, WI. With five of her colleagues, Amy learned the neuroscience behind how the stress of poverty assaults impulse control, cognitive development, language skills and memory. That knowledge permeates throughout the school community now as Amy’s team leads the staff in responding to students’ states of mind by building positive relationships and connecting movement to learning.
Generational poverty (two or more generations born into poverty) characterizes 81% of the students at Jackson Elementary in Janesville, WI. Despite recognition by the Wisconsin Department of Education for rising test scores, a team of four teachers knew their hard work and good intentions weren’t enough to overcome students’ needs.
“We committed to positively influencing the non-financial resources that make a difference in children’s lives and sought the tools to do so with our FFT grant,” said Sue Eicher, team lead. “While we cannot change the circumstances from which our students come, we can change the instructional strategies and school culture.”
Before school started this fall, the team conducted meetings with the school staff – using their new knowledge to re-frame attitudes, opinions and hopes for students. They continue to mentor peers during in-services, team collaboration time and book studies while also hosting parent events that promote learning and fellowship among families.
Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. – Horace Mann
In Chattanooga, 82% of students attending East Ridge Elementary benefit from free or reduced lunch. Before attending the “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” workshops, Schubert and Stacy Williams (teacher at nearby East Brainerd Elementary) enrolled in a Creativity Workshop in Barcelona which was also covered by their Fund for Teachers grant. While Jensen’s classes provided science-based strategies, tactics learned in Spain added creative approaches to their teaching.
“One hurdle we face is enabling our students to see themselves as creators,” Schubert said. “Though their experiences and economic resources are limited, their culture is rich – they just need help unearthing their creativity and bringing their stories to life through writing, drama, story-telling and visual art. We came home from San Antonio and Barcelona with a two-pronged approach to helping our struggling students advance.”
Last summer, Tracie Boland and Tammy Guthery, teachers at Vinemont Middle School in Vinemont, AL, embarked on an FFT fellowship to learn first-hand about Pearl Harbor. They never expected to learn first-hand from a 98-year-old veteran of the war itself.
“Kids have no idea how everyone’s lives changed to support the war or how the war changed everyone’s lives,” explained Boland. “We wanted to make the sacrifices real to them and believed that by experiencing historic sites associated with Pearl Harbor, we could better engage our students in history. But we became the students when we visited the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island in Honolulu.”
After touring the USS Missouri battleship and before going to see the USS Arizona Memorial, the teaching team stopped at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor – two hangars and the Ford Island Control Tower that still bear the scars as our nation’s first aviation battlefield. A docent volunteered to take their picture in front of a vintage B-25 Mitchell, then described the other planes on display.
“We asked how he knew so much about the airplanes and he replied that he flew several during the war. We were learning about the war from a participant in it,” said Boland. “He made me realize that my students also need more first-hand accounts to learn about history. I wanted them to experience the excitement of talking with someone who’s lived it, instead of reading accounts from a text book or novel.”
Boland and Guthery returned to Northern Alabama to create a compelling World War II curriculum for their students. Their unit begins after the holiday break, when students will read Under the Blood Red Sun, by Graham Salisbury, then Number the Stars by Lois Lowery – both novels about young people’s experiences during the war. The teachers will share photographs from their fellowship, including ones of oil still seeping from the USS Arizona, the marble standards symbolizing USS Oklahoma servicemen killed at Pearl Harbor and the graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl Crater. Finally, a student’s great, great uncle will visit the class and describe his service during the war: enlisting at 16, being shot twice and participating in D-Day.
“If students just hear the facts and numbers about events, but don’t make a personal connection to the story, then history seems more abstract than it really is,” said Boland. “They need to know that history is real and relevant, and appreciate that people lost their family members and loved ones to secure their freedom.”