Believing the teacher knows best how they can make a better impact in their classroom, Fund for Teachers awards fellowships for self-designed professional growth to PreK-12 teachers who recognize the value of inquiry, the power of knowledge, and their ability to make a difference.
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To kick off staff development week at River Oaks Elementary, Pia DeLeon (Houston) presented on her fellowship observing how International Baccalaureate teachers in Japan successfully implement transdisciplinary skills to create lessons that promote independent thinking and extend beyond the classroom. She also used a portion of her $5,000 grant to visit Hiroshima’s Peace Park and leave an origami crane at the Children’s Peace Monument: Pia’s fourth grade students read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes so, after their study and in advance of her fellowship, each child signed the crane that now joins the ten million others left from around the world each year.

Below is an exerpt from Pia’s presentation:

“…I’m speaking from my heart when I tell you that this experience has been life changing.  I traveled to Japan solo and as I reflect on this, I am overcome with emotion.  There was so much fear and anxiety within me prior to my trip, but now it has provided me with a renewed sense of self. Knowing that I was able to make my way through a foreign country and learn such invaluable lessons along the way, made me realize that I am so much more than a wife, mother, or even teacher. There is still a student instilled within me, pushing boundaries and limitations in order to gain personal growth beyond what I could have imagined. Being able to show my students that inquiry has no limitations on status, age, or occupation provides them with personal evidence that being a risk taker, while uncomfortable and scary, is extremely worth it.”

You can share in Sadako’s story by  folding your own paper crane and representatives at Hiroshima’s Peace Park will place it at Sadako’s monument. Mail to:

Peace Promotion Division
The City of Hiroshima
1-5 Nakajima-cho Naka-ku,
Hiroshima 730-0811 Japan

Two teachers from The Blake School (Hopkins, MN) checked in from Seoul, South Korea, and the 10th Annual World Symposium on Choral Music. They designed this fellowship to attend the conference, conduct local school visits and gain experience listening and observing music that centers around diverse world cultures. The theme “Healing and Youth” informs multiple lectures with global themes that provide insight into multicultural approaches to music instruction for these elementary and middle school music teachers.

In addition to hearing performances of youth choirs from more than 30 countries, the teaching team is most moved by those choirs representing current world events:

“The African Youth Choir (Congo) had a very difficult time making it to Korea due to the Ebola outbreak. Some of the singers weren’t successful, but the passion that they sang about peace and unity made up for the singers left behind. The Moran Choir from Israel sang of tolerance and peace towards others. And, the Ansan City Choir (Korea) dedicated their first piece to the memory of the students from the recent ferry disaster. The emotion was palpable on the faces of these professional singers.”

According to these Fellows, The Blake School celebrates the diversity of its community on a daily basis. So, by using their learning to expanding the vocal music curriculum (including musical genres from the Pacific Rim, African, & Latin cultures, in particular) these teachers will help those in the school community gain an understanding of their commonalities and differences. Future concerts featuring diverse music will educate students about music beyond their usual understanding of Western music. Additionally, the teachers plan to offer an informational workshop for PK-12 teachers with a focus on sharing the visual and aural treasures they collect in Seoul.

“Learning from master clinicians about pedagogical strategies and observing live concerts by choirs from cultures different from our own improves our ability to share genuine performance practice with our students in the 21st century.”

When I started teaching nine years ago, I had no Marshallese students in my school; I can’t remember any registered as little as five years ago. Last year, my school enrolled nearly 40 newly-arrived immigrants from the Marshall Islands. I knew nothing about this island country, so I began asking around my school and community and found that I was not alone. So, thanks to Fund for Teachers, I traveled to its capital to learn more about the Marshall Islands people, culture and lifestyle.

I spent twelve days in the Marshall Islands, touring private and public schools to compare these settings while discussing the status of Marshallese education with students and administrators. I visited a local woodworking trade school to research ways of inspiring struggling Marshallese students. I sat in on classes at the College of the Marshall Islands, where students presented their cultures and traditions, and I attend a painting class discussing Marshall Island folklore. Some of my last stops were at the Alele Museum, Tobolar Coconut Processing Plant and the U.S. Ambassador’s office.

Just walking around the atoll gave me a lot of information about the mindset and lifestyle of the people. Kids were always outside playing while the mothers were doing laundry or enjoying gossip among others in the community. Shop owners sat at cash registers eager to talk with those who walked in. Taxis sped by and stopped if you had the $.75 needed to get to your destination. For a sleepy little atoll in the middle off the Pacific Ocean, things never really seemed to stop moving.

When I started teaching I specifically wanted to teach in a multicultural school and this journey reaffirms that passion to work with a wide variety of students and families. Experiencing their way of life made me a more tolerant person and patient with my students. Observing how I was nervous and cautious with things I did not know reminds me of how kids feel. I now have authentic artifacts that will inspire my Iowa students while making my Marshallese students more comfortable in class. This fall, students will soon create circular weaving’s based on the artifacts I brought back with me. Students will compare and contrast the farming styles of the Marshall Islands vs. Iowa farms.  I am finalizing dates to travel to other schools in my district to present information on the Marshall Islands, as well.

Scott Lammar
Prescott Elementary - Dubuque, IA

Scott designed his Fund for Teachers fellowship to conduct an in depth investigation into the Marshall Islands’ culture, arts and education to develop a deeper understanding of one of the city’s fastest growing minority groups and expand student appreciation of their Marshallese peers. Read more about his experiences on his blog. Scott holds a masters of fine arts, as well as a masters in education. He is the visual arts teacher at his school and also teaches adjunct at Clarke University.

It is my belief that one cannot fully understand literature without understanding all of the related historical and social background. So for my fellowship, I was awarded the amazing opportunity to study the New England writers and poets, as well as the American Revolution.

After arriving in Boston, my first day was filled with exploring the town of Concord, MA. I was able to visit Walden Pond, The Old Manse, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home, Louisa May Alcott’s home and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Being able to experience to landscape and homes of these authors made them come to life in a way that simply reading their works cannot fully convey. The next day, I visited Plimoth Plantation, which is a recreation of a 1600’s pilgrim village. The time period actors made this era really come to life. I also visited the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock. The following day, I drove out to visit Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher’s Stowe’s homes. The Mark Twain house proved incredibly different than anything I expected. Afterwards, I visited the special collections at Jones Library in Amherst, MA, which has original works of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. The last two days were spent in the city of Boston studying the American Revolution. I visited Longfellow’s home, walked the Freedom Trail, visited the USS Constitution, experienced the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, and took a historical bus tour of the city of Boston. It was an unbelievable experience!

This experience reminded me what an awesome responsibility it is to be an educator and pass the history and literature of our nation onto the next generation. As a teacher, my job is reflected in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Sarah Garrett
Walker Valley High School - Cleveland, TN

(photos: Sarah visits Walden Pond and Louisa May Alcott’s home)

Sarah designed her fellowship to research the lives, surroundings and culture of early New England writers to gain deeper insight into their works and create literature lessons that will enhance students’ critical thinking, reading, and writing skills. You can learn more about her fellowship on her blog.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of “The War to End All Wars.” In an attempt to guide high school history students toward a world in which that moniker rings true, Christian Mann (Walker Valley High School - Cleveland, TN) obtained a Fund for Teachers grant to experience across French battlefields and museums the centennial commemoration of World War I. He explains his motivation below:

I teach World History, US History, and Contemporary Issues to 11th/12th grade. For them, WWI is arguably the least understood of struggles in a long and heinous history of human conflict. There was no “bad guy,” no rabid political dogma, no genocide; only a war responsible for combined civilian and infantry deaths of 16 million. A war which laid waste to the landscape of a centuries-old people, a war which had no logical beginning and an end assuring future conflict. How do I, as an educator, make any sense of WWI?

This guiding question motivated Christian’s historical quest for one week in June. His fellowship began where the conflict ended - Versailles, France, followed by a walking tour of related monuments in Amiens. The Somme battlefields constituted the next step of his research, where he studied archives, photographs, postcards and other documents at the Museum Historial de la Grande Guerre in Péronne and the Musée Somme in Albert. He also completed a 40 mile self-tour called the “Circuit of Rememberance,” with an MP3 audio-file description of multiple battles, memorials and cemeteries. His fellowship concluded in Ypres researching several seminal events: the first use of chemical weaponry in the history of war, the final major battle of 1914 and the Race to the Sea and the Christmas Truce.

This fellowship presented an opportunity to put a face to my lesson, to see history through new eyes. To interact with people, stories and the land and forge new connections with the events I know inside and out. Direct access to multiple primary sources tailored to the specific areas I visited now necessitates a complete revision of my curriculum. Hands on examination of documents, meaningful discussion with experts and interactions with communities still recovering from war and desolation dramatically increased my (and will consequently increase my students’) personal connection with the facts. A wealth of first hand experiences and increased frame of reference paves the way for a more extensive repertoire of knowledge from which to base content-rich, common-core focused.”

This fall, Christian plans to transfer these experiences to his students through multiple activities, such as:

  • Analyzing primary source data he collected to compare/contrast WWI attitudes with current sentiments on technological use/innovation;
  • Composing a lyrical narrative in any musical style discussing a related topic;
  • Engaging in cross-curricular readings of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis to study their fantastical re-telling of WWI experiences; and,
  • Conducting Skype chats with contacts Christian made during his fellowship.

“I have read and assigned many lessons on “The Great War” from pasteurized textbooks, but these do not always make it personal for a student within the sterile vacuum of a classroom,” said Christian. “My aim is to improve my ability as an educator, a story-teller and a facilitator to empower students towards empathy armed with an understanding of global interaction and their role in the world.”

You can follow Christian’s fellowship through his blog that he maintained while in France and Belgium.

Christian has taught social studies in Cleveland, TN, for 12 yrs. His passion is to use history as a vehicle to challenge the ideology of status-quo with which many students enter the classroom, allowing them a safe environment in which to stretch and grow as both US and world citizens. When not teaching, Christian is also married and a father to three “amazing” children. On the side, Christian is a musician, writing and performing in Chattanooga and uses music in the classroom regularly.

It is far too rare for people to look at something—a building, a painting, an airplane—and really contemplate the mathematics that it took to make that object a reality. Mathematics? Really? Yes, mathematics. My sixth grade math students are no exception to this. More often than I would like, they think that their use for mathematics ends when they exit my classroom. I want to change their beliefs about the beauty, usefulness, and ubiquity of mathematics. I want them to begin to see mathematics in unexpected places, and I want them to ask questions about mathematics when answers cannot be found in their textbooks.

In order to change the culture of my classroom, the presuppositions of my students, and the testing focus of present-day math education, I will travel to Spain and Portugal to embark on a study tour of many overlooked and under-studied mathematical wonders. I will study, journal about, and document my findings while searching for greater connections to my own mathematics. In addition, I will find ways to meaningfully incorporate these buildings, inventions, and works of art into my classroom, teaching, and school on an ongoing basis.

 As a life-long mathematics student, I know that mathematics can sometimes feel like repetition of facts. This trip will allow me to experience mathematics in new and tangible ways. I will be able to touch the tilings in the Alhambra, to study the architecture of the Sagrada Familia, and to learn about ancient navigational tools and techniques. With Fund for Teachers, I can combine my academic interests in mathematics, its history, and its influence, with real-life, hands-on experiences. This fellowship will open my eyes, help me make deeper connections about the interconnectedness of mathematics and other disciplines, and improve my teaching by giving me new tools to inspire inquisitiveness in my own students.

- MacKenzie Rossi (P.S. 008 Robert Fulton, Brooklyn, & Math for America Fellow) designed her Fund for Teachers fellowship to investigate the Portuguese and Spanish use of geometry in art, architecture and nautical navigation to infuse math lessons with relevant artifacts and motivate students to develop a broader mathematical perspective of the world around them. She’s posting photographs of her findings on Instagram.