Last Updated: December 17, 2014
This article appeared in the December 2014 Rural Policy Matters.
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Courtney Skipper was online looking for opportunities for herself and her students. Janis Jones wanted to go back to school, something difficult to do from her island community. Ashley and Miles Catlett love travel and its benefits for their students, but on teachers’ budgets that’s tough. Josh Gould wanted to figure out how more students from his school could have international opportunities.
These rural teachers were among thirty who found just what they were looking for in the 2014 Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship program. The program supports rural teachers, traveling individually or in teams, to design international travel experiences in which they are the learner. Teachers may also choose an international program in which to participate.
Teachers write proposals and if selected receive up to $5,000 per person or $10,000 per team. Participants also take part in a Rural Trust workshop on Place-Based Learning. In that workshop they consider how to connect student learning with their own communities and how to translate their experiences as travelers into student learning.
Applications for Fellowships for 2015 are now open. Information about the program and how to apply is available here.
In Part 2 of this RPM feature, four rural teachers share what the Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship has meant to them and their students. (If you missed it last month, you can read Part 1 here.)
“It helped me learn how to learn in new ways”
For Courtney Skipper being in a challenging and unknown context proved to be one of the most important things about her trip to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. “As a teacher, I’m always learning,” she says. “But this experience—traveling alone in a country with a different language—helped me learn how to learn in new ways.”
Skipper teaches sixth grade science at Oakhurst Elementary School in the Mississippi Delta community of Clarksdale. She chose the Galapagos as her travel destination, in part, because of her interest in genetics and biodiversity. “There are so many things you see there that don’t exist anywhere else in the world,” she says.
Skipper was also fascinated by the similarities and differences between the agricultural economies of Ecuador communities and the Delta. “Both places depend on the land, but the tools and approaches are so different,” she says. “Pesticides are not allowed in the places we were. You can see and taste the difference in the food.”
Skipper says the trip also put a new perspective on conservation. “We talk to students about environmental stewardship. This trip helped me see the importance of our actions at home.”
Just as important to Skipper were the ways the guides for her study group helped participants make sense of their experiences. “They made so many connections between all the new content we were learning,” she says. “They explained the why of what we were studying. And they were really good about tying new content back to things we had learned earlier. It reminded me what it is like to be learning something new for the first time.”
Skipper has taken those lessons into her school and classroom. “I’m doing more project-based approaches and more collaboration with other teachers. There are so many ways to connect science with other subjects.”
She’s also hoping to create some travel opportunities for her students. “I’d like for our students to be able to go to a place that has meaning for them, that they can really explore,” Skipper says. “I think about all the different things they can learn from one trip.”
“This travel experience just keeps giving”
Janis Jones teaches K–12 French at North Haven Community School on North Haven Island, Maine. The community’s primary economy is lobstering, supplemented by small farms and part-time summer residents.
Jones is enthusiastic about all the ways the 60-student school offers students a “balanced, well-rounded academic experience and extra-curricular activities.” And she loves all the collaboration she has with the school’s other teachers.
“But I don’t have French teacher colleagues. That’s the main place I feel isolated,” Jones says. “I had wanted to go back to school for a while. I wanted to become better at teaching culture and at connecting French to other curricular areas. But it’s an hour-long ferry ride to the nearest community so going back to school had not been much of an option.”
Jones had known about a university in Tours, France that offered a summer institute on Teaching French as a Second Language. When she heard about the Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship from another Maine teacher, she knew what she would apply to do.
The experience exceeded her expectations. “It was so exciting to be there with teachers from Russia, Albania, Libya,” she enthuses. “We learned and shared so many innovative techniques for teaching culture and creating the feeling of a French-speaking region. It was eight hours a day for three weeks, working on a project, interacting with other teachers, interviewing people in the community.”
The opportunity to stay in one place was appealing to Jones. “It gives you a chance to get a deeper experience,” something the program also encourages. “They push you out into the community to find and learn about something that’s interesting to you.”
Jones decided to do a small ethnographic study on one of the teaching farms in the region. These artisanal farms, she explains, preserve and teach traditional French forms of agriculture and handcrafted food production. “People are worried about losing French culture, especially food culture,” says Jones.
Her time at the teaching farm also gave her ideas about ways she could connect her French curriculum at North Haven with a re-emerging small farm/local foods economy on the island.
Now that she’s back she’s already begun that curriculum. The school’s K–4 students are partnering with a local farm to learn about farming and gardening, healthy food choices, animals, life cycles—all in French. They are “adopting” a goat at the farm and will create a stop motion video on how to make yogurt and cheese.
“This travel experience just keeps giving,” Jones says. “I came back from France and dove in. I want the donors to know how profoundly grateful I feel. I’m still finding out what it did for me.”
See Jones’s blog about her trip at http://janisnhaven.wordpress.com/.
“Telling our stories is how we learn about each other”
For Ashley and Miles Catlett, the Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship offered a way to connect their work as teachers and their love of travel. They both teach in Davie County, North Carolina, which has a growing Latino population and increasing diversity. Ashley teaches English as a Second Language at Cornatzer Elementary and Miles is the counselor at Davie County Early College High School.
“Finding a way to connect what we each do in one trip was a challenge at first,” Ashley explains. “They we came up with the idea of story. Telling our stories is how we learn about each other, and story is also a significant component of literacy.”
The Catletts decided to collect student stories from different places. “That meant we needed to go to a place with a lot of diversity where students speak or are learning English,” Ashley says.
The chose to go to London, one of the world’s most diverse cities, and visit different kinds of schools in order to interview and record students talking about their lives.
“The theme of our trip was ‘telling the story of diversity,’” Miles explains. “We wanted our students to hear the stories of other students from around the world and to tell their own stories.”
The Catletts visited three schools, where they observed classes, spoke with teachers and administrators, and interviewed students. “We asked them questions like ‘what is unique about your family?’ and ‘tell us about your perfect day,’ questions that everyone can relate to,” says Ashley.
“I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Infant School,” says Miles of a K–2 school they visited. “The students there have a lot of responsibility. They are fostering leadership in very young kids,” adds Ashley.
A rural high school outside London was surprisingly similar to the traditional high school in Davie County. And at Wotford, a girls’ school the Catletts were able to see a Show Racism the Red Card event in action.
Show Racism the Red Card is an anti-racism education charity that produces educational resources that encourage people to challenge racism. Professional soccer players formed the organization whose name references the red card used to dismiss players for serious misconduct during a game.
“That program came up in the research as we were deciding where to go,” explains Ashley. “It’s a non-threatening way to get into conversations.”
Miles says he was struck by how effectively the program’s activities and materials help participants talk about race in tactful and impactful ways.
The Catletts also spent several days in London and visited the Museum of Diversity and Tolerance, which is only open a few times a year.
Both Ashley and Miles have found many ways to translate their experiences to their North Carolina schools. Earlier this year they led a district-wide professional development program based on Show Racism the Red Card materials. “There were only positive things said about that program. We were confident the activities would be useful,” Ashley says.
Their students have begun listening to the interviews, reflecting on them, and recording their own stories.
Students are collecting stories at Parents Night this month. “They will map the locations of the stories,” says Ashley. “It helps students explore their own heritages, not only families from Mexico and El Salvador but families who have moved around within the U.S. and those who have been here for generations.”
The Catletts say the fellowships came at a great time. “We just ate it up. We had a lot of fun. We had several adventures. We visited interesting places,” says Ashley. “And we got a lot of ideas,” adds Miles.
See the Catlett’s blog about their trip at http://tellingthestory.us/.
What are you passionate about?
Every few years Josh Gould takes students from Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine to Europe. “The students who go always get so much out of it,” he says, “But many of the kids who cannot afford to go are the kids who stay in the community after graduation. And available local jobs are just not sufficient for them to thrive.”
When Gould and fellow teacher Janice Eldridge initially applied for a Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship they had two goals. First, they wanted to figure out how to reduce costs so more Noble High students could afford to travel. Second, they wanted to learn more about successful economic revitalization approaches.
They identified six research-based revitalization strategies that held promise for North Berwick and organized their European travel plans around places that had used those strategies.
They flew into Amsterdam to explore its use of green technologies, including wind and solar innovations.
Next they headed to Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, to learn more about how diverse countries had figured out how to work together for common purpose. “Every few years one of the communities in our district proposes to leave,” Gould says, “so this strategy is very relevant to us.”
From Brussels, Gould and Eldridge went to Prague and then Salzburg. Prague has improved its transportation infrastructure to make it easier to get to and move around within the city.Salzburg has made outdoor tourism, centered on lake culture, a key part of its economy.
Finally, Gould and Eldridge went to Italy where they visited farms to learn about agrotourism in the Chianti region. “The idea is people pay to be around you while you’re doing your work,” Gould explains. The tourist income helps support traditional agriculture. “Probably 25% of our kids could do something great like this,” he adds.
In southern Italy, they visited Sorrento, Capri, and Pompei. The region has implemented a broad plan to stem population decline by focusing on youth retention. “They’ve done a lot with arts and entertainment and some ecotourism,” says Gould.
Gould and Eldridge helped start a Travel Club at Noble High. As part of the Club’s program, students will research and plan a trip. They will also figure out how to raise the necessary funding. Students can join the Travel Club in eighth grade. “If they each raise $500 a year, they will have enough money for a trip,” says Gould. The school will hold the money, which can be used for travel or for other educational experiences for the student.
"If the kids who are planning to stay here in the community have the opportunity to travel, their attitudes about what is possible will change,” Gould says.
Gould encourages teachers to apply for a Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship. “What are you passionate about? How can you find it? How can you share it with kids? What this program will lead you to will substantively change who you are,” he insists.
Learn more about how teachers in your rural school can participate in the Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship program by visiting the program’s website. Applications for 2015 are open. Deadline is January 30, 2015.
Read more from the December 2014 Rural Policy Matters.