Thursday, September 5, 2013

Six Fund for Teachers Fellows travel widely

Six Spring Branch ISD teachers returned this summer with incredible stories of professional development and personal growth after being selected as Fund for Teachers Fellows and given the opportunity to self-design their own odysseys as scholars, researchers and adventurers.

Northbrook High’s Carlos Jasso explored the Mayan lands of southern Mexico and Guatemala. High school chemistry teachers Jamie Flint and Alicia Doffing toured Ecuador’s lush Amazon rainforest and the nearby Galapagos Islands.

Northbrook Middle’s Susan Aronstein visited France and Germany to better understand World War II and the impact of Nazism. She joined family there, including her mother, a child survivor the Holocaust. Two of Susan’s grandparents died at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has given more than $20 million in summertime grants to about 5,500 teachers for self-designed learning experiences. This summer, SBISD’s six grant-funded teachers joined 57 Houston-area teachers from 40 schools across the region.

Returning this fall with inspirational stories to share with students and their communities are the following SBISD instructors:
  • Susan Aronstein, Northbrook Middle School. Tracing her family history, Susan visited French and German cities, towns and villages; toured World War II-related museums and sites; and interviewed agencies and individuals that hid Jewish families from the Nazis. She hopes that her personal research will help her students better recognize prejudice and the dangers of bullying and hatred.
  • Carlos Jasso, Northbrook High School. Carlos conducted wide field-based research in Mexico and Guatemala to gather first-hand information about Mayan communities – past and present -- for cross-curricular student learning.
  • Melissa Schmitz, Spring Woods High School. Melissa examined how Israelis and Palestinians are trying to resolve political, economic and other issues by separate visits to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah with a focus on co-existence and collaboration.
  • Ella Scozzafava, Westwood Elementary School. Ella joined a Summer in Ghana program at the University of Massachusetts with a personal goal of participating in and experiencing drumming, dance and songs to spur student interest in world music.
  • Jamie Flint, Spring Woods High, and Alicia Doffing, Memorial High. Chemistry teachers Jamie Flint and Alicia Doffing learned as a fellowship team about issues in biodiversity, deforestation, and local energy solutions during a trip to Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest and to the nearby Galapagos Islands. Their science students will benefit from such real-world experiences.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, tells of the author’s experiences with his father in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. In a way, this book led Susan Aronstein to finally ask her mother about the Holocaust.

Susan’s mom, Ruth Steinfeld, lost her own parents in Auschwitz, but survived World War II as an orphan who was hidden from the Nazis and then survived life in a concentration camp. The Steinfelds did not speak much about the family’s past when Susan was growing up.

A Bellaire High School and University of Texas at Austin graduate, Susan has taught for 18 years at Northbrook Middle.

As a Fund for Teachers Fellow, Susan joined her mother, her sister Fredda Friedlander, and her cousin Judy Mucasey on a trip across France and Germany. The journey traced the steps of her mother and aunt as child orphans in hiding who stayed one step ahead of the Nazis. Susan’s grandparents, Anna and Aldred Krell, died in Auschwitz.

Her own family story has helped Susan connect Northbrook Middle students with the meaning and personal impact of human prejudice and bigotry. In addition to the memoir Night, Susan’s language arts students have read The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas during the school year.

“I teach my students to ‘never forget.’ This phrase is very important to all of us because of the injustices and atrocities committed at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. We must work together to fight anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry,” Susan said. Her lessons have become widely anticipated.

“I have new students with older brothers and sisters who walk into my class and ask, ‘Miss, when will we study the Holocaust?’ Afterward, I’ve never had a student say to me that they don’t believe in the Holocaust, or that it never happened,” she added.

During her summer Fund for Teachers trip, she stood below the window where her grandmother waved a final good-bye to her own mother, Ruth, as a young child in Drancy, France.

“This experience has allowed me to experience firsthand where my family lived and how they were able to survive during the Holocaust, and where they died,” Susan said. “It has allowed me to trace my roots and see how my mother was a survivor, and walk the path that she took to freedom. It challenges me to understand how this atrocity affected my own life.”

“It has made me a better teacher, and therefore made me a better person. It enhances my love for teaching,” she also said.

Elsewhere, SBISD chemistry instructors Jamie Flint, who has taught 10 years at Spring Woods High, and Alicia Doffing of Memorial High were chosen as Fund for Teacher grant partners. They visited the Amazon Rainforest and then the Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin’s most famous observations were made about evolution theory.

“We went to study how waters’ pH level varies in these separate locations and how it affects the biodiversity. We also wanted to learn what alternative energy the people in these remote regions use,” Jamie said. They bring home incredible memories.

“I will never forget swimming with sea lions, sharks and penguins in freezing waters, and witnessing the blue-footed boobies performing their mating dance,” Spring High’s Flint said. Most blue-footed boobies in the world live near the Galapagos. They are fish-hunting sea birds.

“I learned that we do take so many things for granted,” Jamie also said. “When we were in the Amazon, we had to conserve energy since the lodges could only run generators for a short period each day. The people of the Amazon can make skirts out of bark and rope out of plant fibers!”   

Northbrook High School Spanish teacher Carlos Jasso spent four weeks in southern Mexico and Guatemala in three Mayan regions – The Yucatan, Chiapas and Guatemala. He toured 10 Mayan sites with a professional archaeologist, toured museums and interviewed local residents.

Carlos’ Spanish language classroom is an interdisciplinary one. He teaches grammar and words through social studies, art, literature, history and other topics. He has taught at Northbrook High nine years and was on the faculty at St. Pius X Catholic School before that.

“I love teaching about the Maya, but I had never had the experience of exploring their world. I especially loved being in touch with people and learning about their way of living, and way of thinking,” he said.

In Chichicastenango, in northern Guatemala, he was deeply touched during an interview with a highlands weaver. “I was so moved about the hard work she had to do to support her family. I am still in touch with her and her daughter to help them by having people commission textiles,” he said.

“Fund for Teachers is a great organization that provides teachers with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore their world and to deepen their intellectual curiosity about their subject of preference,” he said.

“Most importantly, it brings the real world to the classroom and helps students make connections to the real world. It sparks interest in what people love to do.” 


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