This summer, four Hamilton County teachers will collectively explore five countries and at least 10 cities around the world to bring real-life experiences and diverse perspectives to classrooms in the fall.
The teachers, Marcie Williams and Justin Walley from Ooltewah High, Vanessa Moss from Central High and Brooke Hopkins from Soddy Daisy High, were selected through a competitive scholarship program through the nonprofit National Fund for teachers.
They will each receive up to $5,000.
The funds are administered locally through a partnership with the Public Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing student success in Hamilton County.
The foundation has partnered with the Teachers’ Fund for over a decade now and has provided nearly 200 teachers from 40 different schools in Hamilton County with the opportunity to learn more about the subjects they teach through trips.
“[The Public Education Fund] is, once again, thrilled to offer Hamilton County teachers the opportunity to learn even more about the subjects they teach – and to be educated anywhere in the world,” said the fund’s president, Dan Challener, in a press release.
For Williams, who teaches physics at Ooltewah High, this will be her second time as a Teachers’ Fund scholar.
She plans to participate in the International Physics and Astronomy Education Program at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in Richland, Washington, then explore the West Coast science museums in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. .
“[The program] is to help teachers learn how to teach modern physics and astronomy in their classrooms. So they’re working to provide you with methods to add them to your curriculum,” Williams said, adding that her students have been more curious about modern physics lately.
Modern physics, as opposed to classical physics, addresses topics such as muons, leptons and particles that are even smaller than protons and electrons, Williams said.
Williams said she first applied to the program in 2017 to improve her general teaching skills.
“I applied after teaching for three years. And I have a doctorate in biomedical engineering,” Williams said. “I realized that I knew physics, but I didn’t know how to teach physics well.”
She attended a three-week program at Arizona State where she spent eight hours in a classroom each day learning from other physics teachers.
“It really boosted my confidence… I felt like now I knew how to teach physics after taking the course. And also, I was able to train a group of physics teachers in that area,” Williams said. . “It’s great to have a group of collaborators where we can learn from each other and have professional development focused on teaching physics.”
Ooltewah High’s Walley and Central High’s Moss will partner to explore sustainable living practices across Alaska. The goal is to engage students and build a functional model to help students think about human impact on the environment. Upon their return, they will participate in the launch of a new initiative for a sustainable lifestyle of the next generation.
Soddy Daisy High’s Hopkins will explore cities in northern and central Europe to better understand the lived experiences of Holocaust victims. Hopkins hopes to better understand the systemic way in which the Nazis exterminated more than 6 million Jews and other marginalized groups. Through this experience, she hopes to help students feel more connected to the victims, perpetrators, and bystanders of the Holocaust.
In any given year, between 25 and 40 Hamilton County teachers apply for the scholarship. Their applications then go through the Teacher Fund selection process, which is based solely on their proposals. All identifying information, such as race, age, gender and the school where teachers work, is removed, said Michael Stone, vice president of innovative learning at the Public Education Fund, during a ‘a phonecall.
“They really go out of their way to make it a merit-based process where they look strictly through the lens of ‘What will this learning do?’ And they really assess the impact of the scholarship on that teacher and how the teacher will use that impact to come back and transform their students’ learning,” Stone said.
The proposals are “self-directed” by the teachers and there are no restrictions regarding the subject or the places. However, applicants should come up with a concrete strategy for incorporating their experience into lesson plans.
“They travel, but they really travel in search of deeper learning,” Stone said. “It’s not meant to be some sort of paid vacation. It’s really an investment by teachers in their development.”
Since 2001, the Teachers’ Fund has invested $35 million in the professional development of more than 9,100 educators across the country. This year, the organization awarded more than $17,000 in grants to Hamilton County teachers.
Past scholarships have had a district-wide impact, Stone said.
In 2015, a group of fellows traveled to Australia and China to study how digital manufacturing, a manufacturing process in which a machine is controlled by a computer, has impacted students and how they use robotics and artificial intelligence in manufacturing labs.
The scholarship led to a partnership with Volkswagen and the creation of 15 eLabs, or “Fablabs” in schools across Hamilton County.
(READ MORE: Hamilton County Schools, foundation creating 15 new eLabs with $1 million donation)
“[Hamilton County Schools is] now the world leader in digital fabrication labs. We have more Fablabs in schools than anywhere else in the world. It was, in many ways, influenced by some of the learnings that happened on that particular fellowship,” Stone said.
Fellowships take place during the summer and can last from a week to a few months.
“It’s really a great tool for teachers to have summer professional development opportunities based on what they need and … the ways they’re looking to improve their practice,” Williams said.