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Fund for Teachers Makes Teacher Learning Adventures A Reality

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    April Hattori

Though the holiday season is upon us, it’s not too early to plan ahead for summer.  Fund For Teachers  (FFT) is now accepting grant applications from teachers who want to participate in self-created professional development experiences that build their expertise and improve learning in their classrooms.  The deadline to submit an application is January 30, 2014. Teachers can begin the application process here.  

This past summer, 42 Expeditionary Learning teachers representing 23 schools embarked on self-designed learning odysseys as scholars, researchers, adventurers. Read more about them here. 

Paula Russo, a 10th to 12th grade history teacher at Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School in Staten Island, New York, participated in an Outward Bound rafting expedition along the Salmon River in Idaho to enable her to develop an adventure curriculum for her students.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity and proud to be a FFT Fellow.  The entire experience has been so very rewarding.  I learned a great deal during the proposal process, had the time of my life during my Outward Bound course, and have been energized as I implement my work with my students.  I'm only sad that I cannot apply again this year,” Russo said.

With her new knowledge, Russo led a week-long adventure learning intensive with her students.  One activity included a “Building Background Knowledge” exercise about different adventure athletes.  When she discovered that Diana Nyad was going to be in Manhattan’s Herald Square swimming for her cause Swim for Relief that benefited Hurricane Sandy victims, Russo reached out to the Nyad team and told them her students had raised $100 at short notice in a bake sale. The students hand-delivered the donation to Nyad who stopped swimming to talk with them.

“The kids were able to be on the platform for about a half hour.  It was a truly special moment and just the perfect alignment of so much hard work,” Russo said.

The meeting with Diana Nyad was just one event in a memorable week.  The students hiked in the Staten Island Greenbelt, rode Citibikes on Manhattan’s Greenway, learned about the work of urban developer Robert Moses and how the proposed highway threatened to take a huge chunk of Greenbelt (larger than Central Park). They also took a hiking survival course, as well as challenged themselves on a climbing wall.  In addition to completing these personal adventures, the students also collaborated on creating a team-building obstacle course for the school’s 9th grade students.  

“Seeing this group of students plan, organize and facilitate this obstacle course was AMAZING.  It was such a collaborative experience for my students and proof-positive that adventure opportunities are excellent character and leadership building experiences,” Russo said.

Phase two of Russo’s grant implementation included starting an adventure club.   It is up and running and Russo aims to grow the group to support an Outward Bound camping trip in the spring.

Since its inception, FFT has provided $20 million in grants that has enabled 5,500 teachers to live their self-designed odysseys in 132 countries on more than 7 continents. More than 16.5 million students in 3,319 classrooms have benefited from their work

See more teachers talk about the authentic FFT experiences that get translated into classrooms around the country by clicking here.

Both Fund for Teachers and Expeditionary Learning are available to answer any questions or assist in the completion of applications.  For more information and help, visit the FFT website or contact Perrin Worrell at FFT, perrin.worrell@fundforteachers.org or Carolyn Johnson, cjohnson@elschools.org.