Two Turner Middle School teachers receive WOW Travel Grant

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

Two Turner Middle School teachers will travel the world this summer to bring their experiences back to the classroom as recipients of the second annual Windows on the World Travel Grant.

Each year the Thompson Education Foundation selects two teachers from Thompson School District to receive the grant. This year both recipients happen to be from the same school – Justin Muir, seventh-grade social studies teacher, and Amy Pasch, sixth-grade math and social studies teacher.

“It brings another level of commitment to what they’re teaching. It brings another level of passion,” said Kim Akeley-Charron, executive director of the Thompson Education Foundation. “The teachers bring back the first-person experience, and they can share that at a deeper level than their classroom material.”

The WOW Travel Grant provides a teacher with $3,500 to cover the costs of an educational travel experience to a domestic or international destination over the summer break. The idea is for the teacher to be able to experience another country or culture and gather new knowledge and material to bring back to their students and other educators in the district.

Teachers are chosen based on the travel plans they create, the budgets they develop, and the educational resources they plan to provide for their classrooms and other educators.

“Traveling to enrich your classroom gives the teacher the opportunity to think critically about their instruction through gaining new perspectives,” said Brandy Grieves, principal at Turner Middle School. “Teachers sharing their first-hand accounts with students can aide in enriched conversations, personalized artifacts and photos, and give the students an extended learning opportunity beyond the classroom.”

Muir, who teaches a unit on the Roman Empire, plans to travel to Italy in June or July to learn about the culture and geography there. He will visit sites and buildings of ancient history in Venice, Pisa, Florence, Assisi, Rome and Pompeii to gather more material and stories than he could from reading or watching documentaries.

“This will bring authenticity to my lessons and really improve the way I deliver them,” said Muir, who lives in Greeley. “They like it when I tell them stories. This will improve the way I tell stories.”

Some of Muir’s stops will include the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Coliseum, the Aqueduct of the Forum, the Vatican and the Pompeii ruins. Muir will engage in social media and write a travel blog, tracking his stops.

Pasch will conduct a two-part trip beginning in July, exploring the natural parks in the Northeast as part of an already planned trip and continuing on to Canada through the grant. Her trip, which she is taking with her wife, Melissa Lang, will take six weeks.

While in Canada Pasch plans to study the culture, climate and history of the Canadian Atlantic Provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. She also will tour four Canadian national parks, including Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. She wants to be able to compare Canada’s parks with those in America, gathering material for her Core Extension Project Based Learning class focused on national parks in the U.S.

Pasch plans to take photos, create videos, engage in social media and write a travel blog during her trip, plus bring back souvenirs, money and menus from each of her stops. She will be comparing both cultures, she said.

“Taking my own pictures and videos is more relatable to the students. These places are real, not just Google images,” Pasch said. “Making the stories comes alive, kids relate to that.”

The Hiatt Family Fund of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado sponsors the WOW Travel Grant. Jeff and Mary Hiatt of the Loveland area are sponsoring the 2018 grant with additional sponsors Greg and Tracy Roller.

The Hiatts came up with the idea for the grant as a way to show gratitude to the teachers who were influential in the lives of their children and to recognize and honor the work of the district’s teachers.

“We hope our grant recipients acquire a whole new dimension in which to present their curriculum to future generations,” Mary said. “People who have traveled and experienced other countries seem to develop an understanding and passion for the world beyond our boundaries.”

The Hiatts thought of the name for the grant by pretending they were in an imaginary classroom and picturing features that were meaningful to them, Hiatt said.

“While the chalkboard (white board nowadays) and doorway were contenders, the window in the classroom seemed appropriate for this grant,” Hiatt said. “And as Kim pointed out, educators love acronyms.  Hence, Windows on the World (WOW) became the name.”

In future years, the Hiatts plan to continue sponsoring one grant a year. There will be more grants if additional donors contribute to the grant program.

“We see this program continuing and growing. We thank the Hiatt Fund for having the vision to start the conversation with us,” Akeley-Charron said. “We hope to expand it to more teachers in the future if community members think it’s a worthwhile program.”

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