HANCOCK COUNTY — Three local educators will pursue their passions in Hawaii, Texas, Costa Rica and more in a lifelong learning program to renew their excitement for teaching.
Greenfield-Central High School teacher Jessica Heck and Sugar Creek Elementary School sixth-grade teachers Michelle Bloomer and Julie Inskeep are among 100 Hoosier educators selected to receive grants to travel and learn.
They’ve each been awarded $10,000 to pursue independent projects of their own design through the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program. Heck plans to study Spanish in Costa Rica, while Bloomer and Inskeep will enroll in space camps and workshops in Alabama, Florida, Texas and Hawaii.
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A yearlong journey will have Bloomer and Inskeep study space pioneers and train like astronauts.
The pair is like-minded and excited for the experience, Inskeep said.
“We kind of share a brain almost,” Inskeep said with a laugh. “We do a lot of projects together and are right across the hall from each other, and when we saw the email telling us about the grant, we almost collided in the hallway to discuss it.”
Bloomer said part of their journey will be a trip to a weeklong space camp this summer in Alabama. Later, they’ll go to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, observe science instruction at a school in Hawaii and attend a space educators’ conference in Texas.
Inskeep said space is a major content area of study for sixth-graders, but beyond that, both teachers have a personal interest in the topic.
“We just thought, ‘Let’s take this to another level and start some real exploring,’” Inskeep said.
The Lilly grant supports lifelong learning among educators by enabling them to pursue dreams and passions, explore new areas of interest, expand exciting talents and develop new ones, according to the organization’s website. To qualify, teachers submit an educational proposal to the organization.
The opportunities are a chance for educators to expand their creativity and develop a renewed energy and enthusiasm for the classroom.
“The program has been about nurturing the individual teachers who inspire the students and their families,” said Judith Cebula, Lilly Endowment communications director. “Many of the teachers and educators have reported back to us that not only did their journeys strengthen their discipline, but they have also shared how deeply renewing this is for them personally. … It has always been about renewal.”
A trip to Costa Rica will allow Heck to learn another foreign language in hopes of better connecting with her students. Heck, already fluent in French, decided to pick up Spanish a few months ago and is studying independently.
“I actually switched subjects this year. I’m switching from English to French, and it’s a big change to go from teaching your own language to teaching a foreign language,” Heck said. “I thought it would help me connect better with how my students are doing to learn a foreign language from scratch.”
The Lilly grant will send Heck to a language school in Costa Rica for two to three weeks in the fall; if there’s money left over, she might brush up her Spanish skills with a trip later on to Mexico.
“I would like to get to somewhere around a third-year level because that’s where my students are (in French),” she said.
Heck said she wishes more teachers knew about the grant opportunity.
Not only are the educators thankful to the endowment for the rare opportunity to take their education to the next level, but they say it’s important for teachers to be able to partake in these type of educational endeavors to keep their passion for teaching alive.
The only thing required of the grant recipients is for them to share and apply what they’ve learned to the classroom.
“We have high hopes,” Inskeep said. “We not only want to share this with the students at Sugar Creek but with other schools in the district. … We’re going to get to tell them what it’s like to really be an astronaut.”
At a time when there is a lot of pressure for teachers around the state, Cebula said, the program helps renew a passion for education.
“For nearly 30 years, the endowment has had a commitment for helping teachers to strengthen their love for teaching,” she said. “This is part of a long-term commitment Lilly has had to education statewide.”
The Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program is a program for personal renewal of Indiana educators. It is one of the longest-standing programs of the Lilly Endowment. Created 28 years ago as a program for Indiana’s public school teachers, it has expanded to include school administrators as well as educators in private and parochial schools.
The program supports lifelong learning among educators by enabling them to pursue passions, explore new areas of interest, expand existing talents and develop new ones.
For 2015, the Endowment will offer 100 grants of $10,000 each to Indiana educators for projects of the individual’s choice.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation.