3 county educators receive Lilly grants to travel

GREENFIELD — A journey to the South Pacific to study ecotourism and photography.

A quest to investigate the theories of evolution and creationism by visiting some of the most prestigious museums in America.

A road trip through Maine and a trek across Europe to explore the lives of literary greats.

These are the adventures three Hancock County teachers will embark on this year through the Lilly Endowment’s Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program. One hundred $12,000 grants were awarded to teachers across the state, including Greenfield-Central High School’s Mindy Weaver-Flask, Greenfield Central Junior High School’s Lisa Potter and Mt. Vernon High School’s Lynette Huth.

The Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program was created by Lilly Endowment Incorporated in 1987 as a way to help Indiana public school teachers rekindle their commitment to teaching. Teachers are encouraged to pursue their passions, develop new interests and explore the world.

These three Hancock County teachers applied for the grant last year, detailing their plans for a trip of their choosing that would focus on their own personal and professional growth.

Facing fear, living big

Spending weeks without electricity, running water or internet access might not seem like a vacation for some, Weaver-Flask said. But she embraces the trial; she plans to face those fears head on.

One day, the junior high English teacher said it dawned on her that she lived in a world only about as big as three city blocks. And living in a narrow universe like that isn’t always healthy, she said.

Weaver-Flask grew up in a military family and is a veteran of the Ohio Army National Guard. Throughout her life, she has been embedded in a culture that values strength and self-reliance, she said. And the Lilly Endowment grant is letting Weaver-Flask give herself a chance to get back to those roots.

“As a mother and as a woman — as a working mom, especially — I think that it’s easy to lose those parts of you that made you unique, or that made you feel strong and capable,” Weaver-Flask said. “I want to challenge myself.”

Weaver-Flask is scheduled to spend weeks in the isolated islands of Fiji and Van Uatu. Some of her planned activities include scuba diving with barracuda, spending the night under an active volcano and spearfishing for her own food, she said.

“I’m not a spa kind of girl, so for me, something that’s more camping, wilderness, living in a hut … that’s way more me,” she said.

Weaver-Flask hopes her photographs and travel blogging during her journey will inspire her students to face down their own fears, she said. She expects to enter the next school year with a renewed energy and sense of purpose.

“If I don’t do this thing for myself, when will I?” she added.

Curious about creation

Evolution. Stem cell therapy. Genetic testing. Climate change.

As a high school biology teacher, Huth always treads carefully with controversial subjects like these in the classroom. It can be tricky to teach sensitive topics required by Indiana standards, Huth said.

The grant will give her a chance to foster her own creative mind, opening herself up to new perspectives to benefit her educational career, she said.

Her cross-country, museum-hopping journey will take her to The Museum of Natural History and Alder Planetarium, rated among the top in the world for displaying evidence in support of evolution theory, Huth said. She also will spend a week in Kentucky to visit the Creation Museum and Ark, each supporting creation science.

Huth’s goal is to give herself an educational experience that will expose her to studies and physical evidence of two contrasting viewpoints, she said.

Visiting these museums, as well as witnessing the natural beauty at Glacier, Yellowstone and The Grand Teton National parks will give her a chance to tap into her creative side while expanding her knowledge base.

In the past, Huth said she primarily looked to textbooks and internet research to further her expertise in the subjects she teaches. But now this program gives her the opportunity to explore a new component of learning: location.

“Just seeing the places I plan to visit in my mind’s eye has generated an enthusiasm for learning that far surpasses anything I have experienced,” Huth wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “And as an educator, it reminds me of the importance of bringing subject matter to life for my students.”

In their footsteps

Potter’s mission for the Lilly Endowment grant was to follow in the footsteps of the queen of crime, the king of horror “and their pal, Edgar,” she wrote in her application.

This summer, the Greenfield Central Junior High School English teacher will spend three weeks in Europe and another week in Maine exploring the lives and writings of three of her favorite authors: Agatha Christie, Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe.

For her European journey, Potter will study places from where the author hails, or where key stories they’ve written have taken place. Her destinations include the Rialto bridge in Venice and the catacombs of Paris. She’ll also travel through the English chunnel — a pathway under the English channel and see Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap” onstage in London.

Potter won’t stay in a chain hotel; she wants to stay at a smaller boutique spot in the middle of a Paris neighborhood, to experience life through the eyes of a writer trying to make it in the city.

Potter said she’s always wished for the time and peace of mind to publish her own work of fiction, to force herself to become the writer she’s always pushing her students to be.

“I’m trying to create an opportunity for me to force myself to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s write something of my own,” Potter said.

And she’s given herself the perfect spot to begin.

Potter plans to take the train to Burgh Island, which inspired the setting of Christie’s famous mystery novel, “And Then There Were None.” Her aim is to work on writing her short story in the hotel’s beach house room, the same spot where the queen of mystery wrote the novel.

“Hopefully, I’ll channel a little Agatha Christie while I’m there,” Potter added with a smile.

When Potter returns to the United States, she’ll hop in the car and drive to Baltimore, Poe’s hometown, and then swing up north to Maine. There, she’ll attend a writing workshop and explore the place that inspired so many of King’s stories.

She has her fingers crossed that she’ll bump into him while walking down the street, Potter said.

“I would die. I would absolutely die, because I’ve been reading him since I was in junior high,” she laughed.

She knows the project will aid her in her personal growth, which she intends to pass along in the classroom.

”It’s like trickle-down,” Potter said. “(Lilly Endowment grants) offer teachers the opportunity to do this, and then it spills down and washes over my students.”

Author photo
Evan Myers is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3228 or emyers@greenfieldreporter.com.