Teachers find plenty of lessons during school break

| Monday, Sept. 12, 2011

Though teachers get the summer off from the classroom, many educators seek out learning opportunities to keep themselves busy during the off months, and enrich themselves both professionally and personally. The summer months present a good opportunity for teachers to take educational trips, or do stimulating activities right here at home.

These teachers say they look forward to sharing their experiences with their students, now that school is back in session.

Helping in Haiti

Haiti, a third-world country ravaged by last year's earthquake, lacks creature comforts like running water in its poverty-stricken neighborhoods. And although Haiti, technically, has public schools, many citizens can't afford the tuition to go there. Yet, Carol Hendershot, a first-grade teacher at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel, says she still misses the place after spending about two weeks there this summer visiting and helping three schools.

"It breaks your heart because it is so poor," says Hendershot, 61, of Indiana Township. "I will never complain about Pittsburgh roads again."

She went to Haiti and stayed with her son, Paul, who went to help hospitals manage materials and supplies after the January 2010 earthquake. She received the school's Benedum Teaching Fellowship, which enabled her to make the trip to Haiti and visit the schools that Shady Side Academy has been supporting through fundraising programs. The academy's money is used to help Haitian students pay tuition.

Hendershot spent some time in the primitive classrooms with little light and gave the kids toys and puzzles. She installed a shower curtain to use as a waterproof window cover and read Eric Carle books, like "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," to the kids.

"It was very rewarding," Hendershot says. "It was very eye-opening for me. ... I felt very privileged."

Underwater classroom

Tim Lloyd went from teaching biology in a high-school classroom to finding an underwater classroom in the Ohio River.

"Some people go fishing. I like to watch fish from the underwater perspective," says Lloyd, 49, of North Huntingdon. He is the head of the science department at Norwin.

Lloyd, a diver for 26 years, spent the summer searching the bottom of the river near a Beaver County spot for different species of mussels -- some that have been around for centuries. He and other divers would swim from one side to the other during their expedition, and pick mussels to be brought to the surface and examined. Lloyd and the others dove for about three hours each day during three segments that totaled six to seven weeks, and swam in dark water that was sometimes 20 to 30 feet deep.

The divers made an account of the different species of mussels they found and submitted a report to state and federal agencies that are considering whether to issue permits allowing dredging in the area.

Lloyd, who has been a diving instructor for many years, says that scuba diving spurred his interest in his main teaching career. He learned a lot during the mussel dives -- such as the life cycles of mollusks -- and he shares some of his stories with his students. Lloyd also spotted many things at the bottom of the river besides mussels, including old toys and tires and a fish more than 2 feet long.

"It's been really interesting for me," he says. "It's hard work, but it does give me something to talk about when I go back to school, and it makes me appreciate my teaching job."

Exploring famed science lab

Cheryl Harper, a physics teacher at Greensburg Salem High School, went to the place where some of the scientific research she talks about takes place: the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. This is the lab where scientists have discovered 16 elements, researched dark energy, done climate simulations and more.

Harper, chair of the board for the Contemporary Physics Education Project, went to explore the lab for a few days this summer with some other members of the group.

"It is very impressive," says Harper, 45. "It's something that I can bring back for my students as far as real-world applications of what is being done in science. ... You just see applications and huge examples of what you do every day.

"It's been a great networking tool to be involved in the group I'm with and to go there and see these things," she says.

This summer, Harper also went to Georgetown outside D.C, to accept the Claes Nobel Educator Distinction Award, which recognizes about 20 teachers who are role models and encourage students to strive for excellence.

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