Four Wabash County educators receive Lilly Endowment grants

by Emily Armentrout

Four Wabash County educators recently received Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program grants through the Lily Endowment. Out of more than 450 applications from Indiana teachers, 100 were selected for the opportunity, including: John Pence, Wabash-Miami Area Program; Kathy Hawkins, Manchester Elementary School; Abigail Armentrout, Wabash Middle School; and Sarah Andrews, Wabash Middle School.

Mr. Pence, along with his daughter, Anna, will be traveling to El Salvador in June. Mrs. Hawkins will be traveling to England, and Miss Armentrout and Mrs. Andrews will be traveling together to Europe, visiting Spain and England.

John Pence is a School Psychologist with the Wabash-Miami Area Program for Exceptional Children. He serves as a member of a multidisciplinary team, evaluating students for educational disabilities, helping plan the education of students with an identified educational disability, consulting with teams at the building level to provide support for general education students who are struggling academically and/or behaviorally, and providing individual interventions to students who are at risk of academic failure. Pence works with students all across Wabash County and in Peru Community Schools.

While in El Salvador, Pence plans to immerse himself in the El Salvadoran culture. He and Anna will be living with two Salvadorans, which will give them “ample opportunity to practice Spanish and receive feedback,” according to Pence’s proposal. They will attend three soccer matches and take in a day at the beach.

Their trip isn’t purely to enjoy the fun aspects of El Salvador though.

Pence and Anna will help run three weekend feeding programs, where they will prepare and distribute food to the homeless. They will also be building a house with the Sus Hijos organization.

“Their primary goal for building these houses is to remove the risk of children being removed from their families and placed into government centers due to homelessness,” Pence continued in his proposal.

Pence and Anna will also travel to San Salvador to help teach English to kindergarten students. Grant money will also be used to update their computer lab, which has 13 computers, “half of which are over ten years old and nonfunctional,” said Pence.

“I have made trips to the country in the past and have always longed to return,” Pence told The Paper. “I am hoping that this time will help to improve my rudimentary Spanish and will help to deepen my cultural sensitivity for students I might encounter here in Indiana, who originate from this region of Central America. I am also hoping that my time in El Salvador will help me to understand a little more about the impact of poverty on education,” concluded Pence.

Kathy Hawkins is a second grade teacher at Manchester Elementary. With 27 years of experience under her belt, she finds herself wondering if what she has created in her career is lasting. This question takes her back to the first time she received this grant in 2007, when she visited England and got the first glimpse of dry stone walls.

The walls were “substantial, beautiful and functional structures that were built to last centuries. I was mesmerized by the way the stones were meticulously placed in just the right way to keep the structuring from toppling. ‘Here,’ I thought to myself, ‘is something created to last,’” explained Hawkins in her grant proposal. 

Hawkins’ first trip to England covered the England Lake District and the life of Beatrice Potter. The dry stone walls covered the country-side, and upon her return home, she began noticing images of walls in the literature she read to her students, like the wall from Humpty Dumpty and that which enclosed Mary Lennox’s secret garden. “These examples and more support the notion that walls occupy an important and enduring place in our human story,” continued Hawkins.

Hawkins’ human story, after 27 years of teaching, is seeking the renewal that the English country-side and the Teacher Creativity grant offers her. “I really want to encourage other people to apply for these grants. It is curricular based, but it’s also really about renewal and in this day and age for teachers, we definitely need renewal,” Hawkins told The Paper.

While on her trip, Hawkins will take a beginner’s course on walling from Andrew Louden, a professional wall builder in Cumbria, England. She will also visit a museum that illustrates different techniques in building the walls and features of the Cumbrian dry stone walls. Hawkins’ trip will actually end in Kentucky, where she will train with the Dry Stone Conservancy and learn how to build a dry stone wall of her own.

Hawkins intends to create a dry stonewall on her family farm in North Manchester. She even plans on inviting former and future students to wall building evenings to help create a lasting impression on her life.

Though working with stone, she won’t find herself in the stone age when it comes to technology. Hawkins will take full advantage of today’s technology by blogging daily so that her students can follow along on her trip.

“Student by student, I build my classroom each year, carefully designing and fitting the beautiful pieces together to create a community of learning that is solid and lasting. Stone by stone, I will build my wall, carefully designing and fitting the beautiful pieces together to create a structure, a stone wall, that will last for years to come,” added Hawkins.

Armentrout, a Spanish teacher at Wabash Middle School, and Sarah Andrews, an art teacher at Wabash Middle School and W.C. Mills, are also grant recipients. Armentrout and Andrews will be traveling together to Europe, spending the majority of their time in Spain, but traveling to London to further their study of Spanish history through art. “To receive the Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant is a fantastic honor for Abi and Sarah,” said Jason Callahan, Superintendent of Wabash City Schools. “I am very proud of them for what they bring to our kids. This is a highly competitive grant and only the best proposals are approved,” added Callahan.

Armentrout and Andrews have worked together for the past three years in the Wabash City School system. Over that time, they have developed a close friendship, which was one deciding factor in applying for the Lilly grant together. “We share a lot of interests. We share a lot of the same ideas about art.” Andrews told The Paper.

“Sarah kind of became my mentor teacher when I first started here. Knowing we work so well together made us feel more comfortable planning such a long trip,” added Armentrout.

Preparing their proposal was a joint effort, with Andrews doing most of the travel planning and Armentrout doing a majority of the written portion. The two recognize the many strengths they each bring to this experience.

“I feel very comfortable navigating Spain and using my knowledge of the language to get us where we need to go,” Armentrout told The Paper.

With Andrews’ previous European travel experience, the two are not concerned about barriers getting in their way.

Armentrout discovered her love for Spanish as a freshman in high school.

“Introvert, wallflower, uninspired. These words could be used to describe me before I found Spanish,” explained Armentrout in their proposal. “I knew entering high school that I wanted to be a teacher, but that was as far as my aspirations reached,” continued Armentrout.

Inspired by her Spanish teacher, Seńora Jann Wolf, who used her own travel experiences to enhance her student’s learning, Armentrout set a life goal to inspire her students in the same way.

With the Teacher Creativity Grant being partially about teacher renewal, it could not have come at a better time for Armentrout. Over the past two years, Armentrout has been going through health issues she never anticipated experiencing. As The Paper has previously reported, Armentrout found out in February 2012 that she was in end stage renal failure. One year later, she received and kidney transplant. Following her one-year check up, with a clean bill of health in hand, Armentrout received notice that she had received the grant as well.

Andrews has been teaching art for almost 35 years. She has traveled to London, Paris, Austria and Italy.

“I love to travel and see cultures and bring them back to school. I see my students blossom when I share the life and time of an artist or civilization,” Andrews told The Paper.

Andrews hopes to use the Lilly Creativity Grant to renew her artistic spirit.

“As an artist, I would treasure the time I would spend being enlightened by Spanish culture and creating my own artwork to share with my students with the hope of inspiring them as well,” Andrews wrote in their proposal.

They will travel to Spain, visiting museums and historic sites such as the Guggenheim, El Escorial and Valley of the Fallen; they will also visit the cathedrals of Granada and Seville. The two will go on a private tour of the Spanish Masterpiece collection of the Prado Museum, where they will learn about Spanish history through the art of the Spanish Master Artists. Also on the agenda is La Sagrada Família, which is “dedicated specifically to Spanish artists Antoni, Gaudí, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso,” explained their proposal.

Andrew is looking forward most to the museums, while Armentrout is looking forward to visiting La Sagrada Família.

This year, these two educators, along with the band director, Mr. Woodruff, and the physical education teacher, Mr. O’Neill, will be creating a mock bullfight for Armentrout’s Spanish students to participate in. While visiting Spain, Armentrout and Andrews will attend a bullfight to gain first-hand knowledge to enhance the authenticity of this event in the next school year.

The last leg of their trip will be spent in London, visiting museums that contain art and historical artifacts that illustrate important periods and events in Spanish history.

With the intentions of inspiring their students and themselves with this trip, Armentrout and Andrews will use their photographs, daily journal entries, new found knowledge of the Spanish culture, and original artwork by Andrews to create a bilingual electronic book they will use in their classrooms for years to come.

Posted on 2014 Feb 25