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The Guide to Summer

What I’ll Do This Summer...

Plan ahead to make it a season of learning.


By Mary Ellen Flannery

Photo: Meiko Arquillos

Summer vacation! Unless you’re at a year-round school, it might mean a little sun and sand, maybe a part-time gig at the public links, or more time with your own kids. But just because school is over doesn’t mean the learning has to stop for you.

Whether you spend time with orphans in Cambodia or rock-n-rollers in Cleveland, inspired travel and innovative professional development mean you can return recharged in September.


Travel Changed My Life

Mike Freidlin first went to the rainforest in 1991. He’s been countless times since, leading semi-annual trips to Costa Rica and Panama for his eco-minded students at Abington Heights High School in Pennsylvania. “Each night, the kids say this was the greatest day of their life, and I always say, ‘Wait until tomorrow.’” It’s a life-changing nine or 16 days for the kids, but it’s been just as consequential for Freidlin. “It makes me feel a little better about what I do, better about the future of these kids, and it reinforces my respect for the forest and the Indians. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it has made me a better, gentler person. I try to be a little more compassionate and I believe it’s the lessons I’ve received from the rainforest and the Indians.” For information about Save the Rainforest, an organization started by a former Colorado teacher that coordinates Friedlin’s trips and others.


Attention, history buffs

The National Endowment for the Humanities offers a bunch of summer workshops for teachers (and they cover your costs.) The deadline for applications is March 2, so move fast. How about a week in Chicago learning how skyscrapers transformed our nation? Or the Mississippi Delta, where music and history intersect?

Bring CSI to your class

Many museums and colleges offer summer institutes where you can develop new lesson plans. In a weeklong class called “The Science of Crime Scenes” at Virginia Commonwealth University ($700 in tuition and fees), you’ll learn about fingerprints, bloodstains, and other gruesome details students may find engrossing. Or check out Kansas’ Lawrence University’s class for secondary teachers on gender diversity. With 91 percent of gay middle-school students reporting harassment at school, it makes sense. (About $1,000 for tuition and dorm.)

Rock on, dude

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, teachers hear from head-banging stars like DMC and Janet Myers. (Never heard of her? From a group called Joplin High in Missouri?) Myers attended the institute in 2008 and now offers a workshop there on multi-genre classroom activities. (It’s $250 for classes and breakfast.)


The cost of a one-year family membership to the Educators Bed and Breakfast Travel Network, a network of educators who host other educators in their homes across the country. Each night’s stay is an additional $40.

Four score and...

Oops, actually, just about a year ago, Missouri middle school teacher Jennifer Erdtmann enrolled in a summer institute at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. She learned a great deal about Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, but even more about how to “make history come alive.” During a recent unit on the Salem witch trials, she “...came into the room dressed in character, holding a lantern in the dark... At first I scared the kids!” ($600, apply by March 14)

Set sail!

California teacher Kim Pratt has cruised three times with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as an official “teacher at sea.” “When I went home I thought, ‘If this could change my life, what could it do for my kids?’” Five years later, with help from grant money and a watershed studies program that Pratt designed, it’s more than doubled their state science scores. This year’s application deadline has passed—but you can start planning for next year.

Of course, there’s no harm in a regular old road-trip to Graceland or Gracie Mansion. Travel has a way of delivering lessons, even if it’s just practicing a foreign language or navigating a new bus schedule. Nor is anything wrong with a week at the beach or a good book by the pool. Sometimes, you just need a break—and certainly you deserve one!


Three ways to get abroad without going broke

Switch places!

Teacher exchanges, like the well-known Fulbright Program, administer one-to-one exchanges. While you’re teaching A Tale of Two Cities in the Outback for a year, an Aussie joins your home school’s faculty. (The exchange makes it a learning opportunity for your kids and colleagues at home, too.) In addition to Fulbright, check out the U.S.-China Teachers Exchange Program.

Chaperone a field trip.

International tour operators, like EF Tours or Explorica, often give teachers a free ride when they have at least six students in their care. That’s quite a value. These trips aren’t cheap—a week in Italy is likely to cost upwards of $1,200, which puts it far out of reach for many students. But fundraisers can help, and consider the possibilities: Biodiversity in Costa Rica! The art of hieroglyphs in Egypt!

See the world—help it too.

“Voluntourism” isn’t cheap, but it’s usually less expensive than traditional tours and it does offer the extra reward of self-satisfaction. Through agencies like BUNAC or Projects Abroad, you can set off on “meaningful travel”—e.g., eight weeks in Cambodia, working on charitable projects with BUNAC, costs about $1600 plus airfare.


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