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NEA Members Making News Around the World



Rocket Man

He soars through the air with the greatest of ease, he’s a teacher released from the force of the g’s.

When offered the rare chance to experience the feeling of being weightless in space, Virginia high school teacher Alex Turner (shown upside down) seized the opportunity. Last fall, about 240 lucky fliers from in and around Washington, D.C.; Huntsville, Alabama; San Diego; and Cleveland boarded specially modified Boeing 727s for Northrop Grumman’s inaugural Weightless Flights of Discovery program.

Designed to get educators excited about teaching science or touting science careers, the program included pre-flight workshops in which they crafted experiments for the flight. Then came the main event: Following the path of a parabola—think of an upside-down U—the flying educators became weightless for approximately 25 seconds at a time. The aircraft rose and fell 15 times over two hours.

Turner teaches government at Reston, Virginia’s, South Lakes High School. Because he volunteers at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in nearby Chantilly, Virginia, program organizers thought he was a natural for the trip. His experiment required fastening a clear plastic bag filled with materials to the side of the aircraft and filming its movement amid intense 1.8 g-forces and during weightlessness.

“When you went weightless, you didn’t realize it until there was no floor below you,” Turner chuckles. “When I stood up, it was more than enough force to bounce my head against the ceiling.” 

NATALIE McGILL

Crowning Achievement

When the Miss America Pageant airs this month, the hand-off of the crown could also signal the back-to-back coronations of NEA student members. Amanda Kozak, 22, was crowned Miss Georgia in June, making her eligible to strut her stuff in this year’s Super Bowl of scholarship pageants. The reigning Miss America, Jennifer Berry, is a University of Oklahoma elementary education major and NEA student member.

Kozak, a Warner Robins, Georgia, native, graduated last year from Valdosta State University with a degree in early childhood education. But fame and glamour weren’t the driving forces behind entering the pageant. “It started with scholarship money,” Kozak says. “I worked my way through school and I needed financial help. I’ve received more than $30,000 and that’s not even counting awards I’ve received.”

Raised by a single mother who recently retired from the military, Kozak bounced from city to city during childhood. That prepared Kozak for frequent travels associated with pageants. “In a typical week I may be in Valdosta one day speaking to three schools, and the next day in Atlanta at a NASCAR event, then it’s on to my trainer in Vienna (Georgia),” Kozak says. She’s also been a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor for the past five years. Even with new pageant responsibilities, she still finds time to keep in touch with her little sister. “I think sometimes you want to make sure you’re doing something for someone else in life, and the sure way to do it is to help a child,” Kozak says. “Everyone has their calling, and teaching is my calling,” Kozak says. “I just think it’s made for me.”

Update: Amanda wowed the judges with her talent at tap dancing and placed second runner up.

—Natalie McGill

Mom Helps Twin Stars Shine

Just being a mom has landed this California high school teacher in the newspapers.

Finally, those extra-long twin beds, ubiquitous in college dorms, will be put to good use. Deborah Ledford’s twin sons Brook and Robin Lopez are 7-foot freshmen basketball players attending Stanford on full scholarships this year. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you’ll likely see these guys by the time March Madness rolls around. (Brook suffered a herniated disk last summer but was expected to recover by tournament season.) Says USA Today in its pre-season report: “The Lopez twins will be excellent.”

To hear mom—herself a 6-foot-plus Stanford alum—tell it, there’s nothing unusual about raising twin basketball stars and two other boys as a single parent while teaching high school math and German.

“I don’t consider what I do special,” says Ledford. “It’s normal. Millions of other parents are providing opportunities and good values, bringing their kids to sports, museums, national parks.”

Now that Ledford is done reading bedtime stories, playing math and geography games, and managing the intense sports scheduling for her sons, she plans to take road trips in Canada and Europe. And of course to Stanford. “I’m going to see as many of my boys’ basketball games as I can.”                 

—REBECCA L. WEBER

Where in the World Is Joan Price?

The itinerary: 23 cities, 12 countries, and six continents—all in only five months.

While teaching, Joan Price knew it was important to expose her special education students to different cultures and lands, so she took her third-graders at Ohio’s C.R. Coblentz School on virtual trips around the world with international literature, food, and art projects. Once she retired, Price (Ohio Education Association-Retired, shown at right) and fellow teacher Bev Bartczak decided to put that theory into practice, visiting the countries they had been teaching about for years.

“We both love to travel and experience other cultures, and we wanted to stay connected with children after our retirement at the end of the past school year,” Price says. The two designed a Web site where students can follow their journey, which took six months to plan. “The rule was to travel in one direction and to cross each ocean only once,” Price says. “We chose places where we had teacher contacts, places that sounded interesting or exotic, and places we had visited and wished to see more of.”

Their journey kicked off in Italy. Eleven other countries followed in quick succession, including India, Australia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Tibet, and Tahiti. Homecoming is planned for January 29 in Cleveland.

And it wasn’t enough to just buy plane tickets for those far-flung locales. Price and Bartczak also had to plan the itinerary within each country. Eschewing large tours, they opted instead for staying in homes and private tours. They’re also mixing in school visits in Uganda, Egypt, China, Vietnam, and Peru, among others. An Italian primary school was their first visit. “It was very small—one teacher, 10 students,” Price says. “The teacher spoke no English, but showed us a very basic classroom and well-equipped computer lab.”

MISHRI SOMESHWAR

 

Entrepreneurial ESP 

This Missouri warehouse employee knows a thing or two (or 3,000) about sales. Just ask him about the wedding dresses.

At a Kansas City clothing boutique liquidation sale a few years ago, John Stamp had an epiphany. He was there to buy the defunct store’s shelving, but they were also selling $3,000 wedding dresses for a few hundred dollars. “I decided to buy a couple of hundred dresses,” he says. He sold them out of his house for a profit. “Two years later, people still knock on my door asking if I have more dresses,” he says.

Although that was his most unique salvage-turned-sale, it was not the first such experience for Stamp, a school district warehouse employee. He began when he was 13. “There’s something so exciting about taking things that are undervalued and reselling them to people who want them,” he says. He has sold everything from tools to lingerie, and used the money to repair his car and pay for his children’s college education. 

Stamp’s salvaging philosophy is to keep it small. “I’d rather sell 10,000 roller springs to some painters I know than hold out and sell them on a larger market, like eBay.” Although it’s a fun hobby, Stamp says that he has no plans to turn salvaging into a full-time job. “It’s a tough way to make a living, and I’m just having more fun this way.”                        

 MISHRI SOMESHWAR

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January, 2007