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3 Nelson teachers win travel scholarships

This summer, three Nelson County teachers will be able to see their lesson plans come alive through the Smyth Teacher Travel Award.

“The travel award allows teachers to broaden their horizons and deepen their understanding on the material that they’re coming back to teach,” said Peggy Williams, the assistant to the president and the associate director of communications and event planning for the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, the group that awarded the grant.

The recipients are Lori Leigh Thompson and Jessica Shifflett, both English teachers at Nelson County High School, and Angela Ogden, a fourth-grade Virginia studies and reading teacher at Tye River Elementary School.

Thompson will enhance her British literature lessons by traveling to London from July 7-21.

She said she chose London because she wanted to visit the places about which she teaches, like the Globe Theatre, the Tower of London, the London Library and Westminster Abbey. The itinerary includes at least one Shakespeare play at the Globe.

“Afterwards, when I teach about the structure and seating of the Globe, I can say, ‘When I was there …’ and show them my pictures,” Thompson said. “I will have a better perspective and viewpoint of my curriculum, having my own experiences to relate to the students.”

Ogden will participate in the nine-day Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery tour in Montana and Idaho in July.

In Montana, she will canoe, visit museums, see the Charles Russell mural of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with the Flathead tribe, visit a site of prehistoric buffalo hunts and see the Lewis and Clark interpretative center. She will also take a boat tour that shows some of the same wildlife Lewis and Clark saw. In Idaho she will visit Sacagawea’s homeland, the town of Dillon, Lemhi Pass and the Continental Divide.

Ogden said she decided to apply for the award after a friend previously received it.

“It is my mission to make sure that students learn the most through a variety of activities and projects based on the objectives,” she said. “It is my hope that I will bring back new ideas to enrich my teaching experience.”

She plans to incorporate the experience with her students by bringing back books, photos and materials for her lessons. She also plans to host a Club of Discovery on Saturday mornings where students and parents can learn about history through field trips.

The third award recipient, Shifflett, will be in Dublin from June 11-18 to study the culture, history and literature of Ireland.

Her itinerary includes trips to museums, churches, monuments and historical sites. As she is an English teacher, she will attend plays by Irish playwrights at the Gate and Abbey theatres, see the Book of Kells, visit authors’ homes and attend Bloomsday 2012, a day-long celebration of Irish author James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.”

She will also be meeting with Claire Hennessy, an Irish teacher and young-adult author. The two will discuss ideas on education and how to engage young readers from both sides of the Atlantic.

She said she decided to apply for the award to go to Dublin because she teaches some Irish literature, the socio-political history is important to understanding international politics and there are people in the county with Irish heritage, including herself.

While there she will be blogging about what she sees, learns and experiences. She will also post videos and photos. When she returns, she will create an interactive display in the high school’s library on Irish literature.

She said the information and experiences she gains on her trip will enhance her lessons, whether it’s teaching Liam O’Flaherty’s “The Sniper” with freshmen or modern works with Advanced Placement seniors.

This is the sixth year the grants have been awarded. Gordon and Mary Beth Smyth established the award in 2007 as a way to reward teachers in Nelson County and offer an opportunity to gain first-hand experiences, knowledge and training in their fields. They also created the Smyth Education Fund, which has helped 46 students go to college, and recognized the efforts of 10 employees over the years.

“They have specifically targeted Nelson County,” Williams said. “When they first established the grants, Gordon said ‘It’s a small school system. It’s a place we thought we could have an impact.’”

The award covers the travel costs, lodging, program fees and meals. There is not a formal cap to the cost of the teachers’ trips. However, Williams said an expensive proposal might deter the selection committee from choosing that applicant. Five applications were submitted by the Dec. 30 deadline.

Koerting reports for the Nelson County Times.

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