Program nurtures teachers' `craft'

Park School offers grants for projects aiming to enhance classroom study

`Make the subjects come alive'

Work includes promoting French, service learning

July 23, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Teacher Lydia Omolola Okutoro has spent the past four weeks working on a rough draft of an autobiographical work describing how, as a 9-year-old, she was brought from Nigeria to the United States by her mother and placed in the care of an African-American woman who raised her in New York City.

She finished two sections of the book - tentatively called Immigrant Girl - read diaries and letters, gathered old photos and negotiated a contract with Houghton Mifflin Co., the Boston book publisher.

Okutoro, 28, said the writing was "a lot harder than I thought." But she was able to focus on the project because of a professional development grant she received from the Park School, where she teaches language arts and social studies in the middle school.

The grant is part of the school's F. Parvin Sharpless Faculty and Curricular Advancement Program, called FACA by the staff and teachers. The program supports selected teachers with additional salary and benefits for a month during the summer on projects that are chosen through competitive applications. The projects this year included promoting French, community and service learning, teacher portfolios - reflections on teaching - and assuring equity in mathematics.

Louise Mehta, associate head of Park School who oversees the program, said it has grown substantially since it was started in 1989 with one project, nine faculty members and a $36,000 grant. This year, there are 16 projects, 55 teachers and a $283,000 grant.

The program has evolved since it was initiated by Sharpless, former head of Park School in Brooklandville, Mehta said. It supports projects for the professional development of teachers and improving student curriculum.

"There is a great deal of curricular work that goes on in this program," she said. "We think the faculty members create, assess and enhance the curriculum here. They take the craft of teaching very seriously and want to nurture it."

The program was endowed initially with a $1 million challenge grant from the Joseph Meyerhoff Memorial Trusts during the school's 75th anniversary. The endowment has since grown to more than $5 million.

Teachers start generating ideas in the fall for projects they want to tackle during the summer. The formal proposals are submitted to an advisory committee, which selects the topics and teachers for the monthlong summer study.

Gregory Brandt, an upper school English teacher and chairman of the project on teacher portfolios, said members of his group, which included seven other teachers, learned from each other during the session. "We shared who we are as teachers, the same way students are expected to do," Brandt said.

Christine Broening, chairwoman of Park School's foreign language department and a French teacher, worked on a project promoting the study of French among all students. The school offers Spanish to lower school pupils and French to middle and upper students.

Julie Webers, an upper school science teacher, led a project on service and community at Park. She said the objective was to help the school community develop a sensitivity to the needs of others and to help with social problems in the Baltimore area.

"To our knowledge, there is no program comparable to FACA at other independent schools," Mehta said. "It's the faculty that makes it work. They develop, revise and refine programs for teaching. They make the subjects come alive.

"We need to keep that passion alive in teaching."

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