Once, twice, three times a Lilly

Thursday, March 26, 2015
Gathering at Greencastle High School recently, teachers Robin Johnson, Stacie Stoffregen and Meredith Wade traded notes on their successful bids for Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowships. (Banner Graphic/JARED JERNAGAN)

GCSC celebrates three recipients of Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowships

In the rarefied company of much larger school corporations from Indianapolis, Avon, Columbus and Fishers, the Greencastle Community School Corporation had much reason to celebrate earlier this semester when three GSCS teachers were granted 2015 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowships.

Featuring two teachers who previously earned Lilly Fellowships more than a decade ago and a third who had never even applied before, the three GCSC fellows plan to use their $10,000 grants for a variety of experiences this summer -- from studying wind energy in Puerto Rico to photojournalism along U.S. 40 to immersion in Spanish culture by living in Barcelona.

"I'm surprised that there are three of us from one district," recipient Stacie Stoffregen said. "I've never seen that in a district this size."

Stoffregen, a middle school science teacher, along with high school art teacher Robin Johnson and high school Spanish teacher Meredith Wade all recently shared plans for their summer fellowships with the Banner Graphic.

'Hey, I can do that'


A 2002 recipient, Stacie Stoffregen was inspired by her students' questions to pursue the 2015 fellowship.

As an Iowa native, the she began to see wind farms spring up in Iowa in the 1990s.

Relocating to Greencastle and beginning to teach at GMS in 1997, she later saw the farms being built in Indiana, particularly the Lafayette area.

"It's interesting how long it has taken in different areas," Stoffregen said. "Renewable energy has been one of the topics that, as an eighth grade science teacher, has been of interest to me."

Renewable energy has become a focus of the spring semester curriculum in Stoffregen's class. She found last spring, though, that the students' questions began testing the limits of her expertise.

"Last year, they did an environmental project where kids designed different windmills, different blade designs and were testing them," Stoffregen said. "They were saying, 'Can we make this blade design power that windmill?' They started having further questions. So I decided I need to learn about voltage, I need to learn about power output. There are more things I don't have in my background.

"That kind of fueled the proposal."

The proposal is to learn more about renewable energy by comparing Midwestern winds to oceanic winds in Puerto Rico and how the power of such winds are harnassed.

"Just that whole island in itself, they're trying to do a lot of things so they can exist on their own," Stoffregen said. "They have offshore farms. They have several different wind farms. Their parking garages are powered by solar panels. So they're doing a lot of things to cut down on their reliance on oil."

Beyond the goal of making her a better teacher, Stoffregen hopes the trip makes her a better example to her students.

"With all of my questioning, I want to continue my research so that I can still be a student," she said. the whole outcome for my students is I want them to not just get into wind energy, but that maybe they will develop their own questions and then go seek the answers to those things.

"Seeing me be a scientist, I want them to say, 'Hey, I can do that.'"

Stoffregen added that science projects are an excellent use of the school corporation's commitment to 1:1 technology.

"What a great thing to use their iPads for that they can ask a question, seek the answer and then document their data."

Beyond the wind research, Puerto Rico is a veritable scientist's paradise. Stoffregen spent four days on the island several years ago, but it wasn't time to take in all the wonders she wanted to experience, including the world's largest telescope, bioluminescent organisms and a rain forest that scientists have been regrowing for decades.

The rain forest will also be a focus of her time in Puerto Rico, with two of the six weeks spent as one of 10 researches helping a scientist working in the forest.

"We'll be sleeping in the trees, going on night hikes counting coqu' frogs, seeing how they've regrown the forest because I believe it was near deforestation back in the 1950s," Stoffregen said. "That's going to be interesting to be part of that research that's been going on for several years."

The rain forest project will be through the EarthWatch Institute, an organization with which Stoffregen is already familiar. Her 2002 fellowship, also through EarthWatch, saw Stoffregen studying dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Fla.

The teacher is appreciative of the opportunities the Lilly Foundation and EarthWatch have afforded her.

"These are the kinds of opportunities you don't get," Stoffregen said. "It's an awesome thing to be able to go and do this and get yourself truly renewed. I'm excited."

Pictorial American Picker


The other repeat Lilly recipient, GHS art teacher Robin Johnson, combined art, U.S. history and journalism in her proposal "Photojournalism and the Road Less Traveled."

Johnson's plan is to explore U.S. 40 documenting the changing face of Americana through photojournalism.

"I'm being a 'pictorial American Picker,' so I'm trying to find those things that are timely and timeless," Johnson said.

The trip ties in to her 1998 Lilly Fellowship in which she explored the length of U.S. 231, traveling from Panama City, Fla., to St. John, Ind., looking for art and artists.

This time around, Johnson will more than double her journey, traveling the 2,285 miles of U.S. 40 from Boston to Silver Summit, Utah, about 30 miles shy of Salt Lake City.

"I live on Highway 40," Johnson said. "When I was young, we went on vacation and we'd take Highway 40 different places -- until I-70 came. That's part of my journey is to look at the towns and the buildings and the places that time left behind and how things have changed."

"There were a lot of places that were booming at one time and are now are kind of desolate, and that's part of it."

The photojournalistic approach is inspired by Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange, who documented the plight of Dust Bowl refugees, many of whom traveled north from Oklahoma and ended up in Utah by taking U.S. 40.

Besides taking photos of her own, Johnson plans to visit a number of museums featuring Lange's imagery along the way.

The weeks on the road are just part of the proposal for Johnson. Upon her return to Indiana, plans an exhibition of her work, an ebook and a photography workshop.

The date and location of the exhibition are yet to be determined, although Johnson has spoken with Kit Newkirk of the Putnam County Museum.

Regardless, going through the photos and preparing for an exhibition will be a personal test of how well Johnson captures what she sees.

"I'm looking forward to immersing myself in the photographic journey and seeing if the photo says what I want it to say," Johnson said.

The teacher's planned ebook will be on the use of photography as a journalistic documentary. Informed greatly by this journey, she plans to use it in her digital design class.

The proposed workshop will be a way to teach the public as well as GHS students.

"I'm also planning to do a workshop open to people in the community," Johnson said. "If they want to come with their cameras, I'll let them have access to the ebook and just have a time when we can do some photography and some of the things that we might look for."

Perhaps just as important as all of the professional reasons, the trip will be a deeply personal journey for Johnson, who lost both of her parents in the last year.

She applied for a 2014 grant as well, but said she did so with a strange feeling that she wouldn't be selected. In the end, this was a good thing, as she lost her mother last May, which would have made a summer trip difficult at best.

"Then (preparing for) this year, my dad and I had talked about it," Johnson said. "He's a big lover of the history of America and we talked a lot about it and had ideas about it."

In October, she also lost her dad as well, but went ahead with applying, with an equally strange feeling she would be approved.

"I really didn't doubt it. It was weird."

The trip now ahead of her, Johnson plans a personal journey as well as a scholarly one. Besides taking along memories of her father, she's hoping to take her daughter, currently a junior in college.

"I think it will be a good healing process," Johnson said.

Never been to Spain


Also taking a journey with some personal meaning, first-time applicant and recipient Meredith Wade is bound for Barcelona, Spain, where her proposal "From Gringa to Dama -- My Transformation in Spain" will take place.

For Wade, it's a bucket list journey.

"I think a lot about my bucket list, especially after my dad passed away this spring (2014) at only 63 from stage 4 pancreatic cancer," Wade wrote in her proposal. "As much as I wasn't ready to lose him, he wasn't ready to die either. There was so much he still wanted to do and see. He commandeered my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt so he could at least touch a piece of Disney World, the place he wanted to visit most of all."

Her dad's experience was a wake up call for Wade, a devoted mom and teacher, but not a person who's exactly been living out any big dreams.

"I have always known in theory that life is too short and we only get to do this once. I preach this daily to my children and students but realistically, I am a big hypocrite," Wade wrote. "I never neglect my duty as mom or as señora. I am a caring daughter to my mother and wife to my husband. But nothing on my bucket list is checked off."

That will change over three weeks in Barcelona this summer. Having visited Mexico as a college student and several times as a teacher, this summer will mark her maiden visit to Spain.

Rather than an American gringa tourist, Wade wants to experience Barcelona as a dama española.

Part of this experience will be staying, not in a hotel, but with a friend of a friend named Pilar, who speaks no English.

"From the moment I'm off that plane, I will be English-free for three weeks," Wade said.

Speaking exclusively Spanish, Wade plans to experience the culture the way Pilar and her friends do, not as an outsider.

"She understands that I don't want to go over there as a tourist," Wade said. "My thought process was to experience Barcelona as if I'm actually living there."

It's a lofty goal, but not impossible. Wade will arrive to a heavy dose of Spanish culture, with Pilar taking the week off for the San Juan festival.

Thereafter, Wade hopes to also experience the average day in Spain, with thoughts of possibly going to work with her host one day.

"I'm hoping to see what their days are like," Wade said of the more laid-back culture.

Wade also plans to make daily trips to the mercados and to eat foods "that would normally make me squirm" such as tongue or brains or whole shrimp.

"I want to experience everything Spain holds dear ... beauty, peace, community, family, food, friendship, dance, and culture," Wade said.

A personal challenge to herself, Wade plans to take flamenco lessons, first from a Spanish instructor and later at a local dance studio in Indiana.

Returning to her classroom in the fall, hopes to pass her experiences on to her students and enhance her life in general.

"I know that sharing my experiences will help create young adults who recognize the importance of being a part of a wider global community that will help bring nations closer together," Wade said. "I want to foster a life-long desire to constantly experience new things and a desire to always reach for personal growth and betterment. I would love to bring all of the sights, textures and realia back home and paint my own Picassos, transform my kitchen into a true cocina española, continue dance lessons and create a Flamenco dance club in my high school as well."

The entire experience remains a bit of a dream for Wade, who says she submitted her application and forgot about it, never expecting to win. Then her husband came in the house holding the big, white envelope.

"When I saw it said Lilly I thought, no, that's just saying 'we're sorry,'" Wade said. "It's probably not going to be until I'm on the plane that it will sink in."

Anyone wishing to experience those moments with Wade can follow her blog at http://miviajeaespanamwade.blogspot.com/

Now in its 28th year, the Endowment's Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program gives Indiana teachers, principals, guidance counselors and school media specialists the financial support and encouragement to nurture their commitment to education. In doing so, the program seeks to strengthen Indiana schools.

As educators tend to their own intellectual, emotional and physical wellbeing, they are better able to engage and challenge their students.

Each educator receives a $10,000 grant that will support a summer project of personally and professionally fulfilling activities. The fellows represent a wide spectrum of schools across Indiana -- traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools, both religiously affiliated and independent.

Including the 2015 class, more than 2,700 Indiana educators have received grants since the Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program began in 1987. The recipients of these fellowships are selected from a competitive pool of applicants; about 500 educators applied for this round of $10,000 awards.

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