Forest Park Elementary reading interventionist Ted Rupel has applied in the past for a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship but was never awarded one. At the urging of a friend, he applied again this year.
Rupel was among 450 educators who applied for the grants this year. In the end, 100 proposals were selected, and recipients will receive a $10,000 grant to pursue projects over the summer.
"Much to my great surprise, I did get it," Rupel said.
Rupel will depart June 10 to spend six weeks in the southern part of Asia. Most of his stay will be spent in the town of Taiping, located on the west coast of Malaysia, where he will work with special-needs children at Taiping Equine Park. The equine park offers horseback riding therapy to children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and hyperactivity.
Rupel also plans to take short sightseeing trips to visit Vietnam and the island of Bali.
The fellowships are to give educators a chance for personal and professional learning and to return to the classroom in the fall rejuvenated. The program is not specified for teacher training, but as part of the proposals, applicants are asked to outline what they will bring back from their experiences to incorporate in the classroom.
At Forest Park, Rupel works with many children who are Burmese or from other countries in Southeast Asia. He hopes to return with a better understanding of their culture, he said. Rupel is also hoping to get a sense of what education is like in other parts of the world by talking and working with students and teachers.
Angola Middle School teacher Shawn Snyder hopes to be able to communicate better with her students when she returns from her trip to Costa Rica, made possible through the grant. Snyder said the population of Spanish-speaking students is growing at her school, so she will take Spanish classes before and during her trip. She also plans to start a biweekly lunch club when she returns where only Spanish will be spoken.
Synder called her proposal "The Path Not Taken" because she received her bachelor's degree in marine biology and never pursued the field further.
She teaches sixth grade math and language at the middle school.
She will spend three weeks in Costa Rica, where she will participate in an immersion learning program in Spanish and will dive in a coral reef and learn more about environmental conservation. She said she has just started to make her arrangements for the trip.
"I still don't think it's hit me yet," she said.
Before she leaves, Snyder will take an underwater photography class and start taking some online classes to learn Spanish basics.
Since the program began in 1987, more than 2,500 teachers have received grants to pursue their interests in the summer months. Sara Cobb, vice president for education at the Lilly Endowment, said in a statement that these teachers give their days and often their evenings and weekends to running extracurricular activities, tutoring and training, and these fellowships provide an opportunity for renewal.
"We regularly hear that these experiences have helped many Indiana educators regain their enthusiasm for their profession, and that's a plus for them and their students," she said.