Educational journeys

Study trips bring international flavor to humanities programs in U.S.

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— Like most teachers, Sandy Conlon can use a little shot in the arm at the conclusion of a long school year.

Unlike most teachers, Conlon has been the recipient of numerous grants that have allowed her to travel the world and further her education during the summer.

Conlon and fellow Steamboat Springs High School teacher Lisa Wilderman recently were awarded National Endowment for the Humanities grants to participate in programs designed to bolster humanities education in U.S. schools.

For Conlon, her pending six-week journey to Kenya is the latest in a list of international study trips.

"I feel I really know very little about Africa," Conlon said.

The continent that she says many people know only for its warfare, starvation and AIDS epidemic has always intrigued Conlon, who calls Africa "the cradle of early humanity."

Conlon was one of 25 teachers selected for the study institute; more than 140 teachers applied.

The long trip to Kenya will end with a 200-mile bus trip to Moi University, where lectures and teacher activities will be based. The focus of the program is continuity and change in Kenya.

The beauty of travel-study programs is that teachers have the time to pursue their own individual study interests as well as those topics covered through the program, Conlon said.

Even more enjoyable is being able to return home to share her experiences with her students, she said. Conlon teaches world history/world literature and modern literature and writing.

"Not only do I learn and gain a different understanding and perspective, but I think the students learn from it, too," Conlon said. "It's hugely rewarding."

Materials Conlon collects on her journeys often pop up in classroom discussions and lessons.

High school students value the real-life experience she can offer, she said.

Conlon, in her 33rd year at the high school, is no stranger to grant-funded trips.

In 1996, she received a NEH grant to study Plato's republic in Athens, Greece. The following year, she was awarded a Fulbright grant to study art, architecture and history in Italy.

After two years of funding her own return trips to Greece, Conlon was awarded another NEH grant to study Aristotle at the University of Rochester. In 2000, an NEH grant paid for her studies of Machiavelli and Thomas Moore at St. John's College in Minnesota.

Last summer, a Fulbright-Hays grant funded a trip to China, where she studied a variety of topics.

Travel studying is "so different from anything we can do during the school year," Conlon said. "It gives us a chance to look at new materials and have discussions with teachers from around the country."

Fellow high school teacher Lisa Wilderman was awarded an NEH grant to study Mozart in Vienna, Austria.

The four-week program will emphasize Mozart's German operas in the context of Austria, Wilderman said.

Although she's not a music teacher, Wilderman is very involved with music.

She teaches piano and sings in her church choir, among other musical endeavors.

Wilderman, who learned of the NEH grant program from Conlon, said she was amazed she received the grant because she's not a music teacher. Nevertheless, she hopes to incorporate what she learns in Vienna into her high school classes.

"I feel very privileged to be a part of this," Wilderman said. "I've just had a real interest in music throughout my life."

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities.

This year, NEH awarded more than $25 million in grants, including more than $2 million in grants for research programs for teachers.

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