Byrd Avenue teacher brings travels to the classroom

Published 9:08 am Monday, June 16, 2014

Byrd Avenue Primary School teacher Kim James left Thursday for Mexico, where she will immerse herself in the culture and learn the language.

James was recently recently awarded a $5,000 grant by the Fund for Teachers, a national non-profit which provides awards for personalized professional development. For James, it was her third attempt at the grant.

The way James sees it, it is her future first-grade students who will reap the rewards after she returns on July 13 and relates her experiences to the class.

“My job as a teacher is to bring the outside world to the students,” James said. “The whole idea of the trip is to learn more about Mexican culture and learn Spanish so I can better communicate with students and parents.”

James flew into Playa Del Carmen. Her schedule calls for her to travel around the Yucatan Peninsula, where she will visit the ancient Mayan city of Chichenitza, along with Cozumel, Copa and Akumal Bay. She said she hoped to visit the ruins of Pelenque as well.

“There is a lot of competition for this grant,” James said. “There were 1,500 who applied for the grant nationwide. I like this grant. You get to choose your own project. It was a big deal for someone in this area to get this.”

Only 13 other teachers in Louisiana received the grant.

“Fund for Teachers bridges the gap between what teachers have and what students need to advance academically,” Fund for Teachers executive director Karen Webb said in a release. “Fellows turn out initial investment into broadened perspectives and engaged learning – for themselves and their students. The result is a transformed career and classroom.”

Byrd Avenue has a new reading series in ancient American civilizations called Core Knowledge. James described the series as “realistic fiction.”

“By taking this trip to Mexico, I can talk about my experiences and show my students photos of all the places I’ve been,” James said. “They can relate to my experiences and gets them all excited so maybe one day they can go there. It just opens up their minds.”

James said she learned about the Fund for Teachers grant only two years ago.

“Two years ago I wanted to go to Africa and study why the zebra population was dying,” James said. “I was disappointed we didn’t receive that grant. We wrote a grant last year and wanted to go to Mexico for two weeks and study Spanish and volunteer with children.”

James said the third try paid off.

“This year I ended up writing the grant myself and decided to extend the grant to a month in Mexico. For Spanish lessons, I bought a Rosetta Stone software kit.”

James said she couldn’t believe it when she was awarded the grant.

“I sent off the grant the first of January and they notified me by email in April. I was at work one day checking on another grant. The information for this one came up, and I thought I was going to fall out of the chair,” James said. “I was in shock. I wasn’t expecting to get it this year. I was so excited.”

In her proposal to the group, James detailed her plans and goals for the trip.

“They wanted to know what I would learn from this experience and what inspired me to undertake this project,” James said. “It all ties back to learning in the classroom. I had to tell how I could grow as a teacher and how it would benefit my students and bring the community into it. Completing the grant took time. There was a tremendous amount of research, down to a specific budget.”

James said she hoped more teachers would follow her lead.

“I would love for other teachers to become aware of this particular grant,” James said. “Opportunities like this one don’t come around very often. Kids learn more when they see I’m enthusiastic about something.”

James said she is passionate about her profession. She has taught in Bogalusa five years and has 17 years total experience in the classroom.

“Teaching is not what I do. It’s who I am,” James said. “I don’t teach. I am a teacher. Teaching is something you have to want to do.”