What West Linn teachers did on summer vacation
Three West Linn teachers traveled across the world this summer to bring their experiences back to the classroom.
Willamette Primary teacher Sarah Bradley-Culp hauled duffle bags filled with school supplies to Haiti, and two Sunset Primary teachers trekked around Peru to learn about science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Kathleen Miller — kindergarten teacher at Sunset — and Karen Detjens — second-grade teacher at Sunset — have worked together for 20 years, but they've forged a tighter bond through traveling.
Last school year, the two teachers applied for a grant through Fund For Teachers to do professional work that will impact students and the classroom. After their grant was approved, the teachers headed to Peru for three weeks.
"I think it's important to step out of your comfort zone and to try new things," Miller said. "A lot of it too was the development of our empathy toward how hard it is to speak another language and try to be understood. That helps professionally to be aware of kids and how you can help and support them."
The duo applied for the grant two years ago with an emphasis on exploring culture and collectivism, but it was not approved. After tweaking the verbiage and focus, the two were awarded $10,000 to explore Peru.
They joined a 15-day adventure program that allowed them to experience a homestay, explore Machu Picchu, trek up a nearly 16,000 foot mountain, kayak and explore the local culture.
The largest barrier for Miller and Detjens was the language. Their homestay family spoke Quechuan — an indigenous language spoken by people living in the Andes and highlands of South America. Miller only knew a small amount of Spanish, a language only the host daughter knew.
"It was a three-way communication triangle," Miller said. But Detjens didn't speak much Spanish.
"We connected that a lot to the kids who come to school (in America) and don't speak English," Detjens added.
Aside from developing a deeper understanding of language barriers students face, the two teachers — who both love art — found art projects they'd eventually like to do with their students.
"Part of our tour allowed us to go in and see women weaving and see the entire process from the actual alpacas and llamas being fed, and then getting the fiber off them (and) how they dyed it," Detjens said.
"Weaving, and we also saw some clay. I think we'd like to try and do projects that connect to those two things that we saw. We have lots of photographs and items we purchased to bring back and show the children, so we'll connect the realia with what we do with the lessons."
Miller and Detjens said that after exploring the Amazon, they would like to do more science activities.
Continuing the outreach
Bradley-Culp had a different goal in mind with her trip to Haiti.
For one week, Bradley-Culp experienced living without power, sleeping on a living room floor, taking bucket showers and gaining insight into the Haitian community.
"This kind of bubbled up with a bunch of friends sitting around talking with each other and looking at each other saying, 'We all have something to contribute here,'" Bradley-Culp said.
One of Bradley-Culp's Haitian friends, Yvenson Bernard, and his brother started a foundation in Haiti in their deceased mother's name. With that money, the brothers created a private school that Bradley-Culp and her third-grade class spent last year gathering school supplies for.
Haiti was the underlying theme in many of her lessons during the 2017-18 school year.
Bradley-Culp pulled in facts about the country and showed her students what life is like in Haiti.
"Any time I had the opportunity to highlight Haiti or swoop it in, I did," she said.
"To learn about a different culture, to learn about a different way of life, to have a perspective that's different than our own so you don't just have one narrative," Bradley-Culp said. "There's a lot of trash; there's kids with no clothes playing in the trash; there are no traffic signals, no streetlights, cows running down the road. How people live is very different."
She said West Linn families were quick to help with donations: 30 Nike backpacks were filled with dental supplies, pencils, crayons and erasers, among other items.
But the donation to the school wasn't the only task on Bradley-Culp's to-do list. She and her team visited the orphanage, donated leftover supplies and played with children who had lost their parents in the devastating 2010 earthquake.
While Bradley-Culp and her team's mission in Haiti was to support the schools, a new idea sparked.
"We were sitting at Yvenson's grandmother's house for days without power — the government just decides when they're going to give you power, and they gave us power anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours a day," Bradley-Culp said. "It's still really bad down there, so the only way we knew the power had turned on was because there was one fan and all of us who were sleeping in the living room could feel a breeze."
Tim Dwight, former NFL football player and member of the team, decided he had enough. Dwight owns a solar energy company and he and a small group of people decided to equip Bernard's grandmother's house in solar panels.
"Where Haiti sits next to the equator, they get so much sun, so ... solar energy is the way to go for them," Bradley-Culp said, adding that Dwight had visited previously to equip other places with solar panels. "If they can't afford it, it's just a matter of getting them going, equipping them and getting donations to get them up and running."
During spring break in March, Bradley-Culp and her team will be returning to Haiti to build another classroom at the school they visited, and will hopefully install solar panels at as many homes as they can.
"The school's need help but you know what they need? Power," she said. "This school's got a little bit of solar but they can't afford to equip it completely and totally."
Bradley-Culp said it costs about $3,000 per home to install solar panels.
"It gives you a lens you didn't have before and helps you appreciate the people in your life. You see things a little differently," Bradley-Culp said. "It was a privilege to go and serve alongside those people. The Haitian culture is beautiful; it is kind, warm, welcoming — the hospitality when they have so little is a lesson for all of us."