The photo shows the sunrise over Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory of Australia. Photo submitted by Marjie Vertrees.

In June and July, Marjie Vertrees, a third-grade teacher at North Harrison Elementary School, was able to explore the Great Barrier Reef; view penguins, koalas, sea lions and other wildlife; and spend time in various parts of Australia, funded in part with money awarded from the Juan J. and Rudee Rodríguez Teacher Travel Fellowship Fund. As a result of her experiences, she was able to bring back knowledge and cultural artifacts to teach her students about Australia.

“I have already showed so many pictures and videos of my trip,” Vertrees said. “They [the kids] have learned about the time zone difference and heard so many stories…as I teach science and history, so many connections will be made.”

The Juan J. and Rudee Rodríguez Teacher Travel Fellowship Fund can help Harrison County teachers grow personally and professionally by having experiences in other cultures like Vertrees did. Travel costs have traditionally been a hurdle for many teachers wanting to experience other parts of the world firsthand to benefit their instruction, but the fund is designed to reduce these costs.

The Juan J. and Rudee Rodríguez Teacher Travel Fellowship Fund is held at the Harrison County Community Foundation (HCCF). The 2018 application is available at hccfindiana.org under the Nontraditional Scholarships tab and applications must be submitted online by Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 4 p.m. to be considered.

Eligible applicants must be certified educators teaching full time in a Harrison County public school. The educators must be members of a teacher’s union and they must have at least three years of teaching experience.

The Juan J. and Rudee Rodríguez Teacher Travel Fellowship Fund can cover transportation, lodging and meals. The money may also be used to purchase artifacts and teaching materials that the educator will use in the classroom. Vertrees said she made a couple of purchases that are benefiting her students.

“I purchased a picture book to keep in my room and a small plush little penguin wearing a handmade sweater,” Vertrees said. “This penguin represents an oil spill that happened a few years ago. The park [at Phillip Island] called for handmade sweaters to place on the penguins while they were being cleaned. They got half a million sweaters, so they sell plush birds with a sweater and a tag saying, ‘This is not a fashion statement.’”

The intent of the Juan J. and Rudee Rodríguez Teacher Travel Fellowship Fund is that educators will be able to explore and experience other cultures with strong preference given to inland Latin American, Asian or non-Western European areas.

Vertrees said her Australia trip was “life changing,” and she has several favorite memories of the trip.

“We had a private snorkeling tour with [a] marine biologist and actually followed a male green sea turtle for about ten minutes,” Vertrees said. “We saw him surface for air twice, which the scientist said is unheard of! The next day, we spent about an hour drive north from Port Douglas to the Daintree National Rainforest. We hiked with a guide and small group, and then ziplined in the rainforest on Cape Tribulation! It was amazing. Queensland is the only place in the world [where] two world heritage sites meet with the Barrier Reef and Daintree Forest. The forest actually hits the beach!”

Vertrees said Australia’s laid-back lifestyle educated her.

“I think I learned to take the time to appreciate everything each day,” Vertrees said. “Sometimes Americans do not. It is just a more rushed culture here.”

Vertrees said she definitely encourages other Harrison County teachers to apply for travel assistance from the Juan J. and Rudee Rodríguez Teacher Travel Fellowship Fund.

“I would beg someone to take advantage of this fund, so graciously set up by Juan and Rudee Rodríguez,” Vertrees said. “By going on this trip, which [HCCF] and they [the Rodríguezes] helped me to go on, I am able to bring the other side of the world into my classroom of third graders. I know that so many of them will never get the opportunity to go, or even travel outside of the U.S. But getting that knowledge on how other cultures live is so important.”

To learn more about the Juan J. and Rudee Rodríguez Teacher Travel Fellowship Fund, contact Heather Stafford, Director of Programs, at 812-738-6668 or heathers@hccfindiana.org. 

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