Summer means more learning opportunities for local teachers

Michelle Nystel with “Rosie the Riveter” Mrs. Mae Krier at Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge. (submitted photo)

A common misconception held by many is that summertime is “time-off” for area educators. While teachers are looking forward to a relaxing slower paced summer, many spend time attending professional developments.  Michelle Nystel, Jason Rude and Sean Singewald are just a few local educators who spent their summer traveling throughout the country to continue their education and to bring back the newest and best practices to their classrooms.

Nystel, a social studies teacher at Turkey Valley School, has made it her goal as an educator to continue her own education and continue to improve her teaching to be more inclusive and engaging. She first attended a summer institute in 2016, and since has attended half a dozen around the country, not including local professional developments. To attend programs, there is an application process that includes references and essays. To be one of 30 or so educators to be selected out of 100 or more applicants is quite an honor.

In June, Nystel traveled to Colonial Williamsburg to attend the Bob and Marion Wilson Teacher Institute in Williamsburg, Va. She spent several days exploring the history of early colonial America, which took her to Jamestown, Yorktown, Fort Monroe and of course, Colonial Williamsburg. Her time there was focused on using historical documents to tell the stories of all people (men, women, enslaved people, indentured servants and Native Americans) in the 17th century. To experience places where people like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Washington worked and lived was awe inspiring.

At the end of July, she made her way to Philadelphia to spend a week at the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge to explore Women in American History. A day was spent in Philadelphia studying women’s right to vote and their contributions to the American Revolution and to the sciences. Later in the week, guest speakers, including Mrs. Mae Krier, a “Rosie the Riveter” who worked for Boeing during World War II, spoke to the teachers about women’s experiences in the 20th century and WWII. The highlight of this trip for Nystel was spending one of her “free” evenings refreshing the Iowa Medal of Honor Memorial in the Medal of Honor Grove on Freedom Foundation’s campus. Each state has a memorial with a placard for each Medal of Honor recipient. 

Last summer when Nystel visited, the Iowa memorial looked a little worse for wear. Each state is responsible for maintaining their memorial with help from the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove group, so she decided that if she was able to visit again, she would do her duty to help maintain the memorial. Packing cleaning supplies and a scrubbing brush, she spent an hour scrubbing each placard and picking up sticks, helping give the memorial a little face lift.

As Nystel returns to her classroom, one of her new guiding questions for each unit has been inspired by her participation in these workshops. “Whose voices are missing from the story?” For many years textbooks and history classes have centered around a single voice. Programs like those Nystel attended are aimed at making sure everyone’s voice is heard. When asked about her experiences Nystel responded: “The experiences are amazing, but the best part is networking with educators from around the country. We stay in touch and share resources throughout the school year, and sometimes we even bump into each other again at another institute.”

Jason Rude, a social studies teacher at New Hampton Middle School, traveled extensively in the month of July into August on two official teacher trips to institutes on the east coast and a history trip with his family in eastern Virginia. In the middle of July Jason attended the first national cohort of the 9/11 Memorial Museum Teacher Institute in New York City. Sitting underneath what was World Trade Center Tower 2 for a week was a powerful place to learn about our nation’s largest act of terrorism. “The subject matter is obviously difficult, as our older generations certainly understand. However, the younger generations did not live through the event, so it is the responsibility of the teachers to teach them the lessons we learned from that event,” said Rude. Some of their speakers included Rescue 5 (Staten Island) member Bill Spade, who was the only responding member of his truck to live through the collapse, Gerald Roberts a retired FBI agent who worked both the 1993 bombing and the 2001 attacks and Bridget Gormley, who made a film about the effects of the materials that were breathed in by the responders.

In late July and into August Rude attended a seminar at Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. The topic was Abraham Lincoln and His America, led by the renowned Princeton University professor and author, Allen Guelzo. The seminar delved into the life of Lincoln, his inspiration and influences, and his actions as President of the United States. “Lincoln is as complex as he seems simple. While he excelled with simple midwestern humor, the man could deal with complex ideas with the best thinkers in history,” said Rude. The seminar also included a day trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park. During the trip Guelzo shared stories of the battle, and then followed the steps of Lincoln as he prepared and delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history: The Gettysburg Address. “The level of depth that we were taken with both Lincoln and Gettysburg was on par with Mariana Trench. It was an incredible week, full of great learning and networking with teachers and scholars from around the world.

Postville High School Science Teacher Sean Singewald of Lawler, took part in a week-long educator program in the Bahamas at the Bimini Shark lab at the end of July. Singewald was one of 30 teachers/educators selected from over 200 applications. Presentations from scientists actively working in the field and professional development workshops help to develop materials for teachers to bring into their classrooms. With the support of Save Our Seas Foundation and Ocean Mokum Foundation, this scholarship provides a professional development opportunity for teachers and educators who may teach in areas where access to the ocean is limited for them or their students. It aims to provide a way for these teachers/educators to bring their experience and the ocean into their classrooms and communities. 

Experiences included field excursions to experience marine life in its natural environment. Educators observed up close, reef sharks, nurse sharks, lemon sharks and a variety of ray species. A highlight of the experience for Singewald was having literal face to face interactions with nurse sharks and rays. “When you have a nurse shark swim right up to you while standing in the ocean, it gives a person a new perspective on just how misunderstood sharks are. It is a common misconception that sharks are apex (top) predators. At some point in their life cycle, all sharks are potentially prey. Healthy ocean ecosystems require healthy shark populations. This means protecting a variety of ecosystems that sharks use during different times in their life cycles. Unfortunately, not enough is known about sharks. As air breathers, it’s hard to study migratory, aquatic organisms. Especially those that spend time in the deep ocean.” Singewald stated there are many opportunities to tie what he learned into many different areas for his students. 

As these educators return to school, they look forward to sharing their experiences not only with their students, but with their peers, as well. Nystel plans to share resources she has gathered with her fellow staff members during the beginning of the year, while Rude plans to present about his experiences at the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the Iowa Council for the Social Studies annual conference. One thing is for certain: The number of students who will be impacted by the experiences of Nystel, Rude and Singewald and other educators in the area is immeasurable.

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