Aurora High School English teacher Cathie English spent a week of her summer vacation mixing business with pleasure in the Virgin Island, providing technical assistance for the Virgin Islands Writing Project Advanced Institute in Technology. The eight teachers attending the institute teach on either St. Croix or St. Thomas.
English's Virgin Island experience came about while she was serving as a facilitator for the New Site Leadership Institute in Safety Harbor, Fla. in January.
The institute, sponsored by the National Writing Project, was the second institute English was called upon to facilitate -- the first one being held in New Orleans in 2005.
It was during the New Site Leadership Institute that English met Virgin Island Writing Project director Dr. Valerie Combie and co-director Amy Roberts and the two asked the Aurora teacher if she would consider coming to the Virgin Islands to assist them with a technology institute.
"I said yes, but I had no idea they were serious," English said.
A month later she found out they were. Paul Oh of the National Writing Project's east coast office called and asked her if she would indeed go to the Virgin Islands to provide technical assistance for the site. For months the three women spent hours in conversation via e-mail and telephone as they collaborated on the agenda for the institute, ordered research materials and hardware.
English headed to the Virgin Islands mid-June.
On June 20 she met with the participants -- eight women who taught on either St. Croix or St. Thomas at various levels and in various subjects.
"This is the beauty of the National Writing Project model," English said. "It invites all teachers in various subjects at all levels, kindergarten through college.
First day discussion centered on articles written by the teachers last summer at the National Writing Project Writing and Technology Writing Retreat at Lied Lodge in Nebraska City, a retreat English co-directed.
"I was delighted by the depth of the discussion these ladies had over articles about how some communities struggled with the acceptance of the Internet and integration of technology at a school in Ohio," English said.
After a round of discussion, English said she demonstrated a digital story she had created about her "sense of place" in Aurora that included information about her family, home, students and speech team.
She also showed them several digital stories done by her students then freed up the afternoon to allow teachers to work on their own digital stories.
Wednesday was spent reading aloud from poetry CDs her students had created and showing the teachers who to create their own.
Thursday teachers were taken to the Nebraska Writing Project website so they could see how Nebraska teachers stay connected across the state by updating information and using electronic forums. English's classroom blog was also highlighted, along with how it is used in the classroom.
English also spent time showing the teachers a teacher resource for establishing online discussions or having students submit work online
English said goodbye to the teachers Friday and headed home the next day despite efforts by the teachers to talk her into staying a second week.
(reprinted from the Aurora News Register, August 9, 2006, used by permission)
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