One teacher will travel to Africa to study how predators stalk their prey.

Another will hike trails in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal to learn about those countries’ cultures. Three will go west to study trees, horse therapy and Native American art and traditions.

Five local teachers have been awarded Lilly Endowment grants. The $10,000 grants will pay for their educational trips.

All expect their experiences will help the students at their schools.

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Here is a look at what the teachers plan to do this summer:

Predators on the prowl

Every year, Stephen Blackburn tells his fourth-graders at Center Grove Elementary School how a predator finds and devours its prey. He can describe how biological enemies interact with each other and how the predator stalks its meal.

After this summer, he will be able to show them.

Blackburn will use his grant to travel to see predators in North America and South Africa. He will make recordings while diving with great white sharks, trekking on safari in Africa and visiting grizzly bears and white wolf preserves.

“I will get to watch a lot of predator-prey interaction,” he said.

His goal when drafting the trip was to find a way to teach his students the science lesson, without just showing a premade video or reading it from a textbook, he said.

“Kids love stories, especially when their teacher is in the story,” Blackburn said. “It is better than showing a video from Discovery.”

Iron horses to real ones

Ellen Paris knows all about the adage if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

The counselor at Northwood Elementary School in Franklin had her Lilly Endowment proposal accepted the fifth time she applied.

Her previous proposals weren’t expansive enough, and some lacked a strong school connection, she said.

Using her own persistence as an example, she said, she wants to start a club that would teach children to hold on to their dreams. In addition, she will chase her own dream of operating an equine therapy barn after retirement.

Her endowment grant will allow her to visit equine therapy locations in Indiana, Montana, Oregon and Washington. She also will volunteer at a local equine therapy barn.

She had visited equine therapy barns in Indiana and saw how that therapy could help people who have been in traumatic situations. She researched therapy places in the western part of the U.S. and decided she should take a train to that area of the country and rent a recreational vehicle to travel and learn about the therapy.

When she comes home, she wants to use her dreams to inspire students at her school to keep dreaming, she said.

“I want to help them dream,” Paris said.

Listening to trees

Every time school goes on break, Nora Hoover will embrace trees.

Center Grove Middle School Central’s principal will travel the country and Canada to study trees that have survived unusual circumstances. She will spend two weeks this summer and fall and a week during winter and spring breaks looking at famous trees and groves of trees.

“I wanted to make it seasonal,” she said.

This summer she will go up to Michigan and Canada. Fall will take her to Joshua Tree and Kings Canyon national parks in California. In the latter, she’ll see the largest tree in the world.

During winter, she will travel to Mississippi to study the Friendship Tree that survived Hurricane Katrina and study trees in the bayous of Louisiana. In the spring, she will be in Charleston, South Carolina, to Boneyard Beach, where eroded trees decorate the beach.

Trees are heavy in symbolism and are used as motivators throughout her school, Hoover said. She wants to write a book about her experiences and share it with teachers and students.

“It will have meaning; and hopefully, it will motivate people, too,” she said.

Roaming and cruising

While hiking in Spain, Trent Shupperd met people from 33 countries. He also talked to a farmer about his work and to a shepherd who cared for sheep in the Spanish countryside.

The Spanish teacher at Edinburgh Community High School wanted to re-create the experience.

He will spend his endowment hiking in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal on a 500-mile road and trail system.

Shupperd will travel the trails that ancient Romans used and talk to people and study how the road system influenced culture in Europe. 

He hopes his stories from the trip will inspire his students to travel and to understand that learning how to speak a language means learning about culture too, he said.

“I wanted to do something that my students would find doable,” he said. “It is getting them to see that there is a lot you can do out there.”

Discovering diversity

Beth Laker was researching an art project for fourth-graders in her school when inspiration struck.

The art teacher at Whiteland Elementary School asked students to make their own totem poles. She scoured the Internet but couldn’t find enough good, solid stories about the images on totem poles.

So she applied for a Lilly Endowment to go into the Pacific Northwest to learn the culture of several Native American tribes and to learn the story behind the art on their totem poles.

In June, she will fly to Portland, Oregon, where she will visit Native American art galleries and a reservation. Then, she goes to Seattle, where she will attend a salmon bake with a tribe. Later, she will go to Alaska, where a tribe has 120 different totem poles.

Laker said next year’s lessons on totem poles will be more in depth after her trip.

“I would like to share some of the stories with kids,” she said. “I want more background knowledge to share next year.”

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Magen Kritsch is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2770.