By the end of this summer, five local teachers will travel around the United States and to several spots around the globe to learn new skills they can take back to their classrooms.

The teachers are part of a group of 100 educators statewide that were awarded $12,000 grants through the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship program. The goal of the program is to recognize teachers and support their continued learning so they can bring their experiences into the classroom. Since the program began in 1987, more than 2,900 educators have received the grants.

One teacher will explore national parks in Australia. Another will take art classes in Italy and California. Two will go to Alaska to study the balance between wildlife and humans and to learn how to properly craft and teach religious iconography.

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Each is already thinking about ways they can use their experiences to help their students learn.

Exploring themes

A book read by a freshman English class has inspired one teacher to explore the themes with her Lilly grant.For Shiela Bickley and other English teachers at Center Grove High School, “The Beast in the Garden” is one of the books often assigned to freshman students.

One of the main themes is exploring how wildlife and humans interact. And Bickley wants a closer look at that theme.

“The idea has been very intriguing to me,” she said.

Bickley will be taking a journey through Alaska, where residents interact with large wildlife in their everyday life. Alaskans could easily see a moose or bear in their backyard or during their daily routine, she said.

“I thought that would be a good place to go,” she said.

Her journey starts near Denali National Park, and she will then travel down the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage to study wildlife in almost every setting, from national parks to residential neighborhoods and workplaces.

“All of these different ways people interact with wild animals,” she said.

She also discovered while teaching the book that Hoosiers may be seeing more wildlife, with bears and mountain lions making a return to the state, she said.

The trip will allow her to get a closer look at the themes she teaches her students, Bickley said.

Work of art

When Whiteland Community High School art teacher Emily Litsey picks up a book, she sees more than just a classic novel or text book.She sees a work of art.

This summer she will be using her Lilly grant to study art in California and Italy, concentrating on mixed media techniques with an emphasis on book-altered art.

“Basically just re-envisioning what the book would be,” she said.

A few years ago, Litsey attended an art workshop where another art teacher had torn a page from a book and made art from that. Litsey was inspired and wanted a way to explore that art form and to bring it to her classroom.

“I thought that was an interesting project and it had a lot of possibility for kids,” she said.

She found mentorships in California and Italy that work with mixed media where she could have time to explore them herself and develop her skills.

Then she wants to integrate altered books into her curriculum and have an altered book show for all of her students next school year.

Getting away and working on art is also a way to refresh and stoke her creativity for the next school year, she said.

“You get busy with family and obligations at school, if you put a little time into these things, it really works out a lot better for you and the student,” Litsey said.

Off to Alaska

For years Julie Perigo has taught iconography as part of her art classes at Our Lady of the Greenwood School.Iconography is a delicate art that requires artists to use the exact materials that would have been available and used when a saint or other religious icon walked the earth, she said.

And sometimes those materials were hard to find or difficult to work with.

So, Perigo is using her grant to study with an iconographer in Juneau, Alaska, who will teach her how to use the proper materials to paint and make religious iconography. She will then study at Sequoia National Park in California.

“I always felt like I wasn’t sure I was giving students correct information, having never used the materials,” she said. “I always thought I was teaching it with whatever information I could scrounge around.”

When she had to teach the skill in her art classes, she would look up information online and attempt to convey what she learned. But she had never learned or done the skill herself, and wanted a chance to change that, she said.

“You can read something all you want, but to have someone who knows what they are doing show you, it gives you security and meaning in that,” she said.

The artist in Alaska will teach her how to use egg tempura, or dyed eggs, that is an approved material used in most religious iconography.

Once she has mastered the technique, she will film herself painting a religious icon with detailed explanations of what she is using and the proper techniques. Students will then watch the video. When materials are available, she may do an in-class project using her new technique, she said.

“They can see the true history of what an iconographer would have to be,” Perigo said.

Getting lost in music

In daily music teaching, Center Grove Middle School North band teacher Mike Bolla gets lost in the analytical part of the art.He has to teach students the mechanics of playing instruments and hitting the right notes.

This summer, he wants to get lost in the cultural and emotional aspects of music. He will be using his Lilly Endowment to travel to Amsterdam, Rome and Dublin to immerse himself in the cultural aspect of music.

“(It is) just to kind of take in the cultural side of music, which we quickly and easily get away from,” he said.

Part of his trip will be used to learn new photography skills with a camera. His end goal is to give a presentation on his trip, with the photos he took and an original score he plans to write.

Bolla also will visit two music schools and compare how they teach music to how he teaches music, he said.

“It will be interesting to see the similarities,” Bolla said.

Outdoors connection

A Center Grove High School biology teacher wants to study the flora and fauna on another continent’s land.Rusty Cullom will be using his Lilly grant to get to know the park system and the plant and animal life in Australia.

Cullom plans on biking, camping, walking and canoeing his way across the continent in an effort to get to know the unique biological there, he said.

Australia was never connected to any other land, which makes its plant and wildlife unique and worth studying, he said.

“It is Australia, I am a biologist, it is unique,” Cullom said.

Years ago, he and another teacher took students west to national parks to study the flora and fauna there. Now, he wants to take the materials he gets on his trek around Australia to help supplement the curriculum in his biology classes.

“I thought one of my jobs as a teacher was not to just teach biology, I want kids to be excited about it,” he said. “Showing them these places and some of the things I have done is one of the things to get them excited about biology.”

At a glance

Teachers can apply for a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship. More than 2,900 educators have been awarded an endowment through the program.

How much: The endowment is worth $12,000.

What it pays for: Teachers can refresh and renew their commitment to teaching with trips that they plan based on their interests, and then bring that knowledge back to their classroom.

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