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Not just fun and games

July 21, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

If Tri-State teachers had to write an essay about how they spent their summer, many would write about taking classes.

Melodie O'Hanlon does have to write an essay about her summer experiences, and hers probably would prove to be among the more entertaining - she went to Japan.

"I loved it. It was absolutely beautiful. The people were very kind and helpful," said O'Hanlon, 30, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

O'Hanlon's trip wasn't a personal vacation. It was work.

The Berkeley Springs High School English teacher was one of 50 teachers in seven states where Toyota has plants who were selected to attend the Toyota International Teacher Program, she said.

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In June, she left for two weeks in Japan to learn about Japanese culture so she can share what she learned with students in her world literature class and the school's multicultural club.

O'Hanlon said she visited Japanese schools, where students get only a one-month summer break, and a textile school attended by students ranging from teenagers to senior citizens.

She learned about Japanese industry, environmental protection efforts, culture and traditions and helped make soba noodles she ate as part of a traditional Japanese meal, she said.

Her experiences will help her explain the themes in the Japanese novel her students will read this school year, O'Hanlon said.

"The kids are always interested in what they do in other countries," O'Hanlon said.

Deena Kirkwood also will be traveling to an exotic land this summer, but not for work.

Kirkwood, who teaches at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School, was looking forward to three weeks in Puerto Rico with her husband, Todd, and their baby daughter, Madison, she said.

Master Sgt. Todd Kirkwood of the 167th West Virginia Air National Guard was taking his turn being deployed to Puerto Rico after four months overseas helping in the Iraq War, she said.

"We have a 9-month-old daughter. He missed four of her nine months," said Kirkwood, 32, of Greencastle, Pa.

"I'm really thrilled to actually have three weeks to spend with my family," Kirkwood said.

The months with the baby and without her husband were stressful and gave Kirkwood respect for single parents, she said.

Her summer isn't all relaxation.

Kirkwood is in charge of the group organizing opening day activities at the middle school. The event includes scavenger hunts, a pep rally, guest speakers and team-building games. The activities help students with socialization, especially the sixth-graders starting middle school, Kirkwood said.

Val Alexander also is working at school this summer.

She and four other teachers are running a summer camp at McConnellsburg (Pa.) Elementary School for students in kindergarten through second grade who need an extra boost before school starts, she said.

The children spend two weeks brushing up on their reading skills, working on writing techniques and doing exercises to strengthen their fingers, Alexander said.

Strengthening hand muscles is important for students entering kindergarten because they will be doing a lot of writing, she said.

Reading and writing techniques will be among the subjects Alexander and fellow pre-kindergarten teacher Maureen Litton will learn about later this month at the Governor's Institute for Early Childhood Educators at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa.

One hundred educators are chosen each year to attend the Governor's Institute, which runs from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. for five days, Alexander said.

"I think it will be fun and exhausting. Any teacher we've ever talked to that's gone to the Governor's Institute has come home truly energized," she said.

If that isn't enough, Alexander is helping create possible lesson plans using the wetlands behind the school in case the school system buys the land, she said.

Wesley Foltz is spending his summer with nature.

The Faust Junior High School world geography teacher is spending his second summer at Caledonia State Park in Pennsylvania, where he takes campers, Boy Scouts, church groups and others on nature walks, scavenger hunts and stream studies, Foltz said.

"This is a full-time job from Memorial Day to Labor Day. May and September are awkward for me because I'm doing both jobs," said Foltz, 30, of Blairs Mill, Pa.

Jaime Mason's summer job is waitressing at Municipal Stadium during the Hagerstown Suns' home games.

The Springfield Middle School math teacher has been catering to fans - and, more recently, her students - since she was a junior in high school, Mason said.

"It's a great place to work. I love baseball," said Mason, 25, of Hagerstown.

Mason uses statistics from the games to teach her students how to do certain computations, such as figuring out batting averages.

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