Large block letters sprawl across the white board in room 523: “Ask Me About Greece!” As students chatter before the bell rings, Honors English 10 teacher Spring Gehring-Lowery, more commonly known as G-Lo, is preparing yet another lesson on Greek mythology.
But this lesson involves more than just reading books and taking quizzes. This lesson includes traveling the world and experiencing Greece first-hand. Using the tour program Education First, Gehring-Lowery has planned a trip to Greece that will take place from June 23 through July 7, and is open to all East students. Gehring-Lowery is hoping this will give students a different perspective on
Greek literature, a subject studied in nearly every grade.
“Students shouldn’t just learn from books,” Gehring-Lowery said. “They should have a chance to really see and interact with the culture. I want [students] to taste the food and see the sights, and do things that they can’t in a classroom. With this trip, I’m hoping students can experience something they wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to.”
Having worked in an underprivileged school in Texas, Gehring-Lowery understands the trouble students have trying to understand Greek literature. At East, she decided to take it upon herself to get students involved in a different way: with travel. After asking fellow teachers, Gehring-Lowery narrowed the selection down to two companies: Education First Tours and American Center for International Studies Tours.
After researching both companies, Gehring-Lowery decided on the Education First Tours based on recommendations from previous student and teacher customers. She also chose Education First due to their wide array of trips and their reasonable pricing. Gehring-Lowery chose a tour complete with guides, meals and passes to museums. The tour includes visiting the Greek cities Athens and Delphi as well as a three-day cruise tour of the Grecian Islands. Along with seeing sites such as the Oracle of Apollo and the Temple of Zeus, students have free passes to museums and all breakfast and dinners are included.
Before she knew it, Gehring-Lowery was filling out the registration form and answering questions about herself as a teacher and why this trip would be good for students. Weeks later she learned that the information she provided she filled out would reshape the entire trip.
“A woman from EF called and said ‘Spring, you won!” Gehring-Lowery said. “I didn’t even know I had entered a contest. I remember filling out a box about why I wanted to take the students, but I don’t even remember what I said.”
The woman explained that along with the information she’d given, Gehring-Lowery had entered for a chance to win a $12,000 grant towards her trip. EF only bestows scholarship when they think they’ve found a teacher who deserves it.
“The woman who called had to explain to me that I had just won $12,000 for the trip,” Gehring-Lowery said. “I was the first person to win in years and it was completely accidental. I think [the woman from EF] was more excited than I was. She kept saying, ‘We’ve never had someone win before! This is so incredible!”
But this posed another challenge for Gehring-Lowery: how to distribute the money. After recovering from the shock of winning, Gehring-Lowery read the rules and regulations of how she could disperse the grant and decided that the best course of action would be to hold an essay writing contest for the students. Two students would win completely free trips to Greece, priced through the tour at around $3,700, first runner up would be given $2,500 while the second and third runners-up would win around $1,100 each.
“I wanted as many people as possible to benefit,” Gehring-Lowery said, “Hopefully students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go will get a chance to have this amazing opportunity.”
Students are being asked to write an essay of no more than 700 words explaining why they think they deserve to win the trip and many students have expressed interest. But Gehring-Lowery isn’t looking for the most eloquent paper or the longest one. In fact, she won’t be reading them at all.
“I’m getting together a panel of judges,” Gehring-Lowery said. “Some might be English teachers and some won’t be. I hope students will write about personal reasons as well as educational and monetary. The whole point is to give it to someone who deserves it, not necessarily the person with the best writing.”
Sophomore Matti Hayes, one of Gehring-Lowery’s current students, is a contestant in the essay writing competition.
“I’m really interested in the trip because I want to study abroad in college and I think this will be a good introduction,” Hayes said. “I’m relying heavily on the essay contest because [I’m] not really sure if we can afford it otherwise.”
And while it seems the trip would have a syllabus, Gehring-Lowery is not requiring any reading or essay writing to be completed during the trip.
“I think the trip itself will be enough,” Gehring-Lowery said. “It’d be great if students brought a journal or diary, but I am not requiring them to do any reading or writing. I’m confident they’ll learn from their surroundings.”
If student turnout exceeds six people, as Gehring-Lowery is hoping it will, IB English 11 teacher Meredith Birt will also be chaperoning the trip. Birt is an avid traveler herself, having traveled to Italy and France among other countries. She feels that traveling is essential to all student’s learning experience, so when Gehring-Lowery approached her, there was no hesitation.
“I thought it was a great idea because every freshman is required to read the ‘Odyssey,’ and from then on, we only do more work with Greek literature,” Birt said. “It’s really important to walk the streets with these people. It’s necessary for people to get out there and see the world they live in.”
Aside from experiencing other cultures and learning about literature’s “birthplace,” Birt feels that this trip will affect students outside the English classroom.
“Traveling can extend into so many other classrooms,” Birt said. “It can be applied to social studies, foreign languages and every day life. [Everyone] needs to see and explore the world we live in. I can’t say enough about how it benefits students.”
As of Jan. 31 Gehring-Lowery has no registrations or essays submitted, and with the recent snow-days finds herself moving the deadline to a later date. Yet with the essay deadline so close at hand she is expecting a flood of entries.
“While I haven’t received any registrations or essays yet I’m hoping for a reasonable turnout,” Gehring-Lowery said. “If we don’t get enough students [the trip] won’t happen. [The students] are all waiting to see if they won the trip.”
Even though a registration deadline has been set for Feb. 9, Birt says that students can continue to approach her and Gehring-Lowery and register in special cases. As more and more students trickle in, Gehring-Lowery and Birt prepare for essays, arrangements and, above all, adventure. But when it comes to speaking the language, Gehring-Lowery has a more relaxed attitude.
“I won’t have time for classes,” Gehring-Lowery said, “but maybe I’ll pick up ‘Greek: For Dummies.”