Wendell Phillips Academy teacher breaks new ground by giving urban Chicago students a taste of study abroad

Wendell Phillips Academy teacher breaks new ground by giving urban Chicago students a taste of study abroad
Carter, first row center, and students enjoy the splendor of Spain

The value of a good teacher can never be emphasized enough; few students, however, are fortunate enough to have a life changing teacher once in their lives. This column is about a life changer—Tameka Carter. As you will see, she’s a rising star in Chicago. I’m fortunate that she’s a fellow classmate in our doctoral program at DePaul; she’s broadened my world. But what she does for her students is extraordinary.

Ms. Carter gives them opportunities in a world where life opportunities for lower income, urban students have been few and far between. She works at Wendell Phillips Academy High School, the first all black high school in Chicago. Ms. Carter teaches Honors Spanish and Spanish to juniors and seniors. Her goals are to give them the gifts that come with second language learning and to open up the world to them through travel and study abroad. This year, her dream (four years in the making) to travel to Spain with her students came true. She received some funding for a trip to Madrid, Segovia (where students were to attend school three days) and El Escorial (yes, I had to Google some of these places and yes, now I want to visit!).

As some of you may recall, a few weeks ago I wrote a column on this very subject—how “travel made me see.” Like Ms. Carter’s students, I was lucky enough to have a life changer teacher who pushed me to go to Israel on a community service program when I was 17; my world has never been the same since.

Ms. Carter’s interest in travel developed a bit differently than mine. After college, she lived in Spain for a couple of years, teaching ESL as part of an immersion program sponsored by the Ministry of Science and Education of Spain. She also played professional basketball there. While her plan was to go to law school, she found herself loving teaching. Four years ago, she joined the staff at Wendell Phillips.

I have a deep sense of Ms. Carter’s gifts, as we have had several classes together. She raises brilliant points about Plato’s Republic and then switches gears to the problems facing our “republic.” Not surprisingly, she majored in Political Science as well as Spanish.

My classmates and I have also watched her brook challenges related to this trip:

Who to choose: students had to write a letter (for a grade) outlining why they wanted to visit Spain; fifty-six students were chosen;

How to fund: students had the option of participating in a dodge ball competition or selling food at basketball games; some chose to fundraise on their own through bake sales and other opportunities;

What to bring: a challenge since the students wear uniforms to school and some needed more clothes and suitcases (our peers in the program and one of our professors responded in kind);

What to eat: On the first day on the bus, Ms. Carter encouraged her students to try Spanish cuisine and be polite. “Nothing is nasty, crazy or weird—Just say it’s interesting [if you have nothing else to say].”  Interesting was all that she heard at the first restaurant. When the students ordered Spanish shakes, they thought they were going to drink a milk shake. Hardly. Still one student told her that the “texture is interesting, but Ms. Carter, it’s [also] so good;” and

What to study: All interdisciplinary—art, the Spanish Moors, the reign of King Phillip and his palace and cathedral in El Escorial, school in Segovia, and more.

To me, the best sign of a powerful learning experience is that the students want more. That message came through loud and clear:

• Senior Michael J., who wrote in his journal "The best experience ever. Since we came back to Chicago, I want to travel a lot more. I know I am going to study abroad in college. I want to go to Italy or France."

• Junior Erianna B. wrote, "I really want to go again next year. All students at our school should do something like what we did with Mrs. Carter every year. The one thing I would change is that we stay in Spain longer."

Kudos to Tameka Carter! May she continue to change lives during her educational career!

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  • What a wonderful story. I live in Bronzeville (Bronzeville B.U.G. On Chicago Now). My daughter works for the international Baccalaureate Schools and lives at The Hague. She got there because of her love of travel and teaching.

  • Thank you! Congrats to your daughter as well. Teaching and travel are a wonderful combination. I'm hoping that this will be an annual trip!

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