ExperiencePlus! Blog

Our 2016 Send A Teacher Traveling Award Winners!

Meet Our Winners

Q & A with ExperiencePlus! 2016 Send A Teacher Traveling Award Winners

Each year, as we review applications for our Send a Teacher Traveling Award (S.A.T.T), we are reminded of the inspirational work that takes place in classrooms across the U.S. Since the program’s inception in 1996, ExperiencePlus! has given away bicycle tours to outstanding K-12 public school teachers throughout the U.S. We had such a tremendous pool of applicants this year that we could not help but to giveaway an additional half-off discount to our runner-up. We are thrilled to announce this years S.A.T.T winners: Teresa Moucha and Elissa Pitts.  We think you’ll agree that both teachers are well deserving of their awards. Learn more about our 2016 winners below.

Teresa Moucha

Teresa has spent the last 25 years spent making an extraordinary impact as an art teacher. For the last 19 years she has taught at Carl Traeger Elementary, in Wisconsin. Beyond the long list of quantifiable accomplishments, Teresa’s colleagues and friends beamed about her passion and dedication to her students. It was clear in reading Teresa’s application that she carries her passion for teaching in everything she does. We sent both of our S.A.T.T winners a few questions. Here’s a bit more about Teresa in her own words.

Teresa Moucha - 2016 SATT

You’ve taught art for 25 years and this will be your first trip to Europe. Tell us what was going through your head when we told you you’d won a cycling tour?

My first reaction was shock and then it was just like this big, warm glow of fabulous gratitude settled down on me like a blanket. From the moment I read the application I had this powerful need to apply, and I have learned to follow my instincts. I am so very thankful that I did and so grateful to ExperiencePlus! for this opportunity to travel to Italy!

What influence -if any­- do you expect this trip will have on your teaching process moving forward?

I believe this trip will give me great insight into cultural differences and similarities between my small town of Oshkosh, WI, and the Italian cities that I will be visiting. I can’t wait to see all the landscape and architecture from my bike and share that with my students. The first thing I would love to do is start a blog so my students and their families can join in my trip. When I get back, I am sure we will use the photos that I capture to inspire us in many ways in the art room.

What inspires you most about teaching art?

My students inspire me the most to stay current and always try new ideas. It is so great that I have always been fascinated by the work of the Renaissance artists and in a few short months I am going to be in the heart of its creation! I can’t believe I’m going to go to the birth place of  Leonardo da Vinci! I also love Dale Chihuly’s glass work and know I will be amazed in Venice when I see the master work he studied. Because art is so subjective by the viewer, I have always tried to expose students to a large variety of styles and media, so they can make informed decisions and be inspired to make their own work.

Do you make time for yourself to create art outside of the classroom? If so, what mediums do you primarily enjoy most?

 I have always loved to build and write, so making Artist’s books has been a large part of my own artistic journey. I have recently fallen in love with Pastels and bought my own easel this fall to go out and paint Plein Air style like Monet! I also paint with acrylics and oils and my students love to see my art. I do loads of samples for them, so they are familiar with my style, but they always love when I bring in my own art to share with them. It makes me smile to hear them talk about me to each other and guests in our room. They tell others that I am an artist and that is important, because art teachers really need to be good at art!

Teresa Moucha You helped to develop and host the first ever digital art camp for educators across the state of Wisconsin, could you tell us more about this and how you feel technology has influenced your students’ relationship with art over the years?

After receiving a large grant from WTI (Wisconsin Technology Initiative) their grant coordinator encouraged us to get 25 people together with a common interest and he would fund the learning. With all the new technology we had available, I wanted to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could. So, I took him up on his offer! We were hoping to have 25-­30 people apply and almost tripled that number. Art teachers came from all over the state and it was an amazing day to share ideas and learn from others in a conference type setting. I think of technology as another medium to create with. It will never take the place of clay or other loved materials in the art room, but it does have an equal value. I also can’t imagine how I survived without GOOGLE Docs to keep everything at my fingertips and easily accessible! As a travelling art teacher, being able to go to any school and access any of my slides or documents is such a great gift!

Any advice for parents who want to encourage their children to pursue art (perhaps as an alternative to screen time)?

Have a special area in your home dedicated to creating. My parents did not have very many financial resources when I was growing up, but they had an old set of kitchen cupboards to store my craft supplies, scrap fabric, yarn, paper, pencils, colors, paints, wood scraps and an old chalkboard. I spent hours and hours in my corner of the basement creating my masterpieces. My older sister and I had a few video games, but I was much happier in my corner creating. If children have access to materials to create with, they usually will! Most homes have entertainment centers and media rooms, so I just encourage parents to also make room for the arts as well.

In your application you mentioned that you’ve renewed your relationship with cycling over the past seven years? What inspired you to get back on a bike?

 I moved to an apartment near a bike trail after living many years on a small farm in the country. I had never been on a road bike, but loved riding my hybrid bike on the rail to trail in my home town. My Mom and her neighbor inspired me also. At 60 and 70 these two friends began biking with single gear bikes and putting on thousands of miles a summer! I thought if they can do it, I can do it! So when a friend asked if I wanted his old road bike I jumped on and never looked back. A few years later I got my own road bike and just love being out on the wooded trails in my home state. I am not the first one in the group, but I will usually be the happiest. I just love feeling young and going fast on my bike.

You also mentioned that you’re part of a cycling club and ride most days in the summer, where are your favorite places to ride in Wisconsin?

 I grew up in Jim Falls and in my opinion it has one of the most beautiful rail to trail bike routes in the state. It is paved and runs along the Chippewa River so you have woods on one side and water on the other and to me it doesn’t get better than that. I also love the trails near Manitowoc and the Green Trail in Stevens Point ends with a sculpture garden, so I really love that one! When I lived in Fond du Lac I enjoyed riding out on the country roads and coming home to the sun setting on Lake Winnebago. My dear friend lives in Bailey’s Harbor in Door County, so I spend any time I can with her in the summer and there just isn’t a bad ride in Door County! It is hard to pick a favorite, I guess it would be the one I’m on when you ask me the question!

Hypothetically, you can only bring five things (other than clothing) with you on this trip, what do you pack?

1 . Passport

2. Camera

3. Credit Card

4. Backpack

5. Water bottle (Hopefully sunglasses count as clothing essentials…because my future is looking pretty bright! LOL) BAM! I’m ready to go!

Elissa Pitts

Elissa has taught mathematics at Poudre High School in Fort Collins, Colorado for the past 18 years. This year she was one of five math teachers in the State selected as a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Additionally Elissa was recently selected by her peers to lead the Mathematics Department at Poudre High School.  Elissa seeks inspiration for teaching in all aspects of life and continually finds creative and exciting ways to engage her students in the classroom. Here’s a bit more about Elissa in her own words.

Elissa Pits

Have you told your students that you won a cycling trip in Europe? If so, what was their reaction?

As I was jumping up and down, clapping, and trying to tell them about this in my high pitched, squeaky voice, they just stared at me with their mouths open. I’m pretty sure that meant they were really happy for me!

What inspires you most when you’re teaching?

There are hundreds of things that students do to inspire me each day.  Some inspire me by just being there despite some of the things that are happening in their lives.  Some inspire me by working through their difficulties with math and finally exclaiming that they get it.  Some inspire me because they just want to learn all they can.  Some inspire me because they come in with a smile and a great attitude even when they really don’t like math.  Some inspire me by being extremely talented musicians, singers, athletes, writers, debaters, thespians, mathematicians, scientists, historians and everything else.  I could keep going but I think you get the point! 

I am also inspired by my colleagues who are amazing teachers who work each day to do great things for students. 

It sounds like you’re great at finding inspiration for math lessons in all sorts of places, any ideas how your trip through Umbria might translate into math lessons in the classroom?

We do a project in my geometry classes where students find geometric properties in art and architecture throughout the world.  This year, students will take a “tour” through a region of their choice to find geometry.  Along with examining geometric properties, the students also briefly research the history of the region.  My tour through Umbria will be a great example for this lesson. Spoleto has the Ponte delle Torri aqueduct that has an ogival arch formed by an “equilateral arch, where the radius is the same as the width”. Montefalco is the home of the Church of San Francesco with an apse, “the lower being semicircular and the upper polygonal.” Spello has the Porta di Venere with its “two dodecagonal towers”, Assisi houses Lorenzetti paintings “governed by geometric emotional interactions”, and Todi hosts a “trapezoidal tower”.  I’m sure I will find much more to include as I pedal!

In your application you mentioned that cycling has been a great tool in recovering from some adversity you’ve faced with your health. Any suggestions for folks trying to get back into cycling after taking a long break from riding?

As much as I thought I couldn’t do anything, I had to just try something.  Riding for ten minutes on the Poudre Trail was hard but it was something.  Having a great group of friends that were willing to join me at whatever pace I was going for however long I could go was also a plus.  (And when they left me in the dust when they knew I could go a little faster…I guess that was helpful also.)

It sounds like you do a lot of cycling in Northern Colorado, any rides you would recommend for locals or visitors?

Any ride that stops at Me Oh My Coffee and Pie in Laporte is among my favorites.  We can go over Bingham Hill before or after and I like that part also.

Hypothetically, you can only bring five things (other than clothing) with you on this trip, what do you pack?Elissa on a bike

Well…I wanted to say my book, a camera, an English-Italian dictionary, a travel guide, and pictures of my family, but I realized that my phone could do all those things.  So I changed my approach.

1.     A smile

2.     A good attitude

3.     A willingness to try new things

4.     A will to continue

5.     An awareness of the people and places around me.

I don’t recommend bringing an apple cutter.  I accidentally tried that recently and it didn’t go over too well with the TSA agent.

Any question that you wish we’d have asked? Feel free to add the question and answer below:

Who do you want to thank for this awesome experience?

My colleagues who wrote me some great letters of recommendation.

My husband for getting our three kids to tennis, baseball, basketball, swimming, and doing everything else while I am gone for two weeks! Oh and Happy Father’s Day and Anniversary during that time! (Also thanks to my mom, sister, and niece for helping out.)

My friends who have stuck by me and encouraged me each time I had to get “back on my bike”.

My students and coworkers for putting up with me being crazy, awkward, weird, and nerdy.

And of course, ExperiencePlus! for making this happen!