BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville Elementary School global lab teacher Kathy Gates is retiring after 11 years of teaching students about the great big world that exists outside the school walls.
Gates, 66, has been an elementary school teacher since 1987.
The global program was particular to Brooksville Elementary and, Gates said, "its purpose was to teach children about the world."
And they not only learned about the world; they deeply participated in it.
But, Gates said, there is no current plan to replace her. So when she retires, so does the global lab.
When Gates joined the global program, the school already was holding a Quarters for Cancer celebration at the end of each school year. Now the event is called the Global Celebration, and it is coupled with grade-level projects about various countries. Students make displays, and each grade level sees what the others have learned. Students make crafts that they sell for quarters. Foreign foods are sold for quarters, and there are quarter games.
When Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010, proceeds were split between cancer research and help for Haiti, through Brooksville native Paul Farmer's Partners in Health organization. From there, Gates and her students chose projects to benefit different countries each year, sometimes based on Gates' summer travels.
She also used her travels in her classroom. She went to China on a Fulbright scholarship. She went to India to work with a Jimmy Carter Habitat for Humanity project. She traveled with the Global Exploration for Educators Organization to India/Nepal, Peru, Greece and northern Spain. She has been to Canada three times with Western Washington University's Study Canada project.
"It was personal interest. But my theory was to see the world and bring it back to my students," Gates said.
Since Haiti, the children have participated in Yellow Boats of Hope, a program that helps children in the Philippines travel to school without having to wade through water. They purchased 10 alpacas for a Peruvian women's weaving co-op. They contributed to Heifer International and helped with Room to Read, which helped Nepal rebuild damaged schools after an earthquake.
Gates met mountaineer and Tampa lawyer Jeffrey G. Brown, who took the Brooksville Elementary School flag to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro through Wings of Kilimanjaro. The company offers climbs to the summit of the mountain and parasailing back down, while raising funds for Tanzanian health, education and environmental projects.
Through this relationship, Brooksville Elementary students have helped purchase books for Embreet Primary School in Tanzania.
"I have met with the founder of Wings of Kilimanjaro and set it up so I can communicate with the principal," Gates said. "We are communicating with the school."
They have sent sunflower seeds to the children in Masai, Tanzania, and the school sent back photos of the flowers. And there are children in the Masai village walking around in Brooksville Elementary School T-shirts.
This year, a portion of the quarters raised will go to Partners in Health for clean water in the Navajo Nation, in parts of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico. Gates' students were appalled to learn that not all children in the United States have access to clean water.
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When she retires, Gates will take a break for a while, but doesn't expect to stay down long.
"I'll go home and rest for the summer. But come August, I'm heading for St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia and getting on the Siberian Rail, taking it out to Mongolia and spending the night in a ger (a portable, round tent) camp," she said.
"Then we get back on the train, go across China and end up in Beijing. I want to take a last walk on the Great Wall."
She also plans to continue with her humanitarian work.
"I'm really interested in and would like to do a project with the Carter Center, based in Atlanta," she said.
"I have met so many people from these projects around the world. I still may do some project with them. Who knows."