Baltimore teacher shows students the world


— Delana Penn believes knowledge is power and one way that students are able to gain valuable knowledge is through travel. Penn, a teacher and librarian at the National Academy Foundation and the Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy Middle School, has arranged overseas trips for her students for the past four years.

This year, Penn has scheduled a six-day excursion to Costa Rico that will include up to 40 students whose parents will pony up $400 each while the remaining $375 each is expected to come from various fundraising efforts led by Penn.

“It’s so important for the students to travel and to be able to see other parts of the world,” said Penn, who moved to Baltimore from Georgia 12 years ago.

The trip is scheduled from April 6 to April 11, 2014. Among the highlights of the planned excursion are a jungle hike, a guided rainforest hike, and a visit to a local school where students will read to children.

“This means a lot to these children to realize that they too, despite some being from the inner city, can go to places like Canada, Europe and Costa Rica and to see that people live the same way that they do and that they can go to these places,” she said. “It’s a big world out there.”

Penn says the idea first came about several years ago when she held a discussion with students in middle school.

“Many of the students said that they were kind of tired of the same old trips to places like Washington and New York,” Penn said. “They also didn’t know a lot of things about the many places around the world, so I thought why not plan trips abroad.”

Faculty and parents alike immediately took to the idea and planning got underway in earnest.

“You know, one student who traveled with us to Europe a couple of years ago just died last week,” Penn said. “But, one comforting thing is that her mother said that trip was the first and only time she’d been overseas.”

Penn says that field trips, which now occur less frequently because of a lack of funding, provide students an opportunity to experience the real world.

Several studies have shown that students retain more knowledge through the type of experience-based learning that field trips provide when compared to in-class learning, according to officials at the American Federation of Teachers.

Also, in an effort to continue to introduce culture to students, Penn said she encouraged the learning of stringed musical instruments. Most public school students are accustomed to the percussion or brass instruments, and many of Penn’s students were unable to articulate what a stringed instrument was, she said.

The importance of stringed instruments has been noted in research, specifically a study conducted earlier in 2013 at Northwestern University that suggests that musical ability may also have links to how sounds such as speech are processed.

So, Penn, with permission from the Hippodrome Theatre, took students to a number of rehearsals by the Soulful Symphony under the guidance of conductor, Darin Atwater.

They also attended a concert where the students witnessed Atwater’s magic and the orchestra’s greatness.

“Darin Atwater visited Bluford Drew Jemison Academy and the students played for him and then he played something for them and it was wonderful,” Penn said.

In a television news interview, Atwater said the orchestra touches children who don’t often receive a chance to see professional musicians. “So, it’s important to engage them in a way that inspires,” he said.

Officials at the all-boys school were amazed at what the children learned from Atwater. “I think it’s huge for some of the boys to have been able to experience that,” said Kelvin Bridges, principal, Bluford Drew Jemison Academy.

For Penn, who has two daughters, her mission to educate students inside and outside the classroom continues.

“There’s plenty to learn and I want our students to understand that just because they grew up in certain circumstances, it doesn’t mean that they have to become of victim of their environment,” she said.