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English teacher from Plainfield explores Europe through $12,000 Lilly grant

By Lindsay Doty

Karen Gerhart (Submitted photo)

Starting off the new school year, Plainfield resident and English teacher Karen Gerhart enters the classroom with some fresh perspective after spending her summer exploring the corners of Europe for the first time.

The Center Grove High School teacher was a 2019 recipient of the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity grant.  Created in 1987, the fellowship awards Indiana educators with grants to nourish their thirst for learning. Gerhart received $12,000 for her project titled “Eat Your Heart Out: Cooking and Booking My Way through the World’s Great Love Stories.”

“I created it based on what I teach as well as what I am passionate about,” Gerhart said. “I wrote the grant with the idea of studying the world’s great love stories as well as the cuisine and culture within them.”

Gerhart brought her husband and two young sons (expenses not covered through grant) along for the adventure.

During her extensive travels, she got a private Charles Dickens tour in London and learned how to make high tea. She saw Shakespeare’s hometown and attended a production of “Henry V” inside the Globe Theatre.

“It was a great experience for me to see a Shakespearean play in London performed exactly as Shakespeare would have intended it to be,” she said.

In Paris, they toured the Louvre, ate in the Eiffel Tower and explored Notre Dame and the Paris Opera House, where Gaston Leroux’s “Phantom of the Opera” took place.

In Germany, she tracked down (and met) her distant German Catholic relatives and spent close to a week in Italy delving into the history of the real Romeo and Juliet.

“For seventeen years I’ve been teaching about the history and culture within the literature that I teach,” Gerhart said. “To actually stamp my foot in the soil of these places was a wonderful experience that I can use within the classroom when I teach these stories.”

Now Gerhart looks forward to sharing her travels, souvenirs, photos and chef skills (think: Scottish Shortbread) with her high school students.

“I think that it will be a very memorable experience for my students, and hopefully, it might ignite a passion in them for literature as well as a passion to travel and see some of these spots for themselves,” she said.

Gerhart joins a list of more than 2,900 Indiana educators who have received grants since the Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program began in 1987.  The Endowment selected the 2019 fellows from a competitive pool of nearly 500 applicants

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company.

“These dedicated teachers, principals, counselors and media specialists have designed inspirational projects that promise to strengthen them personally and professionally,” Sara B. Cobb, the endowment’s vice president for education, said. “For more than 30 years now we at the Endowment have learned how important it is for educators to have the time to create and explore. They have shared with us that they return to their schools with a greater commitment to their students and to the vocation of education.”

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