Toni Sulmers

Winnona Park Elementary School, Decatur GA

Interview craftspeople, farmers, and entrepreneurs in Otavalo, Ecuador, to develop a case study documenting the stages of production of various goods and create a non-fiction book and museum-in-a-box that enlivens economics and models primary source research.

Where I've Been

  • Otavalo, Ecuador
  • Quito, Ecuador

My Fellowship in Images

One of the our unplanned discoveries in Ecuador, was the famous local artist Oswaldo Guayasamín. Our students will work with our Art teacher to create their own Guayasamín inspired art.
We visited this family owned store in Peguche may times to learn about the native weaving process.
As we walked to the lake in San Raphael with our spanish teachers, we were accompanied by curious school children. They wanted to know if we knew their english teachers. The people in Ecuador were all inquisitive, open and kind in every interaction.
One of the many local artisans we met with during our trip. These women create jewelry made from the Tagua seed that is sold all over the world.
Blanca was the secretary at our spanish school. One weekend she invited us to visit her Quechua family. After two buses, a camioneta ride and a 5 mile hike we arrived!
Ecuador has a rich and colorful culture. While interviewing a local seamstress, we were able to also enjoy the soothing classical guitar from her husband in the shop.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

I am much more knowledgeable about our economics standards and how to apply them to the "real world". Specifically regarding the process of creating an product, all the way to the sales of that product. My spanish language skills are much more proficient and I am more confidently able to communicate with my students and others in spanish, especially about the topics related to Economics.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

I will be teaching a new Case Study this year about Economics and Ecuador. Though my students will not be able to spend time in Ecuador, like my team did, they will be able to learn about and experience the culture and economics of Ecuador in a way that will the best next thing. They will view interviews in spanish, and english. They will touch and learn about the different crafts that are made. They will be able to fully understand how those crafts are created and why it matters.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

I was taking spanish classes every day. I am now back with a renewed vigor to practice and maintain my spanish language skills. I was really proud of all of the learning that happened in class every day, but more importantly I was proud of how many times I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to practice and speak a foreign language. Every night at dinner was spent conversing about all subjects in spanish. This is something I haven't done in a long time and I'm a better speaker because of it.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

Students will learn about a new culture. My hope is that they will make connections with the people of Otavalo, even though it's a city thousands of miles away. I hope they can understand both the similarities they have with Otavaleño children, as well as the differences. I also hope it inspires them to create their own crafts and use economics to better their own lives.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

Already we have presented about what we learned in front of all of our colleagues. They were excited to learn about a different culture. In a few weeks we will be presenting in front of our Board of Education to share with them the details of this experience. We have a new colleague on our team this year and we've already shared with her our learning so that she can teach her kids.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

My vision is that in the Spring we will have an Otavaleño Mercado. Students will create crafts that they have learned about like jewelry, instruments and artwork. They will use natural resources, to honor and respect the native cultures. They will speak in spanish when they sell and buy their crafts, practicing with greeting and numbers.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

I hope that my students will leave with a deeper appreciation for native cultures and the unique issues that affect them, not just in the United States, but all over the world. They have already learned about native cultures here in the USA, but as they learn about Ecuadorian native cultures, I hope they will make connections that can reinforce the importance of honoring and respecting these culture and traditions.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

I have been changed in so many ways. The content knowledge I have acquired is real and accurate. I am not able to easily explain the economics vocabulary terms that in the past I have used only abstractly. My spanish language skills have improved substantially as well, allowing me to communicate with my students more fluently and confidently.