Noblesville Schools recently pulled off a major coup when four of its teachers were awarded Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowships.
Only 100 of the grants are awarded annually to Indiana educators, and to have four in one school district is remarkable.
The grants provide teachers $10,000 to pursue a project of personal enrichment and renewal - often an expensive adventure trip that would normally be outside the reach of people living on a teacher's salary.
"These individuals are precious resources, and Teacher Creativity Fellowships provide them with an important opportunity for renewal. Teachers get to become learners again as they explore their own curiosities and dreams, spend time in other parts of the world, pursue personal passions, and just 'get away.' We regularly hear that these experiences have helped many Indiana educators regain their enthusiasm for their profession - and that's a plus for them and their students," said Sara B. Cobb, vice president for education at Lilly Endowment.
The grant recipients are chosen from a highly competitive pool of public and private educators who have filed detailed plans for how they would spend the money.
Here are what the local winners have in mind:
Richards teaches 10th grade honors English, an AP speech course and theater technology and production at Noblesville High School.
He plans to take a bicycle journey from Strausbourg, in eastern France, along river routes to the city of the former Dachau Concentration Camp north of Munich, in southern Germany.
The route would follow the path his uncle's brigade (222nd Infantry, Rainbow Division) took during World War II following the Battle of the Bulge.
Richards has a journal of that 1945 march written by an 18-year-old soldier who witnessed it.
His students are currently gathering information on the towns described in the journal, and he plans to send them postcards from each town when he passes through this summer.
Richards said he wants his students to understand that he's a lifelong learner.
"I've never settled into a rut, and this is a way to demonstrate that," he said.
Land is a speech pathologist at Noblesville High School and East Middle School, but most of all a lover of anything calligraphic.
The passion took root about 25 years ago when Land took a calligraphy class at the old Noblesville high school.
Her plan for her grant is to travel the world learning more about the art form.
That means private lessons from masters in London and Boston in addition to taking an online course. She also hopes to visit a famous calligraphy store in England to sample different materials, inks and pens.
When she returns, land hopes to teach a six-week course on the subject at the Noblesville Boys & Girls Club. She also wants to talk about calligraphy one day each semester during art classes at the high school and middle schools.
The larger goal still would be to publish a children's book about the sophisticated penmanship.
Land's award is also a lesson in perseverance - she had finished as an alternate winner the past two years.
"I didn't want to give up," she said.
Helming teaches visual arts at Noblesville High School.
He discovered an interest in woodworking in college and decided to use his grant application to pursue the most challenging aspect of his passion - building a chair.
But his vision of his ideal chair is little more than ethereal sparks in his mind at the moment.
The true blueprint won't be finalized until Helming travels to learn from some masters at a trade show in Savannah, Ga., this summer.
After he absorbs all the knowledge he can about 200 years of chair-building in America, he'll begin to formulate the plans. But at the moment he is leaning in the direction of a rocking chair that would allow him to spend time outside in reflection.
Helming said that that in a time where knowledge and information are at students' fingertips instantly, they aren't given time to reflect - not just on the information but also on their environment.
He said he hopes to convey that the act of reflection will strengthen their results.
Patterson is an art teacher at Promise Road Elementary School.
She plans to travel to Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic and conduct a cultural exchange of sorts.
Patterson is planning to have her third- and fourth-graders take photos of things that are important to them and representative of Noblesvile. She plans to ask the counterparts of Baffin Island to do the same, and she plans to stitch the two together in an online gallery.
Patterson said she also plans to do some backpacking, camping and canoeing - as long as she doesn't see any polar bears.
But she hopes most of all that her students benefit from the cultural comparison.
Range of emotions
When describing how it felt when he realized he had been awarded the grant, Richards used words like, "Amazing," "Exciting" and "Humbling."
Land considers it a sort of birthday present considering it was announced on her 60th birthday.
Helming was more emotional, describing a state of crying and disbelief.
"I just kind of lost it," he said of the weight of the realization that someone had seen validity in his words and plan.
Helming said the best aspect of the grant has been the feeling of a greater respect for himself since after the award was announced.
Land said, "This is the only way I will ever get to go there. So I'm just very grateful for that."