Bright School Teacher Visits Europe On Travel Grant

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 - by Elizabeth Davis
Diane and Troy Kemp in Athens
Diane and Troy Kemp in Athens

Seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new things are the kinds of experiences we want for our children. At The Bright School, we believe it is important for the people who teach our children every day to be able to speak about and draw from their own experiences.

Math Academy teacher and reading instructor Diane Kemp spent 17 days in Europe this summer thanks to a faculty summer travel grant awarded by the school. “Travel gives teachers a great opportunity to gather experiences that will impact their teaching significantly, and the grants provide teachers the support for a time of meaningful personal fulfillment. Our hope is that the trip will rejuvenate a teacher's mind and soul,” said Head of School O.J. Morgan, who traveled with family this summer to Portugal and led a student/alumni trip to South Africa.

Mrs. Kemp, who has taught at Bright since 2007, visited Prague, Czech Republic; Barcelona, Spain; Greek isles Santorini and Mykonos, and Athens, Greece. She traveled with her husband, Troy, and friends Erica Butler and Nate Bandy.

“As we boarded the plane home, tired and fulfilled, we hoped to sleep the hours away on the plane, yet we found ourselves talking about how truly lucky we were to see and do all that we did in 17 days. The beaches, the food, the villages, the ancient buildings, but most importantly the people! At the core of this trip, it’s the people that broaden your horizons, your thinking and awareness of all that is good in a world that often seems to get quite complicated,” Mrs. Kemp wrote in her travel blog.

“The man at the gelato shop, the old village men in Vothanas, monks in a monastery, and the school children of Prague have left their imprint on me in ways I’m sure I’ll be discovering for some time to come. I can’t thank Bright School and our board of trustees enough for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! I truly feel blessed!”

Mrs. Kemp chose to visit the Czech Republic because her grandmother was Slovakian and lived in a town about an hour outside Prague. In Prague, she visited Petrin, a mini Eiffel Tower; the John Lennon Wall; Prague Castle, and the Charles Bridge, constructed in 1357.

“Outside the castle, we took a private tour with a historic car company.  Happy to be off our feet, but so excited to ride in an original Czech car from 1929, made it easy to imagine life during World War II in this city. Hitler spared Prague and wanted to keep it as a museum.  At the time, Prague was filled with thousands of Jews that were placed in concentration camps or work camps,” she wrote. “One particular camp, Terezin is 45 minutes outside of Prague. This camp, is so moving because of the children that lived and worked there and one special teacher, Freidl Bicker-Brandies, who used poetry to help them process the horrific nature of what they were experiencing in ghetto life. Very few returned to Prague, and the Jewish cemetery is home to more than 12,000 graves.”

Mrs. Kemp wanted to visit the Terezin concentration camp because she teaches World War II in fifth grade social studies. “We've learned about this camp, the children, and their amazing teacher! We've studied the poetry of the children and memorized them for a poetry session in class. It was so moving,” she said.  

She visited two schools in Prague. The first was the Riverside International School, which enrolls grades K-12 school and follows the British system of education. “Their student body is roughly 20 percent local Czech children, 40 percent British and Americans, and many international children of diplomats and foreign businesses,” she wrote. “Most interestingly, they do not have grades of any kind. Rubrics are used to assess skills by the teachers and students themselves with little booklets called, Learning Ladders. At the end of each quarter, students and parents can view online the skills their children have mastered and those they are continuing to work on.”

“As I walked around, I noticed many similarities between this school and the private schools in Chattanooga: collaborative learning, thematic lessons, STEM activities, and an emphasis on inquiry-based learning and growth mindset. The classes were small (about 14 students), and English was the accepted language although Spanish was taught as well. Evidence of design thinking and project based learning mostly in upper grades flooded journals and notebooks. This style of learning and teaching (which felt familiar to me) are not common practice in the Czech schools, and apparently smaller private schools use a traditional textbook approach as well as tight discipline.”

Mrs. Kemp’s second school visit was to a very small private primary school called Central Point, “located in the once gritty, but now eclectic neighborhood of Zizkov,” she wrote. “Central Point began as a passion project for Italian-American Lana Gerziak and her husband who was born and raised in the Czech Republic through the communist era. She was a passionate teacher from New York and he a businessman. She knew they would want something different for their young son as he approached school age. She wished to create a school that would promote a culture of exploration, free of the harsh scrutiny and pressure her husband felt as a child in Czech schools. Lana planned on creating a curriculum that fostered critical thinking but free of the drill and kill workbooks she remembered back in New York. The first year she opened, she started with five students and ended the year with 20.”

“Central Point now has about 14 students per grade level plus a thriving pre-school, Panda Child Center, which begins at age 3. Despite its small size, Lana is doing big things here! The students who are drawn here for the English also are receiving 45 minutes per day of Czech lessons. The halls and classrooms were filled with colorful artwork, graphic organizers and products of their learning. Lana smiles and greets parents and students alike. Although the classrooms and the instruction felt very American in terms of the materials and curriculum, there are striking differences. Mrs. Gerziak, makes it very clear that she is against the use of iPads and heavy technology for student use. There are smart boards for teacher use, but students are using other sources of reference materials for their learning. In addition, she values family time and play time for her students. They are not over committed or offered a plethora of after school activities. In the middle of the day for about an hour and a half, students eat lunch and play outside before returning for their final lessons. The school day ends at 4:00, when parents walk or drive their children home. No homework.”

Then Mrs. Kemp was off to Spain, spending time first in Costa Brava and its “picturesque fishing villages that dot the coastline” to learn more about the Catalonian culture and then to Barcelona. She was particularly interested in seeing e the La Segrada Familia and other work by Gaudi in Barcelona.  

About Barcelona she wrote: “Around every corner there is something unexpected: people dancing in the square, a religious parade, gothic cathedrals, merchants selling fresh fish and produce, kids playing soccer in the park.” Mrs. Kemp especially enjoyed Cathedral de Barcelona, “an imposing building, in the city center, that draws tourists and Catholics from the corners of the world.” “Wherever I travel, I love to visit churches. Cathedrals bring all people together despite nationality, race, or language. In every city or small town, I light a candle for my brother, say a short prayer, and reflect on my blessings. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to be enriched by these people and their culture!”

The next stop was the Greek isles of Santorini and Mykonos, which Mrs. Kemp described as very different. “Santorini is just like the postcards; little sugar cube houses with blue domed roofs, perched high along the cliffs of the caldera. Our sunset tour on a catamaran to Oia was amazing! As we cruised toward the northern point of the caldera, we stopped at volcanic hot springs to swim as well as black beach and red beach which are aptly named for the color of the sand. The views are what draw people to this destination by the thousands. Priceless!,” she wrote. “Mykonos doesn’t have the sleepy quaint village feel of Santorini. It’s high energy! Yachts, celebrities and nightlife fill the shore as couples and families mingle in the streets.”

The final city was Athens, where Mrs. Kemp visited the Acropolis and its museum, which had a transparent glass floor to see the archaeological site below.

“Unexpectedly, my favorite place of all was Prague. It was a communist country 30 years ago, and when you're there it feels like you have one foot lost in a medieval time because of the architecture and the other foot in a place that is rapidly changing. It is politically active and has a dynamic art scene and hard-working people,” she said.

In previous years, teachers have used summer travel grants to visit countries like Iceland, Kenya, Germany, Israel and Egypt. The travel grants are made possible by generous donors to the school. To read more about Mrs. Kemp’s trip, visit her travel blog at

The Bright School, founded in 1913 by progressive educator Mary G. Bright, enrolls more than 300 students from age 3 through fifth grade. Our mission states, “The Bright School builds a foundation upon which students become wise and compassionate citizens of the world.  Its century of progress fosters the intellectual, artistic, physical, and moral growth of young boys and girls.”


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