OAKLAND -- While students at Melrose Leadership Academy revel in summer break, teachers have been embarking on learning trips around the world and across the country.

The East Oakland school emphasizes hands-on learning and lessons designed by teachers. Ten teachers and the principal are doing just that themselves, enriching their own educations and bringing back new experiences to integrate into their curricula.

Principal Moyra Contreras said looking for different learning opportunities is part of the culture at Melrose Leadership Academy.

"We're an expeditionary learning school, so we design expeditions that are integrated into the curriculum," she said. "We're getting a break from what we normally do and learning from people in different contexts. It's energizing and exciting to come back and share those experiences when developing the curriculum."

Moyra Contreras, principal at Melrose Leadership Academy, poses for a photograph on campus, Wednesday, June 18, 2014 in Oakland, Calif. Contreras and
Moyra Contreras, principal at Melrose Leadership Academy, poses for a photograph on campus, Wednesday, June 18, 2014 in Oakland, Calif. Contreras and several other Melrose teachers are going to Mexico this summer to help teachers there with incorporating Melrose's immersive bilingual education style in their own schools. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)

Aboard the National Geographic Explorer, kindergarten teacher Emily Bean traveled around Iceland as one of the competitive Grosvenor Teacher Fellows to learn about geology, biology and culture among naturalists, scientists, historians and photographers.

"There are very pristine, natural areas being impacted by human development and behaviors," Bean said, "and being at an urban school, we especially have to teach children how society interacts with nature."

Second-grade teacher Nessa Mahmoudi and third-grade teacher Charity Johnson are traveling in Cuba with a fellowship to explore the African Diaspora through Afro-Cuban music and dance.

"The idea is to represent all the population in our school and to let our African-American students see themselves in the curriculum and what the relationship between Africa and Latin America is," Mahmoudi said. "The idea is that they will be inspired by seeing people of African descent speak Spanish and hopefully make the language learning stronger."

Melrose Leadership Academy is a dual immersion program school that provides instruction in both English and Spanish.

Mahmoudi and Johnson plan to use photos, videos, instruments and oral histories in lessons about identity and the physical science behind movement and balance.

Principal Moyra Contreras and teachers Evelyn Ramirez, Marijke Conklin, Lara Ginsberg and Daniel Camacho are returning to Xochistlahuaca, Mexico, for the third time where the school partners with indigenous schools to develop dual-language immersion programs with indigenous languages and Spanish.

"It benefits us because we develop a partnership with teachers and the fact that everyone is collaborating on dual immersion deepens our understanding of our work," Contreras said. "Many of our kids are Mexican and Central American so really immersing in an indigenous community gives us a sense of oneness."

Middle school teachers Andrea Maoki and Asucena Davila participated in a development program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the second summer. Davilia and Robyn Hall, also a middle school teacher, are at the Middle School Expeditionary Learning Institute in Milwaukee.

"The world is a big place, and there's a lot more to learn," Contreras said. "These opportunities give us a broader experience that we can draw from."


Evelyn Ramirez picks out a Spanish-language book from the library that she will read to students as she prepares for a development trip to Mexico, at
Evelyn Ramirez picks out a Spanish-language book from the library that she will read to students as she prepares for a development trip to Mexico, at Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Ramirez and four other faculty members will travel to the State of Guerrero in Mexico to share what they have learned in their dual language immersion program classes. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)