This summer, Jackson Township Elementary Principal Jeff Fritz is looking forward to seeing his dreams come true through the 2006 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship.
"I get to be a cowboy for a whole week," he said. "I'm really looking forward to riding the horses for a week at the Bucks & Spurs Guest Ranch. It's something I've only been able to do a couple of times in my life, so that is a real high point for me."
Since 1987 the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship program has awarded grants to 1,696 educators throughout Indiana as a way to regain enthusiasm for their profession while learning about issues and experiencing activities they can bring back to their students.
"As usual, we were thrilled at the response to this most popular program intended to help hard-working Indiana educators regain their enthusiasm for their profession," Lilly Endowment Vice President for Education Sara B. Cobb wrote in a press release. "Out-of-state judges had a difficult time making recommendations for these awards from a very competitive pool of applicants."
Fritz's first entry last year about visiting historical sites of the founding fathers didn't intrigue the judges enough, but this year's entry about experiencing the code of the west as a way to build Jackson Township Elementary's Character Education program caught the judges' eyes.
The win is an honor that Fritz feels is a blessing and the fulfillment of his childhood cowboy dreams.
"I grew up watching the great western programs from the '60s like "Bonanza," "The Wild Wild West," "The Rifleman" and "The Big Valley." The shows had good role models, ethics and family values," Fritz said. "I know that television's version of the old west wasn't very realistic, but the code of the west, the honesty and integrity of the cowboys, was. You knew who the good guy was, who the bad guy was. We need more television shows with role models like that again."
The Western Channel has allowed Fritz to share those television memories with his family, which has really impacted his three daughters.
"I think my girls are the only kids in the 21st century arguing over who's going to be Miss Kitty, Chester or Matt Dillon from 'Gunsmoke' when they play cowboys," he said.
The Fritz family will be traveling to Colorado, Kansas and Missouri during the cowboy quest to visit museums, landmarks and stay at a working dude ranch while camping out along the way.
"We love the outdoors. My wife and daughters are really excited, especially to be around the horses," Fritz said of his family's growing excitement. "This going to be such a great time for our family."
The students at Jackson Township Elementary may not be going, but they are already benefiting from Fritz's experience with the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship program.
"I've discussed creative writing and cowboy history with the students because of my application to the fellowship," he said. "I'll be able to share more of my experiences and pictures when I get back. This is really going to impact our students in many positive ways."