Meet the Team behind Bookbag Tours
We are all Educators, Helping Other Educators Connect Around The World!
Why Bookbag Tours
Brad Henry once said, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” As an educator, it can often be more difficult than it would seem to inspire, ignite, and instill. While this would be the ultimate goal of effective education, teaching is much more than being great and waiting for students to follow our lead. Teaching is about seeking to understand each individual student, searching for the best teaching methods to use, and soaking up new information at every opportunity.
If we are seeking, searching, and soaking, then there is no better place to improve our classroom practice than the international platform. Through travel, we seek to make new connections, explore new places, and collect new stories to inform and report to our students. Through international trips, we search to compile new strategies, new accommodations, and new research in order to better serve our students. Through international classroom experiences, we soak up information about other cultures, other professionals, and other parts of the world in order to better inform and transform our own classroom practices and procedures.
Through BookBag Tours, educators have the incredible opportunity to spend time in an international classroom for a minimum of 3 days. Traveling with BookBag Tours also affords educators the unique experience of staying in the home of an international teacher in the same field. During classroom time, BookBag Tours teachers have the ability to assist, observe, and partner with an international teacher in hope of learning as much as possible and establishing as strong of a networking connection as possible. Our trips also allow teachers to immerse themselves in the culture and to engage in sightseeing in order to more fully experience an exciting new country.
We facilitate trips to other countries in order to benefit teachers, classrooms, schools, and, ultimately, students. Travel educates, enlightens, and encourages exploration. Embrace the spirit of travel to experience international classrooms and begin the journey of inspiring, igniting, and instilling through seeking, searching, and soaking by signing up for a BookBag Tours trip today!
The Bookbag Tours Team
KEN GEORGE: FOUNDER
With over 15 years in education, Ken is a former special education teacher, assistant principal, and principal. His wife, Jenny, serves as a 4K teacher and they reside in Greenville, South Carolina. Ken currently works with developing teachers at Anderson University in South Carolina. If you don't catch Ken in the classroom, you might find him sitting by a fire, playing sports with his two sons, Logan and Bailey, or watching hockey.
Education and travel are Ken's passion and Bookbag Tours, LLC was a long time in the making. He continues to not only run the company, but leads trips and communicates with every individual in the Bookbag Tours family.
"As I have taught and observed students learning, I believe now, more than ever, that the world is a huge classroom and the greatest venue to not only learn about ourselves, but also about the people around us!"
Taína Benitez-Coté : Director
Taína is a Spanglish-speaking advocate, speaker and educator. A true lover of helping people, she has been an advocate for inclusivity and bringing opportunities to underprivileged students, for over two decades. While working to bring a perspective that has historically been missing in higher education and travel education, Taína founded 'Teach With Love,’ a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming student’s lives with educational travel scholarships. Best known as a people-connector, Taína has spoken at over 20+ conferences giving workshops and creating professional development that have been featured in many media outlets, including recent feature on MSNBC Latino.
A first generation college student, Taína has her Master’s Degree in Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Relational Communications. Taina's travel bug originated from her former career as a Magazine Creative Director and well-published Photojournalist. A wife and mother of three really cool sons, when not working for Bookbag Tours, you will find her with her family of five who have been traveling since 1995!
CAROLYN BARRETT GUESS: SOCIAL MEDIA
Carolyn attends the University of South Carolina and majors in Early Childhood and Special Needs Education. A member of Teaching Fellows and Alpha Delta Pi, she's a participant in Students Help Honduras. Some of Carolyn's favorite things to do include spending time at the lake, exploring with her friends, and traveling the world!
Carolyn's main passion is to help children with special needs. She wants to help them with simple tasks, like teaching them how to wash their hands, and difficult tasks, like helping them see a difficult math problem in a new way. Her goal is to be the positive influence in each child's life. As a special needs teacher, Carolyn wants to be the voice for her students, to help them when frustrated, and stand up for them when something happens out of their control.
"I feel that no matter their disability they should have that one person to help push them toward their goal and to be successful. I want to live out my passion for special needs students in my everyday life, so that students like them will change the world."
Rachel Horstman : Blog
Rachel graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota with a double major in Education and Spanish. Since then she has taught 1st, 2nd and 4th grade, as well as high school Spanish. Currently residing in New Mexico, she strives to incorporate technology and collaborative activities for her students to keep them engaged and excited about learning.
As both a learner and a teacher, Rachel loves language; whether reading, phonics, or language development. Aside from teaching, her greatest passion is traveling. Rachel sees traveling as an extension of learning and strongly believes that hands-on opportunities in other cultures creates the most meaningful experiences. She has traveled to 12 countries in her lifetime, with constant plans to visit more.
Traveling has given her the privilege of being a global student and she therefore understands the value that comes from learning abroad. Rachel is thrilled to be able to extend the positive impacts of traveling to others through BookBag Tours.
YOUR BOOKBAG TOUR TRIP LEADERS
(click on names to see which tour they are leading!)
Juan Edgar Gonzalez Jr. is a third grade Texas teacher with a Texas-sized love for literacy and student engagement. Over his teaching career, he has taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. He loves to develop and share new ways to strategically use literacy to create effective classroom environments, school wide experiences, and passionate readers! In the spring of 2016, his classroom was featured in Scholastic Teacher Magazine. Shortly after, he was asked to be part of the Scholastic Top Teaching Blog team. He now writes monthly for Scholastic.com and shares ideas and his journey in the classroom. You can follow Juan and his teaching adventures on social media with his handle @Teaching3rdWithMrG
In 2012, Bethany Humphrey, the face behind Teaching and so Fourth, began her teaching career in a 6th grade classroom in Olive Branch, Mississippi. After Mississippi, Ms. Humphrey relocated to Las Cruces, New Mexico where she taught kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders in a multi-age classroom. Currently, she resides in Las Vegas, Nevada teaching 4th graders. Teaching has taken Ms. Humphrey from the Southeast to the Southwest with one constant: her passion for using musical strategies as a means to help students learn. This passion has not only created a positive teaching and learning environment, but has produced definitive results in the classroom. Now, Ms. Humphrey shares her passion for breaking the traditional mold of instruction through district, regional, and national professional development seminars. Ms. Humphrey’s mission and methodologies allow her to reach the highest point of student engagement.
Mike Soskil, the 2017-18 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, is determined to make learning meaningful for every child and to empower students and teachers as positive change agents in their communities.
In 2012, Michael's innovative work was recognized by the White House and National Science Foundation with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.
In 2016 he was named a Global Teacher Prize finalist and one of the Top Ten Teachers in the World by the Varkey Foundation. Regardless of the setting, whether working with kindergarten students in rural Kenyan villages or school leaders and policy makers in Dubai, Mike's passion for affecting positive change through education always inspires those around him.
Amittia Smith is a wholeheartedly passionate, innovative, and loving soul. With her experience in Atlanta Public Schools, Dothan City Schools, Muscogee County schools, and in a correctional facility, Tia is currently a high school teacher who believes that all students are deserving of the opportunity to receive a superb education. With grit, guts, and the gifts entrusted to her, she allows herself to speak life and educational success into all the students she comes in contact with in hopes that they will one day be agents of change in society. Affectionately know as Tia, she has facilitated numerous workshops for students and adults. Tia is best known as the “inclusion guru”, as she loves to make certain every child feels included in the classroom and has the opportunity to learn alongside their peers. Tia holds a Bachelor’s degree from Morris Brown College, a Master’s degree from Clark Atlanta University, and an Educational Specialist Degree from Columbus State University.
Eric Crouch, a fifth-grade teacher at Double Churches Elementary School, Columbus, Georgia, is considered one of the top 50 teachers in the world as recognized by the Varkey Foundation through the Global Teacher Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of teaching. Other prestigious awards included the National Milken Educator, a Harvard Project Zero Graduate Fellow and a Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes Fellow.
Due to Eric's own educational challenges growing up, he has set himself the task of not letting any of his students' learning disabilities arrest their academic progress. This work has been recognized and featured by the National Center for the Learning Disabled and Understood.org where he currently serves as a fellow/advisor.
Eric's classroom is full of enthusiasm and tasked with a design thinking / Project-Based Learning model that allows students to find out what they are passionate about. As a Skype Master Teacher, his students have engaged in Skype collaborations with others from around the world, including schools in Kenya. Just a few of his PBL projects were to build a school in Kimilili, Kenya, created 3D prosthetics for pets, serve their local community by providing family photos to families who cannot afford them, and worked with engineers to create a robotic stuffed animal to help teach students how to regulate and share their own social and emotional needs. Eric's knack for fundraising, allowed him to bring awareness to the destruction of Hurricane Michael on Bay County school District by raising over a million dollars to repair and refill teachers' classrooms. He also raised over 1.5 million dollars through Social Media campaigning to provides resources all over the world!
Over her 23 years as an educator, Jen has taught 1st-8th grades. She is trained in Reading Recovery, Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures, and Common Core for ELA. Jen is a K-12 Reading Specialist, has a Bachelor's in English and a minor in Psychology from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, and received her Master's Degree in Reading Education from East Carolina University. She taught in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District in California and at PK Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida. Before she stepped into Hello Literacy full-time, Jen was the RTI Coordinator, Marzano Trainer, and Intervention Director for her school as well as the Literacy Coach and School Improvement Chair at Lake Myra Elementary in Wake County Public School System, the largest school district in North Carolina. Since 2012, Jen has traveled the country providing positive, engaging, and relevant professional development to teachers in schools and districts in 21st century literacy instruction. She has racked up miles in California, Nevada, Idaho, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and New York. Additionally, Jen writes for the International Literacy Association and Parent’s Magazine. She is a champion of Donors Choose and Facebook Live. Jen has a Teachers Pay Teachers store called Hello Literacy, where her mission is to create products that make kids think and make teachers better teachers. She currently lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband and two daughters.
With 10 years of teaching experience in 2nd and 3rd grade, Kayla has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education and is becoming National Board Certified, the highest mark of professional accomplishment. As a 3rd grade teacher and technology champion in North Dakota, Kayla is also a columnist for Edsurge and a blogger for Edutopia where she writes about a variety of edtech and design topics. On July 23, 2015 she delivered her first TEDx Talk, Reimagining Classrooms: Students as Leaders and Teachers as Learners. Kayla frequently travels around the United States as a featured and keynote speaker, and she is proud to be an international speaker with Best Keynote coalition. She has delivered over 50 keynotes, most notably being at Twitter Headquarters. Her work with classroom redesign and flexible seating has become the standard worldwide. She is highly sought after by educational and technology companies to preview and review their products. Kayla sits on several advisory boards of educational companies, and works closely with Remind, Go Ennounce, GoNoodle, Amazon Education, Seesaw, and Creative Teaching Press to name a few. She was also recently selected as North Dakota’s Lead Digital Innovator by PBS. She has authored a book titled Education Write Now, published in December 2017. She is currently writing a book about classroom learning spaces and flexible seating. You can connect with Kayla on all social media platforms @topdogteaching, and her student-lead social media accounts @topdogkids.
DeeDee Washington, has served public education in South Carolina for more than 27 years in multiple roles including curriculum facilitator, principal, personnel director, associate superintendent, and classroom teacher. Currently, Chief Instructional Officer in Aiken County Public Schools, she provides leadership to strengthen curriculum and improve instructional practices including student and school performance.
Dee Dee was named as Greenville Talk Magazine’s 25 Most Beautiful and Greenville County Schools’ Administrator of the Year. During her leadership, her schools received several awards. Including the Red Carpet School award, Palmetto Gold + Silver awards, Closing the Gap Awards, Exemplary Writing, School of Promise award and the highly-coveted Palmetto’s Finest finalist award.
Dee Dee worked closely with principals and teachers with one goal: to improve outcomes for the students in the community. This included collaboration with businesses and community agencies such as the United Way, Furman University, USC-Upstate, USC-Aiken, and the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.
In 2016, Dr. Dee Dee Washington was honored by the Greenville Cultural Exchange as one of our community’s Women Making History.
Dee Dee, recently retired, has returned to the role she loves most: teacher and mentor. She began service to students at Anderson University as assistant professor of graduate studies, and Board member of Greenville First Step. She continues to promote diversity and inclusion as she mentors administrators she has met along her journey.
Dee Dee Washington, has a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of South Carolina, her Masters of Education with a concentration in Educational Administration from Converse College and Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of South Carolina. She has been married to her incredibly supportive husband, Kent, for more than 24 years. They are the proud parents of four children and the grandparents of a beautiful granddaughter with more on the way!
Jill Shafer, best known as Hello Fifth on social media, is an elementary school teacher in Southern California. In her ten years of teaching, she has taught multiple grade levels and loves each one for different reasons. Jill's passion is engaging learners, and she leads regular professional development sessions on reaching all students by thinking outside the box. She holds her masters degree in curriculum instruction and design and has a passion for helping students expand their horizons through global education. Jill believes in the power of relationships and loves attending her students' sporting events, concerts, and shows. Her incredibly supportive family includes her husband Michael and their three young children.
Aris Rossi is an elementary teacher in Southern California with a Multiple Subject Credential and Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of California, Irvine. With 10 years of teaching experience in K-3rd grade, she provides meaningful professional development all over the country. She is also a CUE National Presenter, and Teach Your Heart Out presenter on all things tech and classroom management. Her specializations include technology ideas for a 1:1 classroom and creating engaging lessons on the go for busy teachers. For more of her teaching ideas and tips head on over to her blog sailingintosecond.com.
Anastasia is currently a professor at Anderson University in Anderson, SC. She has been a professor at AU for 4 years. Her doctorate is in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in literacy. Before moving to South Carolina, Anastasia lived in Virginia while teaching at a Title 1 school as a reading specialist for 3 years and a 4th grade teacher for 2 years. After growing up with a father in the Navy and living all over the world, her family settled in the Southern Tier of New York where Anastasia attended middle school through college. Personal hobbies include: baking, sewing, crafting, learning to play the piano, and listening to audio books.
Tammie Scharf is a Digital Technology teacher in beautiful Bowen, Australia. She has taught in the classroom, mainly in Year 5, for fifteen years before moving into the role of teaching Prep to Year 6 Digital Technology in 2016.
She is also an Advanced QLD Digital Champion and a founding member of the QLD Tech Brekkies team, who continue to work collaboratively in providing guidance, tech support, and assistance to teachers across Australia.
Tammie has a passion for STEAM and two years ago created a Makerspace in her school library which becomes a bustling hub of creativity each day. She also has conducted an Entrepreneur program at her school for the last few years to encourage students to create their own small business, with all profits going to a charity of choice. Under her guidance, one of the teams in 2017 became the National Winners for the Kidpreneur Challenge.
The love of global collaboration was sparked in 2014 by participating in student blogging challenges and has continued to evolve into a passion for building educator connections across the globe. There is a hardly a night that Tammie is not on online connecting with innovators of education, learning from them and developing her pedagogy. Although based in a small rural town, Tammie’s ongoing global connections enable her students to not be disadvantaged by their isolation. She opens the world for them.
After meeting so many amazing educators in this year's Australian Bookbag Tour, Tammie is hugely excited to travel to America in 2019! Look out America, as an Aussie is heading your way!
Susan Arauz Barnes has taught language arts, creative writing, and literacy in Brooklyn, Harlem, and Atlanta. She is a master teacher and gifted educator trainer at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.
Since 1996 she has employed her talents as a writer, artist and performance poet, as well as her experience as an Afro-Latina, to develop culturally responsive curricula to promote interconnectedness and knowledge of self among her students. She believes those lessons have allowed her students to proudly share their unique world-view with peers they met in Australia, Peru, London, and Japan. She even had the opportunity to share her approach to teaching culture while team-teaching at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
Most recently she created lessons on Africa and the African Diaspora to prepare students for a school-wide trip to see Marvel’s Black Panther. While sharing the story behind the lesson plans with media outlets like ABC News and USA Today was exciting, Susan was especially thrilled to share her family’s Garifuna traditions with the RCA community as she credits childhood visits to her family home in Honduras with her passion for travel, food and culture.
Dyane is the 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year and is currently serving as an Instructional Technology Coach in the Andover Public schools. Mrs. Smoke, as she’s known to her students, believes in a project-based, student-centered classroom that helps students build skills in communication, planning, research and project implementation. Her 17-year passion for global collaboration has led Mrs. Smoke to design over 75 projects for teachers and students around the world. She wants her students to develop a love for culture, communication and technology, but also to understand how to use that love and passion to advance their own future, as well as that of the global community.
As a recent graduate of Anderson University in South Carolina, Joy is using her degree in Elementary Education to teach 4th grade at Joseph R. Pye Elementary School in Charleston, South Carolina. As an avid traveler, Joy continues to travel, visiting nine different countries in the past year. With her favorite travel destination being England, Joy has a passion for leading trips with Bookbag Tours to London.
"Visiting global schools is a great way to make new contacts all over the world as well as experience unique teaching strategies used by international educators."
Brooke Brennan is a first grade teacher in her hometown of Woodhaven, Michigan. She joined her mother, father, and sister in the family business of education in 2014. Brooke’s school is a certified Lighthouse, Leader In Me school through Franklin Covey. Brooke is currently pursuing her master’s degree in reading and literacy. She is passionate about inspiring a love of books with her students and incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. Brooke enjoys developing meaningful relationships with students and other educators. She loves connecting and collaborating with educators around the world through twitter and instagram. This passion was elevated after completing her first trip with Bookbag Tours to Australia, last June. She is excited to lead and walk alongside other teachers as they experience education globally this summer in Australia.
Shaunda Wasik is a 3rd and 4th grade multiage teacher in Minnesota who has developed a passion for creating a positive and engaging learning environment for her students. In her five years of teaching, she has taught 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. She loves reaching upper elementary students through project based learning, digital activities and student choice. Shaunda holds her masters degree in reading. She strives to create passionate readers through engaging them in authentic reading opportunities and integrating reading into all subject areas. Shaunda believes that relationships come first in the classroom and works hard to build authentic relationships with her students both in and out of the classroom. She is excited to be taking her teaching experiences global and traveling with Bookbag Tours this summer!
Current principal at Wren Elementary in Anderson School District One, Tommy has been in the education profession for over 20 years as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Born and raised in Dublin, Tommy Bolger, the current principal at Wren Elementary in Anderson School District One, has been in the education profession for over 20 years as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Tommy was born and raised in Dublin and immigrated to the United States in 1988. He currently resides in South Carolina with his wife Tracy, who has been an educator for over 25 years and is a current teacher at Daniel High School. They have two children; Jordan, a graduate of Clemson University, and Dylan, an Air Force member. Tommy has traveled throughout Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Spain, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and 40 of the US states. Tommy loves to travel and finds experiences such as driving from Alaska to South Carolina to be helpful when working with students.
"Being able to visit schools in other countries is a great way for us to see what other educators teach their students and ways that can help you expand your craft and do what we in education call 'school espionage'."
Petteri Elo is a teacher, a trainer, a public speaker and foremost an educational enthusiast. He has an extensive experience in teaching at comprehensive school level and training educators worldwide. Petteri is especially interested in creating innovation in student-centered and skill-based pedagogy by combining educational theory and practice.
Petteri started his teaching career as a substitute teacher. For years he taught at elementary school level without formal training. These experiences led him to believe that he had mastered the art of teaching and formal training was not needed. However in order to make teaching his real profession, Petteri entered University of Helsinki and graduate in 2007 majoring on education and pedagogy. This experience completely transformed his idea what of teaching and learning is all about. Without scientific knowledge and deep understanding of pedagogy teaching cannot truly be a profession that requires skills that not just anyone has. By applying this knowledge and these skills in the classroom, it is possible to create meaningful learning experiences for our students that give them the best tools to succeed in life.
Fall of 2015 Petteri spent in Virginia as a Fulbright Scholar. During his project he worked with local educators in creating innovation in pedagogy and leadership. After this experience Petteri founded his company PedaNow – Educational Consulting and Training. His passion, expertise and genuine approach to training is praised by educators in Finland and internationally.