The Washington Post

Laurel High School teacher uncovers Turkey’s wonders for students

Laurel teacher Kevin Holder stands outside the Celsus Library in Turkey. (Courtesy of Kevin Holder)

Laurel High School students might soon learn about the excavation site at Troy, the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite and the dome of Hagia Sophia through the lessons of the school’s art director, Kevin Holder.

Holder, 51, was one of 54 teachers nationwide — and the only one from Prince George’s County — selected to participate in a two-week tour of Turkey from June 28 to July 11. The annual trip was sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting Turkish culture, and the World Affairs Councils of America, a nonprofit group promoting cultural exchanges. Both are based in Washington.

Holder, of Columbia, said he plans to show images of ceramics, carvings and temple designs to his students, who will be able to use them as inspiration to create works based on Turkish influences.

The visit “was like stepping into history,” Holder said. “There are ruins from the Romans, the Greeks, the Byzantines and the Turks. “It was absolutely fascinating,” Holder said of ruins of the 2,000-year-old Temple of Aphrodite in western Turkey. “It was really remarkable to actually be there, see the ruins, the elaborate carvings on the structure.”

Teachers were selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants through the local World Affairs Councils, said Althea Georgantas, WACA program manager. Applicants had to be full-time teachers with at least three years’ experience. Priority was given to art and history teachers.

Applicants were required to write a detailed essay on why they wanted to visit Turkey. They also participated in a teacher workshop on Turkey held in the spring before being accepted, Georgantas said.

The Republic of Turkey, in southeastern Europe and western Asia, has been home to numerous cultures that have left their mark on the mountainous country. Despite having a population of about 73 million people, Turkey is not widely studied in the United States, said Guler Koknar, executive director of the Turkish Cultural Foundation.

“Turkey receives almost no or passing reference in the American school system,” Koknar said. “What we hope the teachers take home . . . [is] that Turkey played a key role in history and is poised to play a key role in its region and the world today.”

The trip was funded through a grant from the Turkish Cultural Foundation, Koknar said.

Holder said he was warmly welcomed by the Turkish people. Some were curious about the United States and his work and wanted to have their pictures taken with him.

Laurel High School Principal Dwayne Jones said having instructors travel overseas is a great benefit to students.

“Sometimes, our kids, the only world they experience is Laurel or the greater D.C. metro area,” Jones said. “The more they become exposed to the wider world out there, the more marketable their skills become.”


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