Fulbright Award sending Spring Lake family to Netherlands

Krystle Wagner • Jun 8, 2018 at 2:00 PM

SPRING LAKE — One local educator will spend a semester abroad to focus on elevating empathy on an international level.

Spring Lake High School teacher David Theune has received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching grant from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Theune is one of about 35 Americans participating in the 2018-19 Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program. Grant recipients “are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement and demonstrated leadership potential,” according to a press release. Selected educators spend a semester abroad for independent study and professional development on international practices to help develop students’ global competence.

Through the grant, Theune and his family will spend five months next year living in the Netherlands. Theune, 41, will work on developing and building upon the Share Chair Podcast that he started in Spring Lake three years ago.

Theune, who will be connected to an educational institution in the Netherlands, will work to create a Dutch sister location for the podcast. Those podcasts will also be published on the same page as the Spring Lake podcasts.

Although there’s a structure to the podcast, Theune said he will be there to address questions and concerns. Theune, who has spent 15 years in education, said the Fulbright program will provide him the time and support to create it.

Theune will also create a book/digital copy to explain how to become a podcast contributor so that people can build their own podcasts to be part of the Share Chair.

He said that in a dream world, the podcast would be an international way for people, particularly students, to share what they’re going through.

The idea for the podcast came from a student’s journal entry that detailed the hurt he or she felt in middle school from bullying.

Prior to launching the local podcast, Theune led a book club and the production of a community book read with “Elevate Empathy: The Power of Kindness.”

Along the way, Theune said the Spring Lake school district has been supportive and encouraging.

Theune will be joined in the Netherlands by his wife, Nikki; and their daughters: Kaiya, Nia and Ellie. They are currently  looking into housing and education for the girls.

Theune said the experience, so far, has also provided a lesson of “If you don’t know something, ask.” He said he’s taken on the role of being a student, and it has been fun. Whether it’s housing or places to visit, Theune said they look up something new every day. Theune said he’s interested also in learning about the Dutch educational system and speaking with students.

Theune also plans to trace his family’s Dutch ancestry roots while in Europe.

Theune, who teaches International Baccalaureate classes, said he looks forward to how his experience will help bring even more of an international aspect to his class.

Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton said that Theune, to his knowledge, is the first Fulbright Award winner in the district. Furton said that Theune “is an extraordinary teacher and an even better person,” and he isn’t surprised that he received the award.

“What sets David apart from most people is this sense of adventure and enthusiasm that he brings to his everyday life and work,” Furton said. “At the same time, David's efforts are constantly aimed at his students and their growth. The opportunity for him to live and learn in the Netherlands as a Fulbright Award winner will give his work even greater impact.”

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