By Jera M. Verboom
Orland, California – the community I call home. As I enter into the world of teaching within my own community I am faced with an array of feelings. I feel a sense of excitement; I feel a sense of responsibility to protect the community from outside scrutiny; and, I feel a sense of duty to create change. I view my hometown as a migrant, farming community made up of individuals from all walks of life who genuinely care about each other. I recognize the low-income nature of the community; however, this element used solely to describe this place would be an inaccurate depiction of the people who reside here. I am also not ignorant to the fact that people frequently have negative views of this town, as they do many rural areas. Unfortunately, Orland falls into the all too often undesirable, American narrative Amy Azano (2014) described in her article about the common stereotypes of rural communities. Many people do not understand why I choose to call this place home. My response is always, “The people make the place.”
At a local café, my classmates and I discussed concepts of place, particularly in terms of Orland. We talked about the role of religion in the community and the large number of churches; 18 to be exact, with six churches on one particular street. One of the group members noted the smaller houses and another mentioned the large back yards. Our entire group consistently recognized the value of family within the community and the generational nature which accompanied that. Family was the heartbeat of this town. And, while the interdependence of the community and schools was clearly evident, we could not disregard the repeatedly expressed feelings of conflict about the local school system.
Throughout my childhood the city schools were not schools where parents wanted to send their child(ren); if a family had the means to send their child(ren) to a school outside of the district they would. I found myself pondering the possible reasons why the K-8 schools had such a poor reputation and why the negative opinions of the high school had disappeared since I was a student. I could not help but consider the differences in opinions between administration and faculty and how this might play a part in the problem. I also found myself examining the value of invested participants. The high school improved vastly once the principal became one of “us,” rather than someone merely transitioning through their professional development via a small stint in our community. This observable change makes me hopeful. I feel inspired to make our schools better, as I will spend my residency at the middle school in my hometown. I have heard negative views about the school, but there are also many great qualities that I have come to appreciate, including caring staff members, a new library, and a principal who is an Orland resident. I want to shift the mindset that some of the community has towards the local education system and give them a reason to be proud of where they are from and the schools their children attend.
As I imagine what this shift might look like, I quickly consider the role place-based learning could potentially play. In an interview with the Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, Dr. Paul Theobald (2017) spoke about the power of something as simple as consumption choice and how place-based learning could directly address such topics through projects like a school and/or community garden. As a part of a health course during my prerequisites, I developed a prospective Nutrition Program and School Garden Implementation Project for Orland High School to do just that. The project would serve the needs of the socioeconomically disadvantaged students, as well as the entire student population, by fulfilling multiple elements of a comprehensive school health program and implementing strategies to promote school connectedness. The project would be implemented in two phases; the first phase would be developing the school garden and the second phase would be instituting a nutrition and cooking curriculum. An emphasis would be placed on students understanding where their food comes from and learning how to grow the food themselves. The program would provide students with the tools and knowledge necessary to make healthy decisions and be able to create healthy and inexpensive meals both within the school and within their own homes. The program would also serve the needs of the community through a farmer’s market and would honor cultural inclusivity through its course styling and family involvement; it would teach active community advocacy and participation. The program would take a holistic, hands on approach to addressing the needs of the students, their families, and the community as a whole. Through place-based learning, akin to the above project, change can really happen.
I genuinely care about this community; it is my home. My task now is to make others feel the same way. My task is to engage students in social action and the implementation of positive change, for the reality is that our students have so much to offer, especially in terms of knowledge on education. We recognize a need “for a democratic, youth participatory methodology that values young people’s knowledge, expertise, capacities, energy, and creativity” (Callingham, 2013, p. 54). These ideals simply need to be replicated. As I enter the classroom in my community, I will bring this information with me and will work hard to transform the role students play in their own learning experiences; my goal is to shift the focus from silenced voices to vested ones.
Azano, A. P. (2014). Rural. The other neglected “r”: Making space for place in school libraries.
Knowledge Quest, 43(1), 60–65.
Callingham, M. (2013). Democratic youth participation: A strength-based approach to youth investigating educational engagement. Youth Studies Australia, 32(4), 10.
Theobald, P. & Wickencamp, G. (2017). Everyday practices of social justice and education: An interview with Dr. Paul Theobald. Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, 6 (2), 136-139.