Announcing the 2023 Celia B. Godsil Grant in Place Fellows!

Congratulations to these outstanding educators

December 7, 2022 |

Rural Schools Collaborative is excited to announce the 2022-23 Celia B. Godsil Grants in Place Fellow Awardees. This grant is extended to rural classroom teachers who teach in school districts that are located in one of the Rural Schools Collaborative's 14 Regional Hub areas.

The 2023 Fellows will each work with their students on place-based education projects within their school’s community. Each Celia B. Godsil Grants in Place Fellow is awarded a grant which will support the place-based project, shares a professional development presentation, and receives an honorarium for the educator. The Grants in Place program is funded through the generous support from Celia and Mark Godsil in honor of Celia's career as a public school teacher and their belief in the importance of classroom teachers to rural communities. Learn more about the program here!

The Rural Schools Collaborative would like to extend a sincere thank you to The 2022-23 Grants in Place Selection Committee for their support of this project.

Tammy La Prad (Committee Chair, Monmouth College); Nate McClennen (Wyoming); Celia Godsil (Knox County, IL); Leslie Cook (Wyoming); Jeremy Eltz (Indiana)

We invite you to learn more about our 2023 Godsil Fellows and learn more about their place-based education projects to take place this spring!

Alabama & the Black Belt: Caitlyn White

"Greenhouse Restoration"

GIP - Caitlyn White (ABB)

Caitlyn White is a 2011 graduate from the University of West Alabama with a bachelor’s in Marine Biology and received her Master’s in Science, Conservation in 2015. Caitlyn has been teaching environmental science at Demopolis High School for seven years.

During her time at Demopolis High School, she has transformed the traditional classroom setting into a project-based class with projects ranging from river transformations and oxbows, ecosystems in a bottle, plant identifications, dam structures and water turbines and soon to be aquaponics - Caitlyn’s project as a 2023 Fellow.

The aquaponics project will be completed in phases during the spring semester. Caitlyn’s class will use the greenhouse on Demopolis’ campus and transform it into their aquaponics center. Her students will be able to grow and take care of fish populations and grow crops from the cycling of nutrients from the fish to plant. The first phase of this project is to do maintenance on the greenhouse and fix the portions of the siding that are missing and create the bins needed to contain the fish and aquatic species. Caitlyn and her students are very excited about this project!

Appalachia: Kathryn Vaughn

"Community STEAM Night"

GIP 2023 - kathryn Vaughn

Kathryn Vaughn is an Elementary art teacher and after-school stem educator from rural West Tennessee. Following in the footsteps of her mother, she is a second-generation educator and was named the Distinguished Educator of the Year by the Tennessee Education Association. She is also an accomplished writer and photographer with her work appearing in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and in School Arts Magazine.

As a Godsil Fellow, Kathryn's place-based education project is to stage a STEM based community art show featuring student and community member artwork. Kathryn's project will use design thinking in the development of the STEM/Art centers for the Art Night. The art night will be learner centered with the students acting as the hosts and engaging the community in art making. The community will also be engaged in the school space by the art/STEM centers with the hopes of promoting the arts and growing the community interest in STEM. The inspiration for Kathryn's project comes from a change in her rural community. Within miles of her school, Ford Auto will build the new electric vehicle plant. The plant will need workers that understand STEM and theories of design. Kathryn hopes that the Art/STEM night will be the first step in sparking the desire for STEM education in her school.

The Art Night will showcase student art and to have a STEM themed art-maker space set up during the night of the show for students and community members to engage in art making. Kathryn hopes to empower her students by allowing them to see their artwork celebrated by the community and for the community to have an artistic outlet as well.

Arizona: Theresa Nigg

"Starline Elementary Kid City"

GIP 2023 - Theresa Nigg

Theresa Nigg is a proud fourth grade gifted teacher at Starline Elementary. Theresa was raised in the small town of Lake Havasu City and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Northern Arizona University. Theresa has taught kindergarten for eight years, second grade for two years, third grade for nine years, and this is her first year teaching fourth grade. Theresa received her National Board Certification in the area of Early Childhood Generalist in 2020. Theresa is a two time recipient of the K-12 Foundation Sherry Dailey Golden Apple Award. Theresa was also voted Teacher of the Year in 2021.

Theresa has a true passion for working with the future leaders - her students. Helping each gifted child progress in all areas of their development is a challenge that she is honored to accept daily. Theresa’s personal goal is to create a culture of learning centered around place-based education in a positive, fun environment.

Personally, Theresa has been married for 16 years and has three children. As a family, they love to watch their son play sports and spend time traveling together. Theresa also enjoys reading, relaxing at the beach, and spending time with friends and family.

As a Fellow, Theressa's project, Kid City, will allow her students to design, run, and sustain a classroom mini-city while striving to gain success in the "private" and "civic" areas of a community. Her students will learn the economics of local government and public entities. “Citizens” plan the city’s geographical and political structure, elect officials, appoint individuals to city positions—such as bank president, police chief, and postmaster—and learn to manage money while buying and selling
property in order to replicate the governmental workings of a modern city.

An enormous part of Theresa's project will allow students to learn real world extension as they will get visits from the local mayor, city council members and business owners who live in our rural community. Students learn which behaviors are effective in the real world as they perceive it, and they learn about the real world through these experiments and interactions with their role-play counterparts. The project allows students to explore new ideas; Kid City is an immersion into the real world of day-to-day economy of a small town, just like Theresa's school community in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Overall, students will gain knowledge of the processes of life in a small town and what it takes to be a successful part of a community in both civic and industrial spheres.

Driftless Region: Paula Tonn

"School Forest Accessibility"

2023 GIP - Paula Tonn

Paula Tonn has taught for 17 years in the School District of Lodi, WI as an at-risk coordinator, English Teacher, and Library Media Specialist. She coaches the youth program of the Ice Age Nordic Ski Club and is the advisor for the Middle School Hiking Club called "Trail Trekkers". As a member of the newly formed School Forest Committee, Paula aims to combine her passions for literacy, the outdoors, community connections and civic activism.

As a Fellow, Paula will be assisting The Lodi School District with accessibility improvements to the existing school forest by adding a trailhead and parking lot, porta potty, and wayfinding signs. Accessibility to the school forest will foster a breadth and depth of diverse learning experiences for the students of the School District of Lodi ages preschool through grade 12, as well as surrounding community members.

Illinois: Carlin Smock

"A Walking Tour of White County History"

GIP 2023 - Carlin Smock

Carlin Fleming-Smock is in her 13th year of teaching high school social studies. Carlin grew up in Carmi, Illinois, and three years ago had the privilege of moving back home and teaching at her home high school. She is currently on the board of the White County Historical Society, which inspired her to begin a history club at the high school: the CWC Historians. Currently, with close to 50 members, the club has been extremely active in both the school district and community in promoting the community’s local history. History is truly a passion of Carlin’s! When Carlin is not teaching or working in one of the museums, she loves to play golf with her husband and spend time with their two kids, Bradley and Hendrix. This spring, Carlin is starting a graduate program to gain her Masters in American History through The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Carmi, Illinois, is not unlike most small, rural towns - with a population of about 5,000 people, it is hard for the Historical Society to keep their museums open to the public as often as the society would like. This inspired Carlin to create this project as a Fellow, A Walking Tour of White County History. With this project, Carlin’s students will be creating short video tours of 5 of the most prominent historical sites in Carmi, Illinois. Once completed, these will be uploaded online and connected to QR Codes that will be printed on plaques and placed outside of the various locations. Carlin and her students’ vision is that people can visit the locations, and even if they are not open, and can scan the QR code to learn more about that particular historic site. Videos will include the history of the buildings, themselves, as well as information and shots of what one can find inside the building. Students will do the research with information provided, speak with locals who know about the sites, and create the scripts and videos. Carlin and her students are super excited to begin this project and share their passion for their community’s history with many.

Indiana & Great Lakes: Heather Comer

"Mentors and Manuscripts"

GIP 2023 - Heather Comer

Heather Comer is a Family and Consumer Science Teacher in Greensburg, Indiana. Her most recent initiative, at Greensburg High School, has been developing a pathway opportunity for Early Childhood Education, to promote the education profession. Her passion for teaching and community to "grow your own" led her to the Place Based Education opportunity. Heather is also the mother of four children and a business owner along with her husband.

As a Fellow, Heather's project will be two-fold. The first problem the project addresses is the lack of students entering the teaching profession. The goal is to expose as many students (enrolled in early childhood education) to a classroom teaching environment as possible, to allow students real-life field teaching experience. Through field experience and hands-on opportunities to teach, students can live real-world professional careers.

The second problem is the low literacy levels currently in preschool through 1st grade. The preschool through 1st-grade students will be the main focus as they were the "quarantined" students and are lacking basic foundation literacy skills. The goal is to place 60 high school juniors and seniors in preschool through 1st-grade classrooms around our community to be mentors for manuscripts. The high school mentors will dictate the manuscripts of the preschool through 1st graders. The purpose is to get the children excited about reading and seeing themselves in a book.

The project will begin at the local elementary school in 1st grade, leading a unit in fairytales. Each student will be paired with a mentor and the manuscript will be dictated and printed with the student's illustrations. Books will be provided to each student and shared with their peers to read and enjoy. Every nine weeks the mentors will return and students will work on another manuscript. Literacy growth will be seen every 9 weeks in a collection of readings authored by the young students. During this time students in the project will invite a local children's author to visit the students and sign a copy of their book for each. The high school mentors and students will host Muffins and Manuscripts on the completion of each final book day where each student can autograph their book, as well. Skills and excitement for the teaching profession and a love of learning is at the heart of the goal of Heather's project!

Iowa: Isabella Myers

"Collaborative Chemistry in Darkroom Photography"

2023 GIP - Isabella Myers

Isabella Myers is a first-year art teacher at Coon Rapids-Bayard School. She is a native Iowan, originally from Iowa City. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her Master's of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. She was a 2019 Research Fulbright recipient in Cambodia. She specializes in hand papermaking and antique letterpress printing.

As a Fellow, Isabella's project will cross-disciplinary coursework between Coon Rapids-Bayard Secondary School’s art and science departments.
The visual arts classroom can often be overlooked by students in rural Iowa as a potential space to collaborate with the sciences. The goal of this project is to highlight the symbiotic relationship between art and science. This relationship helps to incorporate creative thinking and applied arts into real-world scenarios. The integration of visual art in the science classroom can help to model and develop explanations, as well as encourage critique and evaluation, all of which are underemphasized in the context of science education. Chemistry students will learn about chemical reactions, electroplating, mixing palladium and gum bichromate, and holography. Photography students will learn formal elements (aperture, exposure duration, composition, lighting) and historical processes (cyanotypes, daguerreotypes, platinum printing) of black-and-white photography using vintage analog equipment. Collaborative labs will be held with both classes learning how to develop film using traditional chemicals and alternative do it yourself solutions, such as caffenol which uses coffee. This project will build the framework for interdisciplinary curriculum at CR-B and help to promote STEAM learning in the surrounding community.

Kansas: Shane Fuller

"Greenhouse Improvement"

2023 GIP - Shane Fuller

Shane Fuller is a Tri-County Special Education teacher for Neodesha High School, in rural Kansas. Aside from being a high school special education teacher, Shane is also the Greenhouse teacher for grades 7-12. During the Fall semester, Shane and his students work in the shop to build products from lumber or tree branches to accent the outdoor homescapes, sell poinsettias that we care for from plugs, and start their own ferns. In the spring semester, Shane and his students plant and sell fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other ornamentals within their community.

Aside from teaching, Shane has been married to his wife, Julie for eight years, and is the father of one girl, Layla, and two boys, Fox and Tre. As a family, they love to be outside playing sports and fishing.

As a Fellow, Shane and his students will work on maintenance and upkeep for their approximately 25 year old greenhouse on campus. It serves the school allowing special education students, and at-risk students to have hands-on work experiences to prepare for life after school. The greenhouse helps students experience work based skills. When not taking care of plants or selling to customers, Shane and his students are often in the shop building products that coincide with the greenhouse program such as planters, plants stands - using pallets, willow branches, or discarded storm branches as materials. Students and staff must find balance and work between their two responsibilities for the shop and greenhouse. The goal for each is to provide local items to the community, and to develop and have employability skills for the students.

Missouri Ozarks: Amy Sampson

"Here is Your Sign"

GIP 2023 - Amy Sampson

Amy Sampson is a 2021-2022 Fulbright TGC Fellow. An enneagram 3w4, Amy has always been going after her dreams, not just a Fulbright. She grew up on a farm, the oldest of three, played college basketball and volleyball, has an album on Spotify and iTunes, and co-wrote the fight song for Missouri Southern State University. Amy has been to 34 countries, 50 states, and over 150 National Park sites. Some of her greatest personal accomplishments include running a full and half Ironman race, running the Boston marathon, skydiving in Puerto Rico, diving the Blue Hole in Belize, and overcoming depression in her 30s. She works as a high school teacher and college adjunct, is a USA triathlon coach, takes landscape and portrait photography, owns an Airbnb, and develops websites on the side. Always focused on her health, Amy works out everyday and has completed a run of at least a mile a day for five straight years. She is also an avid learner and reads around 100 books a year, loves the We Can Do Hard Things podcast, and is a huge fan of Ted Lasso.

Professionally, Amy has presented nationally and internationally about place-based education,travel, podcasting, and her fellowships/grants. She hopes to retire in 3-4 years and continue traveling the world.

Monett, Missouri is chalked full of incredible historical significance ranging from the settlement of the town by immigrants seeking safety from persecution to the Trail of Tears passing through to the home of two aeroplane and helicopter production companies at the turn of the 20th century. These are just a few of the historical significant moments in our town’s history, all noted in historical documents and some in the museum, but the locations are not noted with any public markers such as a sign, plaque, or statue.

In Amy's place-based education class, entitled Missouri Literature and Composition, her students noted their absence in our town. Due to this observation, Amy's students proposed to her, “Let’s do something about it, Ms. Sampson!” So, the inspiration for her project was born! As a Fellow, Amy and her students hope to accomplish this outstanding and noble goal.

First, students will be researching and designing historical markers to be erected around our city of Monett. Currently there are not any historical markers for many places of historical interest or where a historic event took place. Students will work with three local historians to ensure the information on the signs is historically accurate in both location and content. Students will also be designing a “scavenger hunt” to be put on our local Historical Society websites, social media, and possibly an app.

Finally, Amy and her students hope to have our project presented in a public ceremony with local news and media outlets (newspaper, tv news) present!

New England: Ginger Martin

"Gardening in our Backyard Feeds us Today, Tomorrow, and for Generations to Come"

2023 GIP - Ginger Martin

Virginia Martin is a proud Lee Academy Panda! Ginger is from Lee, Maine, received a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development and Family Relations from the University of Maine, and a Master’s Certificate from California University of Pennsylvania in Meteorological Studies and is currently in the final stages of completing her Masters in Education at Thomas College. Ginger is certified to teach Physical Science Grades 7-12. This will be her eighth year at Lee Academy. Ginger is the Class of 2025 advisor at Lee Academy and volunteers in the local community as Treasurer to the Lee Historical Society and Museum.

Ginger has a true passion for working with the youth! Helping each student progress in all areas of their development—academic, social, emotional, and career paths —is a challenge that she is honored to accept daily. Ginger strives to create a community of learners that nurtures this growth in a positive, fun environment while utilizing our local community and forest.

Personally, Ginger has been married for 17 years and has two children who are 13 and 15 years old. As a family, they love to watch their kids' extracurriculars—soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, rock band and theater! Ginger also enjoys spending time outside, camping, reading, cooking, music, relaxing at the beach, and spending time with friends and family.

As a Fellow, Ginger and her students will be making improvements to their school's greenhouse which was originally built in the 1960's. These improvements will help develop a more robust program of study in food, nutrition and the sciences. Students will research various types of plants, produce, trees and test the soil nutrients necessary for the plants to flourish. Students will learn how to use different laboratory techniques, equipment and software to build their knowledge of science to
become healthy contributing members of our local and global community. Students will be able to make these contributions by using the food they have grown to learn to cook healthy meals for themselves and others, as well as provide fresh produce to our local food cupboard and communities.

Students will be able to “get their hands dirty” while developing and refining their skills in horticulture, ecology, biology, chemistry, physics, climate science, forestry, environmental science and nutrition. The opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with other students and staff on campus will help to promote their responsibility to themselves and the world around them. Students will also use software to develop a database for long-term observations and data collection. All of these factors would lead to a continuous educational opportunity for current and future students that could be sustained over the years with real help for start-up costs. Small steps really can make all the difference in a student's lifelong health and understanding of the world beyond the classroom.

North Dakota: Elizabeth Kruger

"Story Mapping Fort Ransom, North Dakota"

2023 GIP - Elizabeth Kruger

Elizabeth Kruger teaches a combined 2nd and 3rd grade class in Fort Ransom, ND. After graduating with an Elementary Education Degree from Valley City State University just four months after the birth of our first child, Elizabeth chose to stay home and raise him and his two brothers who soon followed. Just over ten years later, in 2016, Elizabeth began teaching in Fort Ransom. The small rural school is perfect for the projects-based learning style, which she loves with collaboration possible throughout the school and the community.

As a Fellow, Elizabeth will be doing a school-wide project with her students where they work to identify areas of interest and historical sites around Fort Ransom. The students will take pictures, interview community members, and record observations/experiences of the point of interest throughout each season. The students use an online program called Story Map to publish and make the information available to the public. A goal of Elizabeth’s during the project is to work with the state parks department to install permanent markers at each site with a QR code taking visitors to the Story Map site.

Northern California: Michele Zollars

"Oak Run Objective Oasis"

2023 GIP - Michele Zollars

Michele Zollars is in her fifth year of teaching at Oak Run Elementary. Michele has three grown children and 30 years' experience with children. Michele has lived in Japan, North Carolina, Missouri, and several parts of California. Michele believes every child is unique and precious, and she hopes to open to them a world of opportunities from which to learn and grow. This is Michele’s 4th year with Letters to a Pre-Scientist, a scientist pen pal program of which she is especially enthusiastic. When Michele is not working, she is enjoying time with my pets and relatives, and singing.

As a Fellow, Michele will work with her students by using online resources as well as expert guests, to research what fruits, herbs and vegetables grow best in which seasons and conditions, plan the best use of available space, best pairing of plants to resist disease and competitive plants, how to optimize nutritional value, student appeal (for serving at our free breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school), and sharing the harvest with community members in need. A minimum 10% of the harvest must be given away, and students will determine where that is donated to maximize impact in the community. Students will emphasize native plant growth for increased sustainability in the climate and heritage varieties for the increased nutritional and taste value. Plants that are machine harvested are not optimized for taste and nutrients, but for early harvest and bumpy trips to grocery stores. Students must coordinate their efforts with the school cook, who strives to make meals from scratch using as many organic sources as possible. This can be a real farm-to-fork school. Michele and her students will also work with their existing small flock of chickens to focus on the suitability of poultry breeds, and optimize the environment of chickens who can provide eggs for the school; students can choose and raise more hens, studying their development. Other students will specialize in aforementioned specific aspects of the garden based on their interests. Experiments with growing conditions will be done using the scientific method.

This cross-disciplinary project touches on; biological sciences, data collection and analysis, measurement, and even language and history of gardening across time and every culture. Gardening touches on all subjects and still allows students to get hands-on experience in the soil, outdoors, getting messy and making mistakes. As the meal scraps are given to the chickens and composted into the soil, and chicken waste can also be used as fertilizer, their facility is a zero waste environment. Increasing production is a win for students and the surrounding community!

Northern Rockies: Mark Roy

"Sagebrush Community Project"

2023 GIP - Mark Roy

Mark Roy is the 7th and 8th grade Science teacher at Fort Washakie Middle School on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He began his career as a public school teacher in 1998 after working as an outdoor educator for 12 years. He made the move to the classroom when he sensed a need to change careers in order to spend less time away from his family. The choice of classroom teacher was not immediately obvious. He was never an excited student and generally underperformed in school, until he went back as an adult with specific goals and needs for learning. Many experiences with students while working as an outdoor educator opened his eyes to how well students learn, even those labeled failures, when education is relevant and connected to others around them, and to place. He works every day to ground learning opportunities in place and culture in order to bring relevance and connections into the classroom. That is exactly what his project is about.

The purpose of the project is to establish a natural sagebrush community on Mark's school campus to be used as a study area for science and as a cultural resource. Applying native ways of knowing with western science practices, Mark and his students will gather seeds and plant a sagebrush community in the only remaining unmanicured area on campus. The sagebrush community provides habitat and an ecological niche for many traditional medicinal plants, as well as birds and animals. With the guidance of elders and the Fort Washakie Middle School Culture teachers, students will research and attempt to plant members of the sagebrush community that are traditional medicines. The Social Studies teacher will incorporate the project in an indigenous economics unit. The Industrial Arts teacher will support the community lead construction of a geodesic dome greenhouse on campus to facilitate the growing of plants for this and future projects.

Pacific Northwest: Michele Engle

"Cemetery Tombstone Rescue"

GIP 2023 - Michele Engle

Michele Engle is the 7th-12th grade language art teacher in the mornings. In the afternoon, she is the CTE teacher who teaches two mixed periods of Ag welding, Ag construction, and Ag leadership, and another period of middle school science which also oversees the school greenhouse in the afternoons at Monument School District. She has taught at this small rural school district for 28 years. She earned her teaching degree from Eastern Oregon University in 1992.

Michele's family has deep roots in the Monument Community: her mother graduated from Monument School as did she and her own children. The success of the children in this community are very important to her which is the reason why her teaching has been malleable around the needs and interests of her students.

Michele was awarded Outstanding Classroom Teacher for Region 5 in 2009 by the Oregon Science Teachers Association and awarded Oregon's regional Teacher of the Year 2018-19. Michele's educational philosophy: She believes that it is very important to help students find the joy in learning new things and the understanding that they can and will accomplish great things with hard work and determination.

As a Fellow, Michele's "Cemetery Tombstone Rescue Project" is focused on utilizing leadership skills within the community to build strong community partnerships, while saving the "sinking" tombstones at our three local cemeteries. Students will research the best way to reset the existing headstone; in so doing, students will be working closely with our Cemetery Board and families to implement the updates needed on the headstones listed on the "rescue" list. This project is something that the Leadership students have wanted to work on but funding is an issue in this very small rural area of Eastern Oregon. The focus in leadership class is to give back to the surrounding community that is very supportive to the school. This type of community service helps students develop pride in themselves, their school, and their community, while preparing students to be active citizens and effective leaders in the future.

Since 2015 the Rural Schools Collaborative and its partners have awarded more than $500,000 to rural classroom teachers in support of innovative place-based projects. We invite you to check out our roster of Grants in Place projects:

Learn about more ways to get involved with the Rural Schools Collaborative community or contact us today at with questions about this year's Grants in Place effort.

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