Proudly Announcing the 2024 Grants in Place Fellows!

Congratulations to these outstanding rural educators!

December 1, 2023 |

Rural Schools Collaborative is excited to announce the 2023-24 Grants in Place Fellow Awardees. The Grants in Place Fellows Program is offered annually to rural classroom teachers who teach in school districts that are located in one of the Rural Schools Collaborative's 16 Regional Hub areas.

The 2024 Fellows will each work with their students on place-based education projects that will impact their school and rural community. Each Grants in Place Fellow is awarded a grant which supports the place-based project, shares a professional development presentation, and receives an honorarium for the educator. Rural Schools Collaborative is proud to support these innovative rural teachers and their initiatives in better connecting their students to their local communities.

Rural Schools Collaborative would like to extend a sincere thank you to The 2023-24 Grants in Place Selection Committee for their dedication and support of this project.

Ann Schulte (Northern California); Lori Goodson (Kansas); Tammy La Prad (Monmouth College); Leslie Cook (Wyoming); Jeremy Eltz (Indiana)

Our 2023-24 Grants in Place Fellows Selection Committee is comprised of outstanding rural advocates and representatives from RSC's Regional Hubs across the US. Our thanks is extended to Ann Schulte (Northern California); Lori Goodson (Kansas); Tammy La Prad (Monmouth College); Leslie Cook (Wyoming) and Jeremy Eltz (Indiana) for their commitment to place-based education and rural schools & communities.

We invite you to meet our incredible 2024 Fellows and learn more about their place-based education projects to take place this spring!

Alabama & the Black Belt: Cassandra Allen

Cassandra Williams Allen is a seasoned educator at Francis Marion High School, where she specializes in Business Education and Computer Science. With a decade of teaching experience, she has been guiding and inspiring students from sixth through twelfth grade. Additionally, Cassandra proudly serves as the advisor for the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter, nurturing the next generation of business leaders. Beyond her teaching role, she is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc, contributing to community service and leadership initiatives.

The School Garden and Flower Bed Revival Project is a community-driven initiative aimed at transforming the Francis Marion High School's garden and flower bed into a vibrant, educational, and environmentally sustainable space. The project will provide a multidisciplinary learning experience. Beyond tending to the garden, students will utilize technology to monitor growth, study environmental data, and optimize crop yield. This approach combines hands-on learning with data-driven problem-solving. The garden becomes an innovative outside classroom, where students not only grow vegetables but also their knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Simultaneously, Cassandra and her students will share the bountiful harvest with the community, providing fresh, locally grown vegetables, enhancing nutritional access, and strengthening the bond between the school and the neighborhood.

Appalachia: Amanda Biviano

Amanda Biviano has been teaching English in rural Virginia for the past 20 years. She earned her B.S. in English Education at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, before moving to Virginia to complete her M.S. in English, and later Ph.D. in English Education at Virginia Tech. Currently, she teaches 11th and 12th grade English Language Arts at Floyd County High School. With a student population of around 770 and a town population of 15,000, she has enjoyed the privilege of teaching students for multiple years, as well as multiple generations, in Floyd County. Her teaching and research interests involve fostering a positive approach to literature and novels that deal with disability and integrating real-world, service learning opportunities that allow students to engage with literacy in their communities. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, hiking, and hanging out with her three kids, husband, and furry family members.

As a fellow, Amanda will create an inquiry-based, interdisciplinary project between Senior Language-Arts and American Government students to examine local histories and challenges facing Appalachia today. The goal of this project is to promote a better understanding of the local history of Floyd County, as well as the broader Appalachian region, and the struggles we face in the community and region today. Students will read fiction and non-fiction books centered on rural life and social issues in Appalachia, interview community members, and visit local non-profit organizations to uncover current efforts to educate others and address social issues. They will then create digital products, such as multi-media productions, videos, and podcasts, which will be distributed locally and shared at public exhibition night for parents and community Members. The Floyd Students for Appalachia project seeks to offer students a voice and opportunity for personal action in their community. It builds off of Amanda’s previous work of publishing students’ profile essays in the local Floyd Press newspaper and her service learning work to aid non-profits in the community. Ultimately, Amanda’s goal is to bring greater awareness to the social issues that rural communities face and to the organizations addressing these challenges.

Arizona: Jenny Bargos

Jennifer Bargos is a fifth grade gifted teacher at Starline Elementary. Jennifer was raised in the small town of Lake Havasu City and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Grand Canyon University. Jennifer is married with two children that are growing up and being educated in the same district she attended. Jennifer taught third grade for seven years and this is her second year teaching fifth grade. Jennifer is currently working on her National Board Certification in the area of Early Childhood Literacy and expects to complete her final components this year. Jennifer has also been an ASU Stem Fellow for two years, which has helped her bring enriching and hands-on learning experiences to the school. Jennifer is passionate about challenging her gifted students and helping them to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.

The Starline Greenhouse Project will aid Starline Elementary school and students with a hands-on component for science and will help to connect the curriculum to real world application. The planning, preparation, development, management, and hands-on engagement of this place-based learning will provide an incredible opportunity for every student and family in the school. This project would support the entire student body (640+ students), many of whom are in the TAG (talented and gifted program) and in the self-contained autism program. Students are completely disconnected from how crops grow and what agriculture looks like. The Arizona climate is arid and dry, often not conducive to keeping a garden thriving. The presence of a greenhouse on the school grounds would impact every grade level from kindergarten through grade six. The goal of this project is that it supports students in learning about their local flora and fauna and gives them contextual understanding of their local habitats. Bridging the principles of local to global context matters, especially for rural students. The greenhouse gives them an understanding of the habitat; living in the desert, students without the means or support to travel are unaware that the desert climate is different from climates in other areas of the country or world. The greenhouse project helps students understand what can grow locally and also explore what other climates are able to support. The project continues to hold up the place-based principles by being very learner-centered; students will be the driving force behind which plants are selected and how the greenhouse interior is designed. Students will need to perform math, science research, and then hands-on activities to bring this idea to life. This student-led project is inquiry-based as students are driven to pose and resolve questions of which items will survive in the greenhouse setting. Starline Elementary students will use design thinking to develop their plan and solve problems that arise along the way. Students will need to work within a budget and plan how to care for the plants that they choose. Starline Elementary students will need to collaborate with the community, working with the local hardware stores and Bureau of Land Management and Arizona State Parks to initially plant and seed the garden. Lastly, this proposal rests in an interdisciplinary approach which supports many of the STEM initiatives, utilizing math, science, and communication skills like writing, reading, speaking and listening. Students also require skills of problem solving and collaborating as they work together to keep their greenhouse plans thriving.

Arkansas & Delta: Candice Dunigan

Candice Dunigan, a dedicated high school educator at The Delta School, is a veteran in the field of education, now embarking on her 11th year of teaching. With an impressive career spanning both the public and private sectors, Candice's journey in molding young minds began as an art teacher in the public school system, where she honed her teaching skills over eight fulfilling years. In pursuit of innovative teaching methodologies and a thirst for creative growth, Candice transitioned into the dynamic realm of project-based education, currently marking her third year at The Delta School. Here, she has found her niche, bringing her passion for art and education together to provide her students with a unique and immersive learning experience.

The high school students of The Delta School will design and coordinate the city-wide composting network for the community of Wilson. With a focus on hospitality and food and beverage leadership in the Delta, Wilson seeks to reignite the Arkansas Delta as an oasis for incredible cuisine and community-centeredness. The high school students at The Delta School will reimagine food waste as part of their garden programming. In addition to student-led compost redesign for Wilson and The Delta School, the students have also proposed a mycology lab for mushroom cultivation in the Arkansas Delta. With the appropriate resources, the students will coordinate accurate and reliable spore prints for use in establishing a one-of-a-kind student-led mycology lab for community kitchens. Through the use of dry spore transfer (spore prints) and re-inoculation with a sterile syringe, students will explore and master the technique to grow a variety of edible mushrooms for both the local cafe and test kitchen. Students will be able to advance their work as far as they would like to go using different spore print techniques and culinary connections. Not only will this close the loop on organic recycling, it will also provide a much needed resource (nutrient rich compost) for the campus garden beds. The students will benefit by seeing their creative recycling of food waste bring new life to the school garden. They will also benefit by leveraging their mycology lab for local consumption at the local cafe. The Delta community will be greatly impacted by seeing young leaders pioneer new flavors in the local test kitchen. In partnership with The Grange at Wilson Gardens, the mycology lab has the opportunity to showcase what happens when schools and community gardens innovate for edible change.

Driftless Region: Jessica Brogley & Emily Zachary

Jessica Brogley is in her 23rd year of teaching. She has been a high school English teacher, technology support specialist, district assessment coordinator, school communications specialist, and instructor for both Southwest Technical College and the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin Platteville. Currently, she serves as the newly hired Emergent Bilingual Teacher for Platteville Middle and High School. Jessica is committed to supporting students who are learning English as an additional language, as well creating opportunities for the school community to learn about the amazing diversity of the Platteville District and Community.

Emily Zachary, with a decade of teaching experience, has spent the past four years as a dedicated English educator in the Platteville School District, shaping young minds in College Writing and English 2 through UW Platteville's Early College Credit Program. Her vibrant classrooms foster a love for language and literature. Emily is also a district inclusion advocate, leading professional development, coaching sessions, mentorship programs, and Cultural Heritage Month celebrations. She serves as the advisor for the Diverse Student Alliance (DSA) group, fostering mutual respect among students from diverse backgrounds.

Celebrating Rural Diversity Place Based Learning in the Driftless Region project aligns with the fundamental tenet of Place-Based Education, which emphasizes fostering a deep connection between students and their local environment. Platteville High School takes pride in challenging the misconception that rural areas lack diversity, actively promoting inclusivity and cultural awareness among its students. Through active participation in the Diverse Student Alliance (DSA), students will not only develop a profound understanding of their rural surroundings but also forge meaningful connections with the changing demographics of the region. DSA's mission is to bridge the gap between sense of place and the evolving cultural landscape by actively engaging in community-based celebrations like the Latinx Fiesta in Dubuque. This vibrant outdoor festival celebrates the multifaceted aspects of Latin American culture, including art, music, cuisine, and traditions. Through their involvement, DSA members will gain firsthand experience and insight into the diverse cultures that contribute to the region's rich heritage. Moreover, DSA will play a pivotal role in creating and leading events within the district and community, such as themed book talks, activities, and celebrations for the Elementary Schools. By doing so, they will not only celebrate the local culture but also empower younger generations to appreciate the cultural diversity that surrounds them. In a strategic partnership with the University of Wisconsin - Platteville's office of Multicultural Student Affairs, DSA will take another step towards fulfilling the tenet of Place-Based Education. They will actively participate in student panel discussions and outreach events, particularly focusing on first-generation college students. This collaboration will not only enrich the educational experience of Platteville High School students but also contribute to the broader community's understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion in education.

Illinois: Pamela Turner

Pamela Turner is in her 28th year of teaching junior high language arts at Jonesboro Elementary School in Jonesboro, IL. Turner loves teaching at the same school she attended as a child! She received her Bachelor of Science in Education with a minor in English from Southern Illinois University in 1996. Turner gained her Master of Science in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in 2006 from Walden University. Since then, she has added 24 graduate credit hours from various universities. Turner is currently the school’s Beta Club sponsor and has served on the executive board of Southern Illinois Reading Council for over twenty years. Turner enjoys spending time with her husband, Rodney, and their children, Brett, Madilyn, and RJ. Turner enjoys learning about her family’s history and her county’s history. In fact, her sixth great-grandparents were some of the first residents of Jonesboro, IL. In addition, her ancestors’ home has been turned into a local museum, known as the P.A.S.T. House (Promoting Appreciation of Structural Treasures) of Union County.

Jonesboro, Illinois has a past filled with rich history. One of the Lincoln/Douglas Debates was held in Jonesboro. In addition, the Trail of Tears went through the middle of town! There are other landmarks to be explored and stories to be told. Turner wants her students to learn more about the historical places in the quiet town of Jonesboro, which currently has a population of 1800 people. “A Journey Through Jonesboro” will allow Turner’s 8th grade students to write scripts, direct, and video one another at the sites to share the significant historical event. Students may choose to dress in period costumes or as journalists for the videos. Permanent outdoor plaques will be placed at each historical site with a QR code which will easily allow both current and future students, community members, and tourists to use their smartphone to be taken back in time to learn about each historic site.

Indiana & Great Lakes: Andrea Levi

Andrea Levi is in her 22nd year of teaching. She teaches at Rising Sun High School in Rising Sun, Indiana, and like all rural school teachers wears many hats. Andrea currently teaches Integrated Chemistry/Physical Science, Chemistry I, Chemistry II, Advanced Chemistry, Child and Adolescent Development and Introduction to Teaching. Andrea is also the advisor for Science Club, an Academic Team coach and the Junior class sponsor. Andrea serves on the school’s union bargaining committee and on the school leadership team. In addition to her responsibilities at Rising Sun High School, Andrea has taught a General Chemistry course at a local community college for the past 7 years. Andrea is married and has two adult children (a nurse and an educator) and one special needs teenager. Andrea is passionate about teaching and shares honestly “I LOVE my job! I enjoy inspiring students to love science and I hope to help build future generations of educators.” When not in the classroom, Andrea’s hobbies include reading, kayaking, Special Olympics bowling with her youngest son and cleaning up trash along Ohio River mile 504-505 with her Science Club students.

For this project, the “grow your own” teacher pipeline students taking Child and Adolescent Development and Introduction to Teaching courses will be building developmentally appropriate learning boxes to address the lack of educational resources for preschoolers in the local community. The local county currently has no resources for the 0-3 age group and the school is the only preschool provider in the county. Students will create reading, math/science, music/art and diversity boxes to place in the local public library. Andrea and her students also plan to create boxes for older students that could be used by teachers or parents to enhance the school curriculum or provide summer enrichment. This project will benefit the community at large. It will also be a great experience for the students in the "teacher pipeline" program allowing students to see how the ideas of developmental theorists can be used to drive lessons. Andrea hopes that the project will strengthen families and their commitment to their child's education.The goal is that families and teachers of elementary children will use these resources to enhance their curriculum.

Iowa: Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox is an art educator at Starmont Community School District. Teaching in a small rural school allows for great diversity and autonomy in her art classroom with classes ranging from traditional drawing to short films to sculpture. When she is not teaching, she enjoys being with her husband Michael, daughter Memphis, and border collie Mambo, usually hanging out at her husband's art studio in Strawberry Point. She loves reading, learning, eating and gardening, not necessarily in that order.

Gucci Our School is a group effort between students, staff and community to make school a place that feels more inviting, psychologically benefitting, and mentally stimulating for all who attend. The Grants in Place funding will be used to enrich the physical environment with new artwork, murals, quotes, paint or other ideas that will be generated by the students. Students will be subjected to the process of approval for all their projects and will need to work together in order to reach their goals. This is a continuation of some elements that started last year with a new school art gallery, a new mental health display and the formation of a school store.

Kansas: Karl Stover

Karl Dawn Stover is the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator, agriculture education teacher, and FFA advisor at Ellsworth Junior Senior High School. She is excited to bring the Healthy Living Experience to grade 4-12th with the help of her activity partner, Mandy Burger, FACS teacher and FCCLA advisor. Growing CTE and real life experiences has been a goal for the Career and Technical Education programs at USD 327. This experience will be a true engagement piece for all involved!

The Healthy Living Experience is an opportunity to educate middle school students, grades 4-6, about proper dietary choices and the importance of keeping an active lifestyle. The event will be held by high school students, grades 9-12. These students will research food and exercise practices, develop lesson plans suited for 9-13 year olds, create healthy food snack recipes, design a fun run, organize and purchase supplies.

Missouri Ozarks: Melody Ball

Melody Ball is the school counselor at Fordland Elementary School in Fordland, Missouri. She graduated from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri with her Bachelors of Science in Behavioral Health and with her Masters of Science in School counseling (20, 23). Ms. Ball, as her students so lovingly call her, is also the School Psychological Examiner and sponsor of the student leadership team consisting of leaders from fourth and fifth grades. As a single mom, Melody raised two amazing humans (Leslye & Brody) and decided to start taking part in making a change with teenagers, going back to school in her forties. The suicide rates in her area were out of control, prompting her to recognize the need for school counselors. She has stated that if she can help just one child choose themselves; choose life, then all her hard work and sacrifice would be worth it. Ms. Ball’s goal for this year is to empower her leadership team to gain the confidence and knowledge to take this task and garner it to blossom and thrive. This opportunity for the student leaders will be once in a lifetime and she is determined to make it their best year yet, learning inside the classroom, but also outside the walls of the school and throughout their community.

Leadership Community Park Restoration project stems from the student leadership team identifying the need for the local community park to be updated, cleaned, fixed up and to become more inclusive. This year Melody and her students would like to implement some of the ideas to better serve their community. Students will add inclusive equipment to allow more children the opportunity to experience fun at the park. Students will also plant flowers, shrubs and grass to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to all the senses. Additionally, Melody and her students would like to create an environment in their school of leadership and change. The students in the leadership group are very determined to better not only their school, but their community. The project will be driven by determination of Melody’s students and fellow teachers as leaders to make the changes that are needed to move their community on to a better tomorrow. Melody’s students are 4th and 5th graders and want to lead their school (PK-5) in the task of making those changes and taking pride in themselves, their school and their community. Leadership is something Melody is very passionate about and will guide her students to take ownership and pride in their education, both in the classroom but outside the walls of this building too in their rural community.

New England: Talia Miller

Talia Miller is the Librarian and Service-Learning Coordinator at Colrain Central School in Colrain, MA. Colrain Central School serves around one hundred and ten students in PreK-6th grade from two rural towns. This is Talia’s sixth year in the school. In her role, Talia helps to support teachers and to build community partnerships that allow students to apply what they've learned to real-life needs in the community. In addition, she teachers library and technology skills to all the students in the school. Talia grew up in the urban center of Minneapolis, Minnesota, but found her rural calling during years of summer camp in the North Woods of Minnesota. Since then, she has lived in rural settings whenever possible, including work as a camp caretaker, where she was the only person in residence for miles around. Talia loves spending time with her family in the outdoors, running, and taking walks in the woods with her Springerdoodle.

In her first year as Librarian, Talia's work focused on creating an updated and diversified collection to serve as a window to the wider world. Now in her second year, Talia would like to use the Grants in Place Fellowship to work with her students and community members to help the library reflect the unique rural setting where the school is located. This is a challenging time for libraries and she wants to make sure that everyone knows they are a part of the library community.

To achieve this vision, Talia will first bring in a local artist to work with the fourth grade students to create paper mache models of local landmarks to be permanently installed in the library. The students will imagine what it would look like to map the town in the library space. The next step would be to write a poem explaining the significance of their landmark. She hopes that moving through the library will feel like you are moving through the local landscape. The second piece of the project will be bringing a local author/illustrator to visit the primary grades. The visit would nurture a love of reading and show a local role model who has a different kind of career. Finally, Talia will survey community members about what materials they think would help the library reflect the unique people and place that is Colrain, Massachusetts. Taila hopes to hear from her community about what they care about and create a more inviting and relevant space for the local community.

North Dakota: Sheila Gerding

Sheila Gerding was raised in Clancy, MT. She attended college at Montana State University-Northern where she was an All-American Basketball player and earned a bachelor's degree in business education. Sheila went on to earn her Master's degree in School counseling. Sheila was the Head Women's Basketball Coach at Minot State University for 22 years before switching professions and becoming a school counselor at South Prairie School. After 6 years at South Prairie, Sheila became a school counselor and Sources of Strength advisor at Surrey High School.

Sheila and her students of Surrey High School are excited to introduce the Sources of Strength group at the school, where she serves as the 7- 12 school counselor and advisor for this initiative. The core objective of this group is to foster peer relationships that can provide support to students facing various challenges. To achieve this goal, Surrey High School students have devised a series of five impactful projects aimed at both engaging with the student body and reaching out to the broader community. As they embark on this journey, it's essential to highlight the importance of building trust among peers and nurturing an environment where mental health and well-being take center stage. The Sources of Strength group at Surrey High School is dedicated to creating a nurturing and supportive environment where students can rely on one another during times of need. The five major projects, which will be carried out throughout the school year and during Sheila’s time as a Fellow, will represent their commitment to fostering a sense of community, promoting mental health awareness, and making a meaningful impact beyond the school walls. As a self-supported group, they look forward to collaborating with the local community and continuing to inspire positive change in the lives of the students and beyond. Sheila says, “Together, through this initiative, we can strengthen bonds and create a brighter future.”

Northern California: Kristin Chambers

Kristin Chambers has been a high school art educator for 16 years. Currently, Kristin is working at her alma mater, Modoc High School, in rural Northern California. Kristin shares, “I love that I have had the opportunity to come back to my hometown and give back to my community that helped raise me.” Kristin has two children, Afyna and ZaZa. Together, they enjoy creating art, being in nature, participating in activities like sports, and spending time together. Kristen teaches a variety of courses including, Art 1,2, and 3, Advanced Placement art, printmaking and screenprinting, ceramics, and yearbook. Kristin has a true passion for a variety of art media, and loves showing students how their art can support their mental health, express their personal interests, become a career opportunity, and bring communities together through beautification and collaboration.

Kristin will bring the Shark Tank and Soup Project to her students during her time as a Fellow. The project gives Modoc students the opportunity to work together using their unique skills to support and celebrate the community's young up and coming entrepreneurs. This project will build on the strengths of current CTE programs (Art and Ag Foods) and connect across generations and industries to begin entrepreneurship development in elementary school. Incorporating the expertise of adult professionals to facilitate an Entrepreneurial Kid Camp to small groups of children throughout Surprise Valley and Alturas would bridge the gap between industry and K12 sites. The camp would be an extracurricular activity located at various community spaces to be inclusive of charter school and homeschooled children; it will bring together white, Latino, and Indigenous families, giving children an opportunity to work together and connect. Teams will: identify a problem that impacts local people, develop a product or service to address the problem, design a basic business plan, advertise and sell tickets to the Shark Tank and Soup event and present their business plan. The MHS Ceramics class will create 100 ceramic bowls with paint and design (images, colors, textures) representing something special about Modoc County. Students will sign the bottoms and donate bowls for the Shark Tank and Soup event hosted at the Modoc High School Social Hall. Ticket holders will be given a handmade bowl filled with fresh soup and bread featuring local ingredients prepared and served by the Ag Foods Class, and be eligible to vote. Student teams will present their Business Plan using visual aids to the guests, and the top three will earn a cash prize. This is just one of many efforts needed to convert the current brain drain into brain gain. Engaging youth in leadership through the arts and culture, supporting cross-generational networking to build social capital and expand career development, and growing kids that are valued, respected, and loved by the place we call home. These efforts aim to encourage kids to continue to call Modoc County home!

Northern Rockies: Katie Rose Griffith

Katie Rose Griffith brings a wealth of knowledge and a profound commitment to early childhood education and sustainable living to her role as the Director of Farming Gardening, and Outdoor Education at the Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools. With a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education, Katie Rose has dedicated her academic journey to understanding the intricate nuances of early childhood development. Her deep-rooted passion for nurturing young minds led her to delve into permaculture consciousness and early childhood education philosophy during her graduate studies. This unique blend of expertise equips her with a holistic education approach that prioritizes cognitive and environmental awareness.

The Mountain Academy Community Food System Initiative is a multi-faceted, place-based project aimed at enhancing the local food ecosystem by incorporating a school garden, community food systems education, local food rescue programs, and creating a 'Produce by Donation' stand on the Mountain Academy campus. This comprehensive project seeks to connect the dots between education, sustainability, community engagement, and food security. Students will have the opportunity to directly participate in gardening, harvesting, food preparation, and distribution. This direct experience enhances learning and makes it relevant to the students' lives. Students will break down the classroom walls by visiting nearby farms, food banks, and local businesses involved in food production to provide additional real-world learning experiences tied to the community. Students in middle school are going to focus on a more global-to-local outlook. By involving students, teachers, parents, and community members in the project activities, such as garden workdays or food rescue drives, the initiative becomes a community-owned educational experience. Building their own 'Produce by Donation' stand offering locally grown or rescued food items makes the project directly beneficial to the community, thus creating a practical context for learning and engagement. Students play a central and active role across various facets of the project. Their participation is not just limited to educational activities; they become agents of change, advocates for sustainable practices, and community leaders.

Pacific Northwest: Ben DeCarlow

Following substitute teaching in Medford and seven years of full-time assignments in Chiloquin, Oregon and Hermiston, Oregon, Ben brought his small school passion and belief in putting students first to the Butte Falls team. He grew up in Medford and enjoyed camping in the Butte Falls area for years. Now, he loves teaching here and discovering daily what will drive each student to succeed. “Finding what is going to work for our students, that is the goal. There is no fill-in-the-box attitude here. My colleagues and I all work collaboratively to connect with kids.” Ben is also excited to be a facilitator for the statewide Oregon Science Project, an effort to improve science education. This professional learning network is improving resources and science education throughout rural Oregon in support of Next Generation Science Standards. Additionally, for the past three years, Ben has been the Education Lead for the Butte Falls Natural Resource Center (a 13 acre property owned by the school and run as an outdoor learning facility). As part of this role, he oversees groups of students from Butte Falls and the region participating in a plethora of outdoor and place based learning activities.

The Where Have All the Frogs Gone project will be centered around the Natural Resource Center (NRC) in Butte Falls, Oregon and will consist of four main parts. First, students will be taken to the NRC, which is a 13-acre piece of property about a mile from the school that was previously a fish hatchery. It is now an outdoor learning facility run by the school district. Students will have the opportunity to explore the area around the creek that goes through the property and get a basis for what an ecosystem can look like. There will be some specific and explicit instruction about ecosystems but much of it will allow for students to explore and learn for themselves. Second, students will conduct research about areas where frogs can expect to be found. This research will help them to build out their knowledge of ecosystems, which is one of the major components in the middle school life science standards. This phase of the project will predominantly take place in the classroom. Third, students will complete extensive research about the forest stream ecosystem at the NRC. Students will have the opportunity to conduct stream and soil tests on and near the creek that runs through the property and compare this data to the research they conducted previously. Ben and his students will be able to analyze the data and determine what about the environment is preventing frogs from living in an area where they traditionally would be found. During this research phase of the project, students will also get to meet and work with local scientists who study these aspects as part of their job from the likes of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the US Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the BLM. Fourth, students will make suggestions about what steps could be taken in order to successfully reintroduce frogs to this habitat. While it is not within the scope of this school year to reintroduce frogs, the intent to have students write out a plan for how to do this so we can hopefully complete that phase next school year

Southeast: Jennifer Brickhouse

Jennifer Brickhouse enjoys teaching mathematics at Columbia Middle and Columbia Early College High School in Tyrrell County, NC. She has a masters degree in Mathematics Education from ECSU (Viking Pride!) and her AIG add-on licensure from UNCW. She was awarded Tyrrell County’s District Teacher of the Year for 2022-2023. And was given the honor to speak at the UNCW AIG conference in 2021 and recognized for Exceeding Growth Expectations in NC Math 3. She loves to spend time with her three sons and complete jigsaw puzzles.

Columbia Middle School started as an outdoor classroom for student and teacher use by adding picnic tables to an outdoor area. This project will allow Jennifer to lead the Columbia Middle School students in having the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm around the idea of what a student centered outdoor workspace should look like, and then have them work toward making their vision a reality. Students will begin by researching outdoor classrooms and learning spaces in order to create a wishlist on what they believe would make the outdoor learning experience most rewarding. Jennifer will then introduce a budget and the students will be tasked with designing a plan that would allow for the outdoor space to have the greatest impact on their learning, while staying in budget. This project will allow for the students to gather a real world view of what it takes to complete a project in all of its phases and see it come together. Students will take part throughout the planning, purchasing, and installation processes. The students will have a major role in this place-based project. The Columbia Middle School students are the project collaborators, researchers, designers, planners, implementers, reporters, presenters, data collectors, budgeters, and Jennifer adds “the reason we love what we do.” The Columbia Middle School students are going to gain knowledge and understanding from this hands-on approach to a project at their school. Something they'd normally just see come together is going to allow them to share their opinion and gain a voice. Jennifer says “at this age it's hard to think bigger than oneself, at any age sometimes, but they'll be asked to think about the future of the space, years from now, and the impact then also.”

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 Fellows’ 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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