Cultivating Connections: Innovative Place-Based Learning Transforms Perry Central

An agriculture teacher cooking up community involvement, place-based education and student pride all through investing in their rural school’s kitchen.

February 6, 2024 |

Carrie Guillaume, an Agriculture Teacher at Perry Central Jr-Sr High School in Leopold, Indiana, received the National Signature Project Award through the Rural Schools Collaborative Grants in Place program. Co-sponsored by the National Rural Education Association, this initiative enabled Guillaume to transform her school's kitchen into a USDA-certified hub, fostering place-based learning for students and meaningful engagement with the wider Leopold community.

At the heart of Rural School Collaborative’s mission is a firm conviction: supporting rural teachers is not just essential but pivotal in fostering strong connections between students and their rural communities. Recognizing that educators often serve as the vital link between these two realms, Rural Schools Collaborative proudly awards over $50,000 to rural educators annually through the Grants in Place Program. This program aims to support impactful place-based education projects designed to enrich students’ understanding and appreciation of their community while inviting active participation from the community in the classroom and school. As a key component of the Grants in Place program, RSC proudly partners with the National Rural Education Association as co-sponsor of the National Signature Project Award.

Carrie Guillaume, Agriculture Teacher at Perry Central Jr-Sr High School.

One outstanding recipient of the 2023-24 National Signature Project Award is Carrie Guillaume of Leopold, Indiana (population: 860). As an Agriculture Teacher at Perry Central Jr-Sr High School, Carrie has spearheaded innovative initiatives that not only enrich her students' educational experience but also strengthen the bonds between the school and the local community.

Carrie, who has been an agriculture teacher for 11 years, lives on a cattle/hay farm, also raising laying hens and meat chickens. Her commitment to rural life extends beyond her professional role, as she intimately understands the dynamics of the community she serves.

“I am a rural member of this community. I “live” the rural teaching and I love it.”

One of Perry Central's hydroponic systems grow a variety of lettuce.

Perry Central is situated in a very rural setting, with the elementary, junior, and senior high all housed in one building. The school boasts a robust Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, with the agriculture program utilizing a greenhouse, a garden, and two hydroponic systems. Carrie's passion for agriculture education and her deep connection to the community set the stage for her groundbreaking project funded by the National Signature Project Award.

The primary goal of Carrie's project was to transform the school's classroom kitchen into a USDA-certified kitchen. This certification would allow the processing and packaging of produce to be sold to restaurants and grocery stores, providing a sustainable outlet for the surplus produce raised at the school. The kitchen would also be open to community members for processing their own produce.

"The inspiration came from raising too much lettuce and not being able to sell other than to staff. We also wanted to expand the kitchen more for classroom lessons and community members' needs" shares Carrie. Through the National Signature Project Award funds, Carrie successfully acquired a commercial oven, hood, and essential kitchen equipment, elevating the kitchen to full accreditation. The transformation not only benefits the students of Perry Central but also enriches the entire Leopold community.

Carrie's students preparing food in the school's newly upgraded kitchen.

The fully accredited Commercial Community Kitchen is now open to school staff and students for diverse curriculum activities, fostering a dynamic learning environment. Carrie's dedication to sustainability is evident as she incorporates student-grown produce into the kitchen, reinforcing the positive impact of this initiative. Surplus produce is generously shared with the broader community, further strengthening the ties between the school and the residents of Leopold.

The garden within the green house at Perry Central.

Carrie emphasizes the importance of place-based learning in their rural school, stating, "Students truly learn better with authentic experiences." By integrating the Commercial Community Kitchen into the curriculum, students have the opportunity to see their food from seed to plate, establishing a profound connection between skills in science, agriculture, and CTE with the community they call home.

Looking ahead, Carrie envisions expanding the hydroponic systems into the greenhouse, making the production of student-raised produce even more efficient. The goal is to raise enough lettuce for the cafeteria, providing students with a tangible connection to the food they consume at school.

Carrie's agriculture students are thrilled about working and learning in the kitchen while actively participating in raising their own food. The project not only enhances the educational experience but also instills a sense of pride and ownership in the students, as they contribute to the sustainability and growth of their rural community.

Carrie Guillaume's commitment to place-based education, pride in her rural roots, and dedication to increasing community engagement in Perry Central Jr-Sr High School exemplify the spirit of the Grants in Place program. Her innovative initiatives serve as a beacon for educators seeking to create meaningful connections between students, education, and the communities they serve. The transformation of Perry Central's kitchen into a thriving space for both education and community-oriented purposes stands as a testament to the impact that passionate educators can have on rural schools and their surrounding communities.

Carrie's students preparing food in the school's newly upgraded kitchen.

Rural Schools Collaborative is proud to support innovative rural educators, like Carrie. The Grants in Place program would not be possible without the support of our partners and Regional Hub Network. Special thanks to our partners, the Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis, for their support of rural Indiana teachers, and beyond.

Thank you to the National Rural Education Association for their continued partnership of our National Signature Project Award! And, thank you to Carrie for sharing her story and supporting her rural students and community in such an innovative way.

National Signature Project Award

Mark your calendars and spread the word because the National Signature Project Award application is opening in March 2024! The National Signature Project Award is part of the Rural Schools Collaborative Grants in Place program, a multi-organizational effort that has awarded more than $500,000 to teachers in support of place-based learning since 2015. We encourage you to consider applying for the prestigious award, or share the opportunity with an educator in mind!

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