Meet our Young Educators Advisory Council!

November 10, 2020 |
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The Rural Schools Collaborative is happy to announce the Young Educators' Advisory Council, a new initiative for early career rural teachers! These young educators will serve RSC as advisors to strengthen our mission in the recruitment, preparation, and retention of rural teachers. YEA council members will serve for two years engaging in online conversations. We are so excited to announce to you these ten rural school advocates.

This new effort will work in conjunction with the I Am A Rural Teacher Campaign, an advocacy program working in collaboration with the National Rural Education Association, funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Brittany Williams, Kindergarten teacher
University Charter School in Livingston, Alabama

Brittany Williams pursued her passion for teaching at the University of West Alabama and received her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. This year she has entered her third year teaching Kindergarten and is currently pursuing her Masters in Elementary Education. Brittany is a Black Belt Teacher Corps Scholar, became an advocate for the I Am a Rural Teacher Campaign, and Rural Schools Collaborative and Alabama Humanities Foundation Grant recipient. As she enters into her third year of teaching, she has grown to recognize the uniqueness, as well as the joys and realities of teaching in a rural area. She believes being part of an intentional council of new rural teachers would support other young educators at the start of their career and shed light on the beauty of teaching in a rural area.

Bridget Larsen, Middle school math teacher
Glenwood in West Plains, Missouri

Hello! My name is Bridget Larsen, and I am a second year middle school math teacher at a rural school in South Central Missouri. I enjoy everything math, and I have a passion for helping students learn and grow. In my spare time, I enjoy the outdoors and crafting, as well as spending time with my family. My three year old son keeps me on my toes, and we are always on a new adventure. An interesting fact about me is I have a passion for John Deere!

It is my pleasure to be serving on the YEA Council. I aspired to join this council in an effort to give back to the education community, especially fellow rural educators. It takes a special person to be a rural educator, and beginning with a solid foundation and building a strong and healthy network is vital to our success. I look forward to learning from my peers, as well as helping others to the best of my abilities.

Emma Rage, Kindergarten and 1st grade teacher
Kensel, North Dakota

Hello! My name is Emma Rage and I am a second-year teacher this year. I teach a combined kindergarten and first grade classroom in rural North Dakota. I have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of North Dakota. My passions are STEAM, personalized learning, and getting educators into rural schools. When I am not at school, I can be found reading, enjoying a cup of coffee, playing my ukulele, following various sports or getting myself organized for school.

I am passionate about small rural schools and believe that they have a lot to offer students, communities and teachers. Young teachers can learn a lot from being in a rural community. I teach in a very small school and believe that I have learned more in my time of being a teacher in a small school than I would have in a larger school. I am passionate about what I do and advocate for small rural schools daily. I grew up in a large city school and have a lot of experience working in large schools. Rural schools have always felt like home to me and I am excited to get new educators excited about rural schools.

Celeste Haverkamp, Language Arts teacher
Ignacio Middle School in Ignacio, Colorado

I was born and grew up in Oakland, CA. I studied Literature at Bard College, graduating in 2012. After college, I spent a few years going between the worlds of education, farming, and snowboarding. I worked in first and second grade classrooms in Oakland, taught 4th and 5th grade Art, grew tropical fruit in Hawaii, farmed organic vegetables in Virginia, worked as an environmental farm educator in Northern California, and coached snowboarding here in Colorado. I always thought I would end up as a teacher and, after falling deeply in love with Southwestern Colorado, decided to get my Master's in Education at University of Michigan and return to the four corners area to be a 6th grade Language Arts teacher. I am very excited to be teaching in Ignacio, Colorado!

I am excited to connect with rural teachers in other areas to discuss developing local cultural capital through education. It is absolutely necessary that a student's education directly connect with their authentic experiences, and I am interested in collaborating with fellow rural teachers on how to develop project-based, place-based educational experiences so that students have the skills to share their stories with an audience beyond the classroom. So much of the national conversation about education focuses on schools in cities, which is a conversation definitely worth having, but I am interested in learning more about the specific circumstances, benefits, and challenges that teaching in a rural area presents and connection between rural areas so that we all can grow. Ultimately, I love living in a rural area and want to do what I can to be the best teacher I can for my rural students, and I believe always being open to learning from others is something I can do to work towards this goal.

Shawntasia Butler, 4th and 5th grade FMD teacher
Rodburn Elementary in Moorehead, KY

My name is Shawntasia Butler and I am from Louisville, Kentucky. I have always had a passion for teaching but didn’t begin to work with exceptional children until I was in high school. After peer tutoring, I decided to pursue my degree in special education. I graduated from Morehead State University in the 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education Moderate to Severe Disabilities and Elementary Education, and a minor in psychology. I currently work as a 4th and 5th grade FMD teacher in Eastern Kentucky. In my free time I like to read, take walks and spend time with friend and family.

I wanted to be a part of YEA because it is an opportunity to work with people who are actively working to support rural communities and teachers. YEA will give me the chance to collaborate with rural teachers from across the country and to broaden my knowledge of resources that can help me better support the community I work in.

Joseff Smith, 4th grade teacher
Lyndonville CSD in Western, NY

Motivated Team Leader, Teacher, and Coach. Current 4th Grade Teacher and JV Boys Soccer Coach at Lyndonville CSD in Western, NY. Previously, I taught Math, Science, and History to multiple grades at a private, rural school in North Carolina for two years where I coached soccer. At that same private school, I also led the Early College Program, where over 80% of all HS students were dual enrolled in community college courses and High School classes simultaneously. I also have a 3 year background leading a team in sales, customer service, and marketing for an international company.

Courtney Gillen, 2nd grade teacher
United West Elementary School in Monmouth, IL

Hi there! My name is Courtney Gillen. I am twenty-eight years old and currently teaching second grade at United West Elementary outside the rural community of Monmouth, Illinois. After graduating high school I was recruited to play basketball and soccer at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg where I was not quite sure what I intended to do with my life. Two years went by quickly and my young ambition led me all the way to Eagan, Minnesota where I enrolled at The Travel Academy to pursue a career in the travel industry. From there I obtained a position as a Travel Consultant with the NCAA at Shorts Travel in Waterloo, Iowa, but still something did not feel right. I felt as if my calling was pulling me in a different direction, and what I had to offer the world was far beyond the walls of a cubicle.

I have always had a passion for helping others and working with children, but it wasn’t until I became a Paraprofessional working in a Special Education classroom in a small, rural community that I felt my true calling toward teaching. While sitting on the classroom floor reading with a student living with autism, it was at that moment I realized why God had led me there. It was in this space where my heart’s deepest gladness had met the world’s deepest hunger.

Teachers are no longer just educators, we are counselors, nurses, parents, protectors, and nurturers, advocating and fighting for a better tomorrow for our children. My calling has led me to education because I have the strength, dedication, and passion to make a difference. It is easy to stand in front of a classroom and lecture out of a book, but it takes someone with true heart and determination to see the potential in a student and stop at nothing to help them achieve their dreams. That someone is me.

I believe the strength and heart of a rural community comes from the school and the teachers found within. My goal as an educator is to continue my involvement in the community and provide my students with opportunities to engage their surroundings through place based education. My mission is to cultivate the potential in every student to thrive as a global citizen by inspiring a love of learning and civic engagement, by challenging and supporting every student to achieve academic excellence, and by embracing the full richness and diversity my rural community has to offer.


Nick Foertsch, Social Studies teacher
Milnor Public School in Milnor, North Dakota

As a young educator in the state of North Dakota, I feel like I have a unique perspective when it comes to sharing my experiences on rural communities. Growing up and teaching in different rural communities has allowed me to learn from great individuals, and I would love to help others throughout the country embrace teaching in rural areas, and hopefully help encourage others the same way. The opportunities that have been presented to me in Milnor have been amazing, and that is entirely due to the rural atmosphere.

Adreanna Flint
Cuba-Rushford Central School in Cuba, NY

I just wrapped up my first year of teaching in a rural school. In high school I also attended a small rural school and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I have learned so much this year and realized how differently things are done in rural schools compared to schools that are in the city. One of my student teaching placements was a city school and it is very different from my experience teaching at Cuba-Rushford.

I’m serving on the YEA Council because after a year of teaching I want to advocate for other school districts like mine. I want to know how other districts similar to ours are working on these issues and collaborate with teachers like myself. I enjoy working with other people to share my ideas and learn from others what they are doing to help rural schools.


Theressa Smith, Middle School science teacher
Poison Spider School in Casper, WY

I am a second year science teacher teaching grades 5-8 at a rural school in Casper, WY. This is my 2nd year teaching and my school community has blown me away with how quickly they welcomed and accepted me. I had a wonderful first year, and my community has offered me so much support and caring that I can't imagine wanting to teach anywhere else. As a rural school teacher I have so many more opportunities to incorporate place based learning in my classroom. This helped me build strong relationships with my students, colleagues and parents.

I am looking forward to supporting other rural science teachers through my participation in the YEA Council!

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