Updates from the 2022 National Signature Project Awardees

December 14, 2022 |

Each year, the National Rural Education Association (NREA) and Rural Schools Collaborative (RSC) accept applications for the National Signature Project Award (NSPA), a $2,500 grant to an outstanding and innovative classroom project that exemplifies the very best in place-based education. This year, due to the vast amount of incredible proposals, RSC and the NREA have chosen to award two additional rural teachers for the first time, each receiving $1,500 toward their individual place-based education projects. NREA and RSC are excited to share a mid-project update from each of the three recipients!

Lara Belice (Cooke City, MT); Abby Jones (Gibbon, NE); Chris Robinson (Lynn, IN)

Lara Belice, "United States History Through a Bison Lens"

Lara Belice, the sole teacher for Cooke City School in Montana, has been enjoying her 2022 National Signature Place-Based Project, "United States History Through a Bison Lens." In October, following the reopening of the Northeast entrance and road since the June flood damage, Lara and her students spent the day in Yellowstone National Park. Accompanied through the northeast corner of the park by Jim Garry, a local bison expert, historian, and professional storyteller, students learned about the geology of the landscape and how it relates to the geology of the Beartooth Mountains, where the group backpacked in September. Jim also shared a wealth of knowledge of specific bison facts and the relationship bison have to other species in the ecosystem.

Lara Belice's Students
Lara Belice's students with Jim Garry in Yellowstone National Park

While in the park, students saw a boar grizzly - at a safe distance - using the Swarovski spotting scopes, which the local hotel allows the school to borrow for free. There were many pronghorn mixed in with the bison, too. Students also enjoyed a short hike to view the thermal vents and geology along the upper Yellowstone River.

Lara and her students will meet with Jim in May to wrap up the yearlong study, when the red dogs (baby bison) are frolicking around the high country meadows and the students have more knowledge of their own on the topics of study.

Belice's student's artwork on display at the local United States Post Office

Students were eager to get back to their schoolhouse after their lesson with Jim to create their own bison-inspired artwork. These classroom art projects were made, as a warm up to a more involved three-dimensional bison art project, which will occur later this school year with the guidance of a local professional artist. The students’ artwork is currently on display at the school's personal local gallery - the Cooke City United States Post Office.

Abby Jones, “Flavors & Foliage”

Abby Jones, of Gibbon Public School in Gibbon, Nebraska, and her students have been hard at work on their project, “Flavors & Foliage.” Inspired by the diverse population of their school, Abby and her students hope this project will give migrant students and students with Spanish-speaking parents the opportunity to celebrate and share their native cultures in their school.

Jones' students planting trees on campus

Abby’s students have been making improvements to their school’s greenhouse, which will hold most of their project’s seeds and plants. Students have begun researching plant life in different Spanish-speaking countries and which plants will be suitable for their environment in Nebraska. To kick off the agricultural collaboration, Abby’s Spanish 4 students have been planting trees around our school campus. Over the winter, Abby and her students look forward to visiting many local greenhouses and restaurants to prepare for planting in the spring.

Jones' students planting trees on campus

Chris Robinson, "Farm to Fork"

Robinson's students learning from the dairy farm owners

Chris Robinson and her students at Randolph Southern Elementary School in Lynn, Indiana, have enjoyed their Dairy Day of their “Farm to Fork” project! To kick off the dairy unit, local Purdue Staff came in and discussed dairy farming and the process of getting milk to consumers, and Chris and her students made homemade butter. The following day, the group went to the actual dairy, which is only about eight miles from their school.

Robinson's students sharing an ice cream cheers with their homemade ice cream!

Students were led on a tour of the dairy by the owner and his family, who run the facility. The family is Dutch and talked to the students about following their dreams and never giving up. Chris and her students finished the day by making homemade ice cream at school!

Students will continue the project through two additional units (poultry and forestry), journaling about what they learn and the people they meet along the way. The next unit of the “Farm to Fork” project is the Woods Study and will take place in January. At the end of the school year, students will participate in 4-H Animal Science Projects, including the judging in July. Students will also create storyboards about each “Farm to Fork” topic covered throughout the school year, sharing their knowledge with the community.

“My students loved the dairy unit! They have really enjoyed learning more about the agriculture that lives within our community.”

NREA and RSC are very proud to support these three incredible rural teachers in making a positive impact with their students in their communities! We look forward to continued updates as their National Signature Projects progress.

Thank you to the National Rural Education Association for co-sponsoring this program. NREA is the nation's oldest rural education organization, and we are honored to partner with them in this effort.

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