“Protect the Nest”
By Mayra V. Moreno
When I first entered Corning Union High School (CUHS) I came across a mural that faced the entrance of the school cafeteria. The mural read “Protect the Nest.” The words were flanked by the school mascot, cardinals, gritting their teeth with a look of determination in their eyes. I wondered whether this was just an imposed slogan to stoke school spirit, or if it was a sincerely held value. Further investigation of the community and interviews with the inhabitants revealed that fortitude and determination were absolutely core values in the community, and to the high school established there over 120 years ago.
During these interviews with diverse members of the community, a consistent pattern emerged. They sincerely cared about their neighbors, and put great value on altruism within the community. I conducted an interview at Corning City Hall and met an office employee who was born and raised in Corning. With plain affection, she explained her perspective,
The good thing about Corning being a small town, like with many rural small towns, when there’s something going on, a child is sick, someone loses their home, whatever. The community rallies to support the families, and they always have. So, that’s a plus of living in a small rural community, even when you don’t know ‘em, people rally to help them. (Office employee, personal communication, June 14, 2018).
This strong sense of group identity is what preserves the tradition and well-being of Corning.It is clear to me that the spirit of the people in Corning is best described as an agape love for its members.
While on a walk around the whole CUHS campus it is easy to notice the young almond orchards, open fields, mature olive groves, and middle-class residences that surround the high school. The vistas outside the classrooms are resources that are often overlooked as possible tools for developing place-based lessons. Students should be given opportunities to participate in the identification of problems, then allowed to synthesize plans and carry out actions for projects. The experience often leads to a deeper understanding of one self, identified with a place, and pride in its creation and development. Through consistent examples, children learn that group membership carries responsibilities to each other and in the direction of their community.
While almost all community members interviewed radiated community pride, rural communities like Corning face their own set of daunting challenges. Teen births and drug abuse are issues that touch all communities, even quiet rural towns. A shift is necessary. A child exposed to drug abuse is just one of many traumas identified as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and can lead to toxic stress and life-long chronic health and/or mental issues in the individual (Center for Youth Wellness, 2014). In an educational context, ACEs can sabotage motivation and ability to engage in learning. The prevalence of these serious problems is a clear sign that the slogan “Protect the Nest” must be a guiding principle.
As an educator, I will seek to use the strengths of a rural community to address its biggest problems. A classroom founded on community ideals will inculcate the values of agape love, respect, determination, and group identity I have seen community members express. Place-based instructional methods can promote loyalty for the community and promote the personal agency, crucial to democratic life. The empathy and awareness natural to Corning residents can be greatly enhanced and strengthened by holistic, inclusive, and equitable teaching practices.
In the words of educational founding father John Dewey (1899/1964), “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy” (p. 295). My time in Corning demonstrated to me the deep importance of the connections shared by community and school. They will always, for better or for worse, be tied together. Identifying strengths and weaknesses, claiming a participatory role individually, and sharing ideas and burdens within the community, can bring the present reality and the ideal closer together, and allow us to better “Protect the Nest.”
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