Young Educators’ Advisory Council Members Creating Lasting Impacts in their Communities

Three of our Young Educators’ Advisory Council Members lead their students in meaningful Place-Based Education projects this spring.

May 15, 2024 |

Photos from each of the Young Educators’ Advisory Council Members' projects. Left: Student painting from Osbaldo Gonzalez's class. Middle: Two students from Sidney Freeman's Home Economics class with a baked good. Right: a student from Megan Hawkins's class eating lunch.

The Young Educators' Advisory Council is a working group of emergent educators from rural classrooms around the country. Council members advise the Rural Schools Collaborative staff and board on how to support the recruitment, preparation, and retention of young rural teacher-leaders. This includes the creation of resources for rural educators, such as the Rural Teacher Resiliency Guide. The council members come from within our Regional Hub Network, and represent the diverse communities and schools in our partner’s respective service areas.

This year, three of our Young Educators' Advisory Council members led their students in various Place-Based Education projects that connected classroom and community. Rural Schools Collaborative provided a small grant to Osbaldo Gonzalez, Sydney Freeman, and Megan Hawkins to enrich a project for our council members and their students. The trio of teachers worked on these projects throughout the 2023-24 school year, and concluded their semester by sharing their work with their YEA Council peers and the RSC team. These are the stories of those projects, and the impact they had.

Osbaldo Gonzalez - Nyssa, OR

Osbaldo "Ozzie" Gonzalez, 4th Grade Dual Language Teacher.

Osbaldo Gonzalez, an educator at Nyssa Elementary School in Nyssa, Oregon, inspired his students to explore their rural community by prompting them to envision a place that brings them joy and translate that vision into a painting. Honoring the significance of fostering a sense of pride and connection among his students, Osbaldo’s interdisciplinary project incorporated history and geography into this Place-Based Education initiative, enriching their learning experience while nurturing their appreciation for their local surroundings.

“Each painting was so unique, you could really see their passion for their place come to life.”

Osbaldo's students making their paintings.

Each student’s painting revealed a unique perspective on rurality, highlighting the diverse experiences and senses of place within their remote community on the Idaho border. By fostering a safe and encouraging environment, Osbaldo provided a platform for his students to express themselves authentically through their art, drawing from personal stories and connections. Their paintings vividly captured scenes ranging from their family farms and the school grounds to the local ski slopes, reflecting the rich tapestry of their rural community.

One student's painting of how they see their community.

Osbaldo's guidance extended beyond technical skills, as he empowered each student to follow their own creative instincts and design choices. His approach resonated deeply with the class of third and fourth graders, evidenced by their intense focus and passion during art sessions. "When it comes to art time, they get serious. You could hear a pin drop; they are all so quiet and passionate about their work,” Osbaldo remarked on their dedication. Now that the painting period is over, Osbaldo and his students are excited to showcase their work to their parents and community at an upcoming art show day.

Sidney Freeman - Livingston, AL

Sidney Freeman, Grade 9-12 Science teacher.

Sidney Freeman, Secondary Science Teacher at the University Charter School in Livingston, AL., has a passion for helping students and families in her community with food insecurity. Her project, titled ‘The Harvest’, encouraged students to learn about finding and utilizing sources of food they might not otherwise know about. On Wednesday mornings, Sidney teaches an elective Home Economics course, which introduces students to healthy food choices. Her project this year added in local flair to the unit: first studying, then cleaning and preparing wild game—a valuable skill set for sustaining themselves and their families.

Students preparing a meal together.

The culmination of 'The Harvest' is a Place-Based Thanksgiving celebration, hosted by Sidney at her family home. This celebration of learning provided a meaningful and memorable experience that brought together education, community engagement, and the simple joy of sharing a meal with her students. During this event, students actively participated by working at various preparation stations. As a student-centered educator, this work was student-led, and students were able to learn by doing while gaining a greater appreciation for the food.

“I can’t tell you how much it makes my heart sing to host my students, and see them interact, in my space. This event means so much to all of us, and I am just so thankful for the opportunity.”

Sidney's class sharing their Place-Based Thanksgiving meal.

Beyond the culinary tasks, the Place-Based Thanksgiving also served as a platform for students to showcase their newfound knowledge about food sources and healthy eating choices. Through interactive discussions, students also cultivated a sense of responsibility towards their community and environment. As students worked side by side, exchanging ideas and lending a helping hand, they forged meaningful connections with each other and with the broader community that helped along their learning journey. The joy and satisfaction of sharing a meal that they have contributed to create fostered a sense of pride and accomplishment, instilling in them a lifelong appreciation for the value of teamwork, learning through experience, and giving back to their families and community.

Group photo of Sidney and her students celebrating their Place-Based Thanksgiving celebration.

Megan Hawkins - Shoals, IN

Megan Hawkins, High School Animal Science & Engineering Teacher.

Megan Hawkins is a High School Animal Science & Engineering Teacher at Shoals Community School in Shoals, Indiana. Megan embodies commitment to hands-on learning and community engagement through her collaboration with the farm-to-school program. Under Megan's guidance, students delved deep into the intricacies of plant and animal sciences, immersing themselves in the greenhouse to gain practical knowledge about cultivation and sustainability. This experiential approach extends beyond the classroom as students actively participate in growing and preparing food for both the school cafeteria and the local farmers' market, instilling a sense of responsibility towards healthy food practices and community involvement.

Students working in the school garden.

Megan's project was highlighted by a field day event, where students led various activities and games that not only entertained but also educated attendees about the farm-to-school program's mission and impact. This hands-on leadership experience empowered students to hone their organizational skills, public speaking abilities, and teamwork dynamics, all while exploring their passion for agriculture and the outdoors.

Furthermore, Megan fostered partnerships within the community, exemplified by the collaboration with a local farmer who generously donated part of his cornfield for a corn maze, a highlight of the field day. This relationship not only added an element of fun and adventure but also underscored the interconnectedness between community engagement and food production. Megan's students also participated in the corn harvest, gaining firsthand insights into the agricultural cycle and contributing to the sustainability efforts by providing feed for the school's livestock.

Students continue working in the school garden.

Through Megan's innovative approach and dedication, students not only acquire academic knowledge but also develop critical life skills, environmental stewardship, and a deep appreciation for the food systems and community engagement. Her leadership and collaborative efforts have undoubtedly left a lasting impact on her students and the broader community.

“The work ethic and life skills that are taking place are invaluable. To the students, the end result and the impact on the community they are having are clear, it makes them not mind the pen to paper work. They take so much ownership when the project is engaging.”

Thank you to our Regional Hub partners, for their partnership with our Young Educators’ Advisory Council. And, thank you to Osbaldo Gonzalez, Sidney Freeman & Megan Hawkins for their dedication to their students and community, through these Place-Based Education initiatives.

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