Ask most people who are familiar with Teton Science Schools (TSS), “What do they do?”, and you’re likely to hear a list including some of the following:
- Wildlife tours through Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Parks
- K-12 education
- Field education programs
- Summer camps
- Graduate education
- Professional development
- AmeriCorps serviceships
What you may not hear is this:
TSS is building a collaborative network of next-generation schools and reimagining rural education across the United States.
And for this, we don’t blame you. For the most part, our work building this network is happening beyond the Tetons by a team that stretches from Jackson Hole to Ohio to Virginia. You might think of them as TSS’ underground force bringing place-based education to the students, teachers, parents, administrators and communities across the US.
So, what is the School Network?
The Place Network is a collaborative network of K-12 schools that connect learning and communities. Launched in 2016, the Network brings TSS’ innovative teaching practices, enduring relationships, integrated curriculum, and global awareness to students and teachers across the nation; specifically rural areas, where many communities are fighting declining populations, geographic isolation and challenging economic situations.
Place Network partners with small rural schools and districts in a multi-year professional development experience. This includes multiple on-site school visits, virtual workshops, share online learning communities, sample curriculum and leadership engagement. Place Network is not a specific curriculum. Rather, it leaves schools with an embedded and contextualized place-based education framework.
After its first full operating school year, the Network now supports 12 schools, has impacted over 600 students and guided over 100 educators and administrators. Our Place Network team has spent thousands of hours traveling, coaching, reflecting, teaching, video-conferencing and most importantly, learning. And that is something worth celebrating!
A Celebration of Learning
As an institution, celebrations of learning are a way for us to both commemorate a project’s culmination while also honoring the learning that ensued along the way. We do them with our students, we do them with the teachers we coach, and so it only makes sense for us to do them as practitioners, too. Put simply, celebrations of learning “compel [us] to reflect on and articulate what [we] have learned, how [we] learned, questions [we] answered, research [we] conducted, and areas of strength and struggles”(source). And, at the end of the day they are powerful opportunities to share our experience.
This week, members of the Place Network team convened in Jackson to participate in a retreat with a goal to reflect, model, connect, plan, build, vision and of course, celebrate. Intentionally “meta,” the sessions were designed to mirror the fundamental values and place-based principles the team uses in their work with Network schools. What was uncovered and shared over the three day retreat exemplified the team’s commitment to excellence, growth, reflective practice, inclusivity, data-driven thinking and providing meaningful pathways for students to make a difference in their own lives and within their communities. What is clear is that there is plenty of important work to be done. What we’re learning is that sometimes it’s best to “go slow, to go fast.”
So what did we celebrate? There was plenty! Aside from the sheer feat of finishing the first full school year as a network, there were some moments worth highlighting:
- We established the first cross-network student advisory where students across the network had the opportunity to lead, share ideas and projects, ask questions and learn best practices from their peers
- 8th grade students in New Meadows, ID designed, built and auctioned a tiny home
- Students in Jackson Hole organized a fundraiser to support food insecurity amidst the government shutdown
- A Wisconsin school organized a Farm Day to share student-driven projects with their community members
- High school students directed a documentary chronicling a community watershed project
- Pre-K students in Idaho built a medical clinic in their classroom to explore the questions of medical care in their community
- Swan Valley Elementary secured local funding for an outdoor learning center and through community effort constructed a greenhouse space in their schoolyard
And so many more! We’re excited to continue our work with current Network schools and partner with three new schools for the 2019-2020 school year. Glad to have you on board Glenwood, Fairview and Central Intermediate!
What to know more about Place Network?