Place-Based Educators Bring Meaningful Change to Rural Schools

The Rural Schools Collaborative (RSC) is a key partner in Teton Science Schools’ Place Network, a group of interconnected rural K-12 schools that brings learners and communities together for the benefit of both. As part of their work, the RSC makes grants available to support rural teachers and schools to carry out projects that increase the vibrance and viability of their schools and communities.

Most recently, the RSC’s 2021 Catalyst Grants Initiative will help establish four new rural teacher corps programs. Recognizing education’s role in sparking meaningful change, this targeted philanthropy aims to recruit and develop teachers who are community leaders, skilled communicators, and true collaborators. The cohort-based effort will add these four universities to its previously established network: Morehead State University, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, University of North Dakota, and the University of Wyoming.

Through their Grants in Place program, the RSC recognized nine outstanding educators with awards to support work with their students on place-based action research projects this school year. Three of the recipients are teachers in Place Network schools and we thought you’d enjoy learning more about these inspiring educators and their innovative projects!

Allie Cunningham teaches kindergarten at University Charter School in Livingston, Alabama and her project is titled “Paint It Out: Addressing the ACEs Through Art.”

Alexandria “Allie” Cunningham is a kindergarten teacher at the University Charter School in Livingston, AL. Allie is an Alzheimer’s advocate and has a passion for writing. Allie’s place-based project is called Paint It Out: Addressing the ACEs Through Art, where her students use art mediums as a means to express their social-emotional development. ACE stands for adverse childhood experience, and this project is a positive way for students to work out their own social-emotional challenges. On a walking field trip around the University of West Alabama, students visited statues and various art features around campus. The students used their experience to talk about how the art made them feel to reflect on how different places can make them experience different emotions. At the end of April, the students showcased their work from throughout the year in an art show for the community.

Shawn Schumacher teaches K-5th grades in the Blaine County School District of Idaho and her project is called “Getting our Greens On.”

Shawn Schumacher teaches art at Hailey Elementary School in Idaho. She loves anything in the outdoors- especially gardening, mountain biking, wildflower identification, skiing, and nature journaling. She is learning how to garden at over 5,000 feet with her husband Ben and son Sage, and they love sharing that passion with others. Shawn participated in TSS’ Place-Based Education Deep Dive over the summer of 2020 and applied her learnings to this project working with the special needs students at her school to create high-altitude garden boxes that they can use to observe plant growth and do art lessons based on their observations.

Bridget Larson teaches middle schoolers at Glenwood School in West Plains, Missouri, and her project is named “Poverty and Wealth.”

Bridget Larsen is a middle school math teacher at a rural school in South Central Missouri who enjoys everything math and has a passion for helping students learn and grow. She also serves on RSC’s Young Educator’s Advisory Council. Outside of teaching, she loves the outdoors, crafting, and spending time with her family. Her young son keeps her on her toes, and they are always on a new adventure.

Students explored the differences in poverty and wealth across different place-based levels from local to global. Throughout this project, students worked toward creating a sculpture representation of poverty and wealth, as well as a proposal presentation to local outreach programs in an effort to positively impact their community. Engaging activities allowed students to gain insights into their personal connections to poverty, the challenges faced by impoverished families, some of the opportunities and efforts available for support, and much more.

You can learn about all of the 2020-2021 Grants in Place Fellows from the Rural Schools Collabortive here. We look forward to continuing our support of RSC’s work in building strong and sustainable rural communities.

Want to find out more about how Teton Science Schools Place-Based Rural School Network exists to provide an equal opportunity for all learners to make a difference in the world? Start with this video.

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