Barry McNamara  |   Published April 04, 2019

Learning About Place-Based Education

On trip to Wyoming, education majors learn how schools can shape rural communities.
  • Pictured during a snowshoe hike of the Kelly Campus of the Teton Science Schools are the five Monmouth students who participated in the educational studies trip to Wyoming. From left: McKenzie Campbell, Kylee Payne, Aleeka Gentzler, Courtney Eklund and Nathan Schroeder.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – A group of Monmouth College educational studies faculty and students had a mind-opening experience on a recent trip to Wyoming.

“This was a critical moment in our students’ education,” said Craig Vivian, chair of the educational studies department. “It really changed their ideas about how communities can be changed through education.”

In all, six Monmouth faculty made the March 19-23 trip with five students, who are part of the College’s Teachers Allied with Rural Towns and Neighborhood Schools initiative, also known as TARTANS. Also traveling were three teachers from Central Intermediate School in Monmouth.

The trip’s purpose was to study Teton Science Schools, which has a mission of “inspiring curiosity, engagement and leadership through transformative place-based education.”

Place-based education immerses students in the ecology, economy and culture of their area before they study more distant parts of the globe.

“Going to the Teton Science Schools has forever changed my views on education,” said Kylee Payne ’19 of Monmouth. “I hope and plan to instill the natural learning that takes place in the world around us.”

The Monmouth Educational Studies Department is in the early stages of learning more about place-based education and incorporating it into its curriculum. Central’s sixth-grade teachers are in their first year of implementing it.

“What was striking to me is the variety of ways that place-based education can be implemented,” said Jennifer Dickens, who is the College’s assistant director of teacher education. “It had a different look at the two schools we visited. It’s very adaptable to the place it’s being used.”

“I was very impressed by the academic rigor of the students doing the projects,” said faculty member Tammy La Prad. “They were very engaged with what they were doing.”

The Monmouth group met with the staff at The Journeys School in Jackson, Wyo., and Teton Valley Community School in Victor, Idaho.

“They were very full days,” said Vivian. “We got started around 7 a.m., and some nights we didn’t finish until 9 p.m.”

“I most enjoyed the connections I made with my peers and the faculty, as well as the opportunities for all of us to be learners together,” said McKenzie Campbell ’20 of Monmouth.

Vivian said the trip was part of a larger goal for the department to serve as an “incubator for teacher visionaries.”

“Our students will be able to function in their environments – wherever that may be – a lot better after having this experience,” he said.

“And it was impactful to them in different ways,” said faculty member Michelle Holschuh Simmons. “We had sophomores, juniors and seniors on the trip, and they each got something out of it depending on where they had progressed in the TARTANS program.”

“I learned that giving the students personal choice in their learning allows them to be able to connect to the information,” said Nathan Schroeder ’21 of Watseka, Ill. “Through that personal connection, they have more invested. Rather than just reading and writing, they have a connection to the materials they are learning.”

The trip was made possible by a gift from Joanne Moy ’70 and Michael Robinson, who Simmons said “are very involved in educational development.”

In a note to the students who took part in the trip, Robinson wrote, “We need young persons who become truly studied and prepared to teach those who will take over the reins of business, professions and government from the previous generation.”

The students will share their findings about place-based education at the College’s Scholars Day on April 16, presenting posters from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Huff Athletic Center fieldhouse.

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