Local school partners with college to demonstrate benefits of teaching in a small district


Janae Ash

In an effort to groom young teachers and showcase the beauty of a small-town community and classroom, Pagosa Springs Elementary School (PSES) and Fort Lewis College’s teacher program recently partnered together.
Via a Southwest Rural Educator Recruitment and Retention Project grant, Fort Lewis College was able to send 12 students and two professors, Dr. Andrea Berghoff and Coordinator of Field Experiences William Camp, to monitor PSES fourth-grade teacher Janae Ash’s classroom on Dec. 5, PSES Principal Justin Cowan explained in an interview on Monday.
Additionally, through a $660 grant from the Foundation for Archuleta County Education (FACE), Ash’s classroom was able to conduct a grasshopper dissection experiment that the college students were able to observe, Cowan explained.
This is not the first time PSES has partnered with Fort Lewis College, Cowan noted, adding that the school has seen practicum teachers and student teachers.
“They wanted us to provide a structured observation,” Cowan said. “They asked if they might observe Janae.”
Cowan added that Ash was specifically requested because her “reputation precedes her.”
“She’s been a leader in the district a long time. She dives right into everything that we’re doing. She leads her team in many ways,” Cowan said.
According to Ash, the purpose of Fort Lewis College’s grant is to get future teachers into rural schools.
“Even though a lot of them are working or observing already in Durango’s public schools, there’s a significant difference between Durango’s rural schools, and, say, Pagosa’s,” she said.
Another reason for this project is to show the college students what it’s like to work in a small, rural district, Ash added.
“For the most part they were there to observe teaching practices,” Ash said.
The structured observation for the students featured three parts: a preconference, the observation and a debrief, Ash explained.
“Based on how excited they were, the questions that they asked, I could tell that they got a lot out of the experience,” Ash said.
For the preconference phase, Ash explained that she took time to let them know that Archuleta School District is a great one to work in.
“Just because we’re a smaller district doesn’t mean our kids can’t learn no matter what school you compare them to,” she said.
Cowan added that he believed the student teachers were excited to see what a rural school was like compared to more of a suburban school.
Ash explained that it was an honor to be requested for the students to observe.
“It’s humbling for sure. It’s a great opportunity. I like to give back not just to our school. I think it’s great when Pagosa can get put on the map for doing wonderful work, so I’m always proud to represent my school and my district,” she said. “I was a student teacher once and trying to get into good teacher’s classrooms sometimes is a difficult task.”
Having students observe your classroom also gives current teachers an ability to improve their own practices, Ash added.
In total, Fort Lewis College students and professors spent three hours at PSES, with one hour being spent in the classroom, Ash explained.
“This is a good example of three different organizations working together,” Cowan said of PSES, FACE and Fort Lewis College.
This project is also a good reason to support FACE as a community, Ash noted.
“Because if it hadn’t been for them, there would have been no grasshoppers this year,” she said.