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Spring 2004 - Student teaching

Destination Purdue > Spring 2004 - Student teaching

Miles from home: An adventure in student teaching

By Annette Kent

Classes have ended, and few students remain in the one-story brick school house. He picks up the one phone on the reservation and dials the numbers that will connect him to the home he left only months ago. The conversation is brief as Jon Freschly, a Purdue University senior in agricultural education from Rockport Ind., is careful not to run up the phone bill while he speaks of his decision to travel across the country to do his student teaching in the desert.

Freschly’s situation is quite unusual. While most students are venturing to schools near the Lafayette area for their student teaching, Freschly has chosen to travel over 1,700 miles to a Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona. Freschly admits that people were a little shocked about his traveling across the country to teach, especially since he would be isolated in a desert in the middle of Arizona.

"I would say that people were surprised," Freschly said. "It took a lot of explaining and learning on my part. But the agricultural education staff was pretty encouraging - they thought it was a great idea. Freschly's academic advisor, professor Allen Talbert, was one of few who showed little surprise. "Jon's the kind of student who never accepts the status quo," Talbert said. "And to see him taking such a road onl reflects on the type of outgoing personality he has."

And while Freschly may be over 1,000 miles away from his fellow classmates, his student teaching requirements are still much the same as if he were in Indiana. Currently, Freschly's role at Pinon High School, where he is located, centers on teaching the students the basics of agriculture and highlighting its many uses in society.

However, Freschly is not the only college student at the high school. There are a handful of students from various colleges in the Indiana area. As part of his housing, Freschly lives with two Indiana University students, along with many of the high school students in the school dormitories on campus. "Most of the kids live on school grounds because of the distance between their homes and the school," Freschly said. "Many go home on holidays, but the majority of students spend the term here in the boarding houses."

There are roughly 400 students at the high school, and nearly 75 are agriculture students. The reduced class sizes allow Freschly to direct more attention to the more prevalent needs of the students, which might be overlooked in a larger classroom setting. "I've changed my entire teaching approach," Freschly said. "We work on building vocabulary first to make sure the students understand the concepts they're reading, because you can't always assume that they know what the textbook is trying to explain."

And while much of the learning comes from the traditional textbook format, the students also do a great deal of learning oustide of the classroom. "They do soil samples and testing, visit horse stables and study hydroponics (the growing of plants without water) and we're hoping to get a greenhouse soon," Freschly said.

The agriculture students on the reservation also participate in some of the same events that Indiana students enjoy. Just like students in many areas throughout the country, the students on the reservation take part in FFA functions and learn the basics of agriculture. The idea is that this type of exposure will spark their interest in attending a four-year university to broaden that knowledge.

But for now, college is not the immediate goal. "Right now I just want to transfer some of what I know to the people here," Freschly said. "And if I can touch just a couple students, then I know that it was worth it."