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Like many others, the reason Jordan Dischinger-Smedes decided to pursue education is rooted in the impressions of the teachers he had while he was in school. The flexibility of his administration is the reason he stayed. Jordan was drawn to Grand River Prep because he wanted to teach higher-level and Advanced Placement classes. The first few years weren't easy and he almost left teaching! Thankfully he stuck it out and now he's reaching more students than he could ever imagine. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he turned to YouTube to provide additional resources outside of Zoom lectures for his students - only to amass more than 2000 subscribers and over 300,000 video views! His videos have helped students all over the country, and at GRP, score higher and gain college credit.
What I love so much about teaching environmental science is the opportunity to help students see the relevance of environmental science to their experiences and communities. Students receive $1000 of funding each year from the GVSU-sponsored Groundswell program, and design projects to enhance our school’s sustainability. I integrate a sustainability contest so that student voices drive the creation and implementation of the projects, which have included native pollinators and rain gardens in the last two years. This year, students are undertaking their most ambitious project yet. Partnering with the United States EPA on an initiative called Project PEACE by Youth, students are using GIS mapping software to visualize environmental and demographic data in our area. They are using this data and working with GVSU sustainability professor Crystal Scott-Tunstall to identify environmental justice issues that they will create a community service project to address. As a result of the networking they’ve done through Project PEACE, Grand River students are now following the lead of students in Pontiac High School in Illinois to write and advocate for legislation in Michigan that would establish a task force to outline plans for conserving 30% of Michigan land by the year 2030. Students in Illinois have had their senate resolution unanimously passed and are advising our students as we write our own task force legislation.
When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and the College Board announced that AP exams would still be administered, I began producing video lessons for every topic covered on the AP Environmental Science exam. When I saw how well my students responded to the video lessons, I began uploading them to YouTube. In the past year, I have uploaded over 100 video lessons that have been viewed over 200,000 times. My channel has over 1,500 subscribers who regularly watch my video lessons, many of whom are first-year AP Environmental Science teachers who tell me that these videos have become a vital piece of their own courses. In addition to helping others, I was determined not to let the pandemic diminish my students’ opportunity to earn the college credit they had been working so hard for. I hosted twice-weekly Zoom review sessions and mailed home prizes such as tattoos, pins, and local gift cards to reward students for participating in review sessions. I created digital review guides and sent out encouragement videos to try to boost class morale. The result was the highest exam pass rate yet for our AP Environmental science program. This year, I have hosted three-hour, in-person tutoring sessions every Tuesday to support students who are struggling to complete the challenging requirements of an AP course with our hybrid schedule this year. This intervention has resulted in numerous students passing the course who I do not think would have without this support.