Two Franklin County teachers honored with grants for community-based projects



Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2021 6:10:10 AM
Modified: 12/14/2021 6:09:35 AM

Two Franklin County teachers have been recognized by the Rural Schools Collaborative for project proposals that will engage students in their communities through environmental and cultural learning.

Colrain Central School Service-Learning Coordinator Talia Miller and Academy at Charlemont science teacher Will Miller were named Fellows in the Rural Schools Collaborative’s Celia B. Godsil Grants in Place program, which awards $2,000 to fund each teacher’s proposed project and $1,000 to the educator as an honorarium.

The Grants in Place program is a nationwide program that provides grants to rural school teachers who “engage their student in exemplary place-based learning,” according to the Rural Schools Collaborative’s website. Place-based learning is a teaching method that uses the local community and environment as a foundation for teaching subjects across the curriculum.

Talia Miller

Talia Miller was awarded a fellowship for proposing two separate ideas for students at Colrain Central School. She said these projects came from pondering the question of, “What is this place of Colrain?”

First, the Griswold Memorial Library, which hosts a celebration each May 21 for William Apess Day, a Native American of the Pequot tribe and an early civil rights activist, asked Miller to get students involved. She added it would be “really special” for students to create and plan their own event for that day.

“The first two years, the library and Library Committee planned the events themselves and at the beginning of this school year, the librarian reached out to me,” Talia Miller said. “The library is hoping kids will envision a meaningful event that will help them learn about the history of William Apess.”

Students will work with Drew Lopenzina, a professor at Old Dominion University and an expert on Apess, and with Rhonda Anderson of the Ohketeau Cultural Center.

Second, students will come up with a project dedicated to the North River, which they have done in the past through raising trout and releasing them into the river.

Talia Miller thought the award would be a way to “support all the teachers” at the school and a way to “connect more” with the river and the community. She said the grant provides a “unique” opportunity for students.

“One of the hard things to fund these projects is you don’t know what the kids are going to do until they work together and collaborate,” Talia Miller said. “For students to get a budget and funds to be able to apply toward a project of their choosing … this is a real-life learning experience that wouldn’t be possible without this fellowship from the Rural Schools Collaborative.”

Talia Miller said she has received great support from Principal Amy Looman and Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts Superintendent Sheryl Stanton in pursuing these types of community-based and student-led learning.

She said these types of service learning and place-based learning opportunities provide a chance for students to be “active citizens” while also developing problem-solving and research skills. She noted these projects are often exciting for students, which further motivate them and enhance their learning.

“Projects that kids feel matter make them excited to learn and excited to work hard,” Talia Miller said. “It feels good to get our rural schools recognized. There’s always cool stuff happening, just on a smaller scale.”

Will Miller

Will Miller was named a fellow in the program for his proposal to have students at The Academy at Charlemont construct a “geodesic dome trellis” that will be used to grow vegetables for use in the school or donated to community organizations.

This proposal is an expansion of a project undertaken by his students last year, with this year’s dome planned to be larger in size and as a sort of art piece in front of the school. Will Miller said it is a longstanding tradition of his to have students participate in hands-on learning.

“I saw this as an opportunity to continue the tradition. … The project last spring was such a success, there was so much buzz about it,” Will Miller explained. “We’re hoping to take lessons learned from the first round and make something more visible from Route 2.”

The dome will be constructed out of saplings the students gather, cut and measure by hand, along with recyclable plastic knobs and metal ball-and-socket joints. Last year’s project was 24 feet in diameter and 12 feet high, and this spring’s project will likely be several interconnected domes.

Will Miller said this project develops both educational and practical skills, which is “hugely important.”

“The philosophy around it is it really fosters skills like collaboration and creative problem-solving … developing familiarity with hand tools and dexterity,” Will Miller said. “From a geometry perspective, it’s like moving from a two-dimensional world of whiteboards and paper to something that has its own three-dimensional character that is impossible to create in two dimensions.”

Students will also conduct research and cultivate the plants for biology and science classes. The goal is for the dome to be completed by the end of May 2022.

Beyond the learning component of the project, Will Miller said it’s an opportunity to get to know his students better.

“Learning about them during a project like this is the most rewarding part,” Will Miller said. “I’m very excited to get going.”

He added the project can inspire hope in young students who are coping with the information they’re learning about climate change as they discover “what sustainable food systems can be.”

“It’s empowering students to make a difference and to better understand how our relationship to the Earth can be,” Will Miller said. “I see that as a really crucial and important and meaningful part of my work here, helping steward the students into a place of stewardship themselves.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.


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