HURON — Bright and early this morning, Washington 4/5 Learning Center fourth-grade teacher Erica Boomsma, her student Geovanni Coca and Geovanni’s dad, got on a plane bound for Atlanta, Georgia.
What was waiting on the other end is important — one could say even monumental — for Geovanni in particular and Huron in general, but the trail that led there is a testament to a teacher, her colleagues and a community.
It began last spring.
Boomsma was selected as the Huron School District Teacher of the Year and a few weeks later, was named the S.D. Teacher of the Year. As the Teacher of the Year for South Dakota, Boomsma joined the other 56 winners from across the nation at a series of classes for teachers through the Council of Chief State School Offices (CCSSO) where she met Shanna Peeples, a middle and high school English teacher from Amarillo, Texas, who is the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.
“The theme this year was ‘Equity in the Classroom,’” Boomsma said. “For the first time in like, forever, the teaching focus was on the idea of social and emotional learning, as opposed to being all about content, and teaching the whole child.”
Boomsma noted that teaching the content is always important, but scientific studies have proven that when the child is in a good place in the classroom and feels comfortable, the pathway to better learning is opened to them.
“Her message at those classes was how listening and getting the student to participate could greatly impact how they learn,” Boomsma said.
When Peeples was seeking stories from the teachers in attendance, one of those she chose to hear from was the S.D. Teacher of the Year.
“I was so excited to be able to share our story,” Boomsma said. She didn’t talk about specific strategies or classroom activities, but instead shared a story of a school district with great diversity and how that district has grown with the support of the entire Huron community.
“I told them about the efforts that Huron as a community has made to make every student feel welcome and safe,” Boomsma said. “About how the community has banded together to ensure that each student has the materials that he or she needs to succeed and how that has helped the school district create the relationships that help those students learn.”
Something in what Boomsma was saying clicked with Peeples and she invited the Huron teacher to participate with a dozen other teachers on a CCSSO podcast, in cooperation with Harvard University and she could have a student participate as well.
Boomsma has a classroom full of excellent students, but her immediate thought was to have Geovanni participate in the podcast.
“Well, Geovanni is an excellent communicator,” Boomsma said, “and he is an example of the diversity that is embraced in our community and how it affects his learning.”
“Plus,” she said with a bit of a grin, “I really wanted them to hear from an eloquent, bi-lingual 10-year old.”
Geovanni was born and raised in Huron, after his family immigrated from San Salvador, so while he has roots in Central America, he is Huron from the ground up.
From that podcast, Geovanni was invited to participate in a CCSSO panel discussion at the organization’s national meeting, and that is what put him, Boomsma and his Dad on a plane this morning, bound for the warmth and sunshine of Georgia.
“The panel is titled ‘Improving Conditions for Learning,’” Boomsma said. “It’s really about forming relationships and a sense of belonging.”
Geovanni will be one of three people on a panel, who will be on stage before school administrators from across the nation. Boomsma said that there will be a high school senior on the panel, and a school principal. And Geovanni.
“He is there to represent the children from across the nation.”
Geovanni said that he will be responding to questions from those in attendance and he doesn’t really have any butterflies with the opportunities before him.
“I feel amazing,” he said. “I’m going to Atlanta and will be able to speak about our community to millions of people.” He added that he will encourage the administrators to know more about their students’ lives. “There is always more there than meets the eye,” he said. “For instance, bullying at school and a student’s home life can affect how they learn.” He said he will share that he likes to just talk to his classmates to help them feel better.
Geovanni’s panel will take place Tuesday and it is difficult to tell which is more excited, the teacher or the student.
“I just think that this is so far beyond really cool,” Boomsma said. “The school feeds off the examples that are set in the Huron community. I am so proud of our town!”