After 23 years, Rochelle Jansen’s search led her to a compost bin in a small learning community in Minnesota City, Minn., and she couldn’t feel more at home.
As of September, Riverway Learning Community has had an extra instructor on campus, of the green variety. The newcomer to the Minnesota City school, Jansen, doesn’t teach math or English. Her brand of lesson plans and quizzes involve a more natural technique.
Jansen is a participant in the Minnesota GreenCorps organization, aimed at educating staff and students about increasing on-site food production, reducing waste and helping to create a rainwater collection system. All for the low price of $0 to the school.
Minnesota GreenCorps, coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is a statewide initiative that places AmeriCorps members at host sites to help preserve and protect Minnesota’s environment while training a new generation of environmental professionals.
Jansen eagerly joined the Minnesota GreenCorps initiative after spending her 2010 summer on different farms along the East Coast, lending a helping hand for a place to sleep and minimum resources in return. Jansen isn’t homeless and desperate for food. She just wants to learn how to run a farm: a sustainable farm, a saw a connection between informing others as well as herself through GreenCorps.
Jansen applied twice to be a Living Green Outreach member for Minnesota GreenCorps and was one of the 26 accepted in September to begin the 11-month program of learning at her Riverway host site. When Jansen arrived as a surprise to the students on her first day, the eager children welcomed her into their classrooms and outdoor spaces.
“Nobody really knew much about recycling,” said seventh grade student Brooke Rayfield, 13. “(Now) I notice there’s a lot less garbage.”
Walking into the building every morning, where classrooms are open and the familiar schoolyard sound of rowdy children is replaced by students individually working on projects and lessons, Jansen and her soft-spoken demeanor fit right in. She communicates with students without talking over them, identifies where their passions coincide with hers, and helps them develop those passions into skills.
And as spring temperatures creep ever nearer, Jansen looks forward to putting these skills to work outside, where she is most comfortable. Riverway learning leader Jamie Harper spends much of his day with Jansen and the seventh through twelfth graders at the school. He said Jansen has provided a great asset to the school by assisting staff and students with specific topics other learning leaders cannot address between hectic math, writing and reading courses.
But taking on such a position was a more difficult feat than Jansen had anticipated. Without a teaching background, Jansen was initially a little uncomfortable at the front of the classroom.
“It took awhile for her to get into that role,” said Harper. “I think she’s been able to fit in fine and make positive relationships.”
Ninth grade student Kayton McKern, 15, has been a student at Riverway for seven years and said Jansen’s down-to-earth teaching style makes topics easy to understand.
“We’ve always focused on gardening but it’s never been comprehendible,” said McKern.
Laurie Krause, director at Riverway, sees Jansen’s involvement with the children as an enhancement to the school’s long-term goals of producing 100 percent of their food on site. Krause places great importance on not only feeding children healthy food but showing them how to grow it on their own, something Jansen can encourage as she completes a program to become a Master Gardener through the University of Minnesota Extension.
“It’s very clear that what we eat determines how we handle our world,” said Krause.
And a passion behind that initiative is just what the school was looking for in a sustainability coordinator. One mention of compost piles and Jansen will respond with wide eyes, starting into a 20-minute conversation, careful not to forget any details.
Jansen has led many individual projects with students, including a secretive garbage and recycling count for one week as well organizing a Green Festival May 14, an event meant to educate children, parents and the greater community about how to live sustainably.
Although these programs are at the forefront of her mind, Jansen spends many hours of the day like a traditional student herself, sitting at a corner desk, reading materials and soaking up as much knowledge as she can find to better equip herself for teaching.
The budding spring weather will also bring many other responsibilities for Jansen as the ground thaws, such as helping with both gardens on-site and building a rainwater collection system.
Jansen is keeping regular records of her work and acting as a resource for community members so her work will have a lasting impact. Jansen is currently on the hunt for members to form a Green Team to take over her place as a sustainability promoter—involving both parents and students in the goal of a more sustainable and healthy school.
“If they’re choosing to send their children here, we’re hoping they buy into the philosophy,” said Krause. “We’re all in this together and we have a part to play.”