Spotlight Writer-Jeff Grinvalds

Jeff GrinvaldsPersonal:
A man who loves his wife, two children and a good game of Scrabble.  Also a lover of the Huskers, Nebraska, and literature.

Currently teaching English at Ashland-Greenwood High School . Also in charge of the A-Town Author's Club, the Speech and One Act teams, and much, much more!
(**since this posting, Jeff has moved and is teaching at Westside High School in Omaha)

NeWP Involvement:

Attended the Nebraska Writing Project in the summer of 2003.
Participated in the NeWP II with three other dedicated teachers the Fall of 2004.
Attended the Nebraska Literature Project in the summer of 2005.
Attended the National Tech. Writing Retreat in Nebraska City in the summer of 2005.
Currently on the NeWP Technology Committee.
Recipient of a Minigrant that brought Slam Poets to Ashland-Greenwood High School in 2003.

My Experience With Place Based Education:

As a Student ...

I wasn't aware of the term “place based education” until I discovered the Nebraska Writing Project two years ago. However, as I reflect my own education, I can recall a few experiences with place that linger still. I am not sure how old I was when I was asked to write a history of Yutan, but I still recall the hand bound book in the library that held the images of my town within its worn bindings. I remember how Chad Rowell and I thought we had discovered some sort of hidden treasure as we turned the pages to see the evolution of Yutan from dirt roads to paved streets. The portrait of Chief Itan hanging in the Whitehouse and the tornado of 1913 are two particular pieces of history that have become a part of my psyche. I don't remember the actual paper I wrote about Yutan, but I remember the research. I remember actually caring about what I learned. It did not feel like an exercise in rote, but an adventure of discovery.

In college, I took a class called “Small Groups” in which we would learn about small group dynamics through problem solving. My professor always chose projects dealing with local issues. The project I will never forget was when she asked us to alleviate the smell of the Hormel plant in Fremont , Nebraska . I worked with four other group members in an attempt to come up with creative initiatives that would prevent the stench of boiling blood and meat parts to penetrate the sensitive nostrils of the members of our community. I don't remember our solution, but I remember that we were wrong. We had not done any of the footwork necessary to really deal with the issue. Our professor chided us because we had not made a trip to Hormel nor had we even made a simple phone call. I learned much from this experience. I now teach my students to utilize local resources. I had been educated in a sterile bubble up to that point, and it was that Hormel project that opened my mind to the idea that there is more to learn outside the classroom than inside.

As a Teacher...

When I taught for two years in Stapleton, I learned a lesson about not understanding place. To use a common cliché, I was a fish out of water. Even though I had grown up in a small town and attended a small school, I was not prepared for the ultimate rural experience that was Stapleton. During my first week, I walked into the local supermarket and asked if they had any chicken. The response (after a glaring look) was “it's beef season.” I later learned that ranchers do not like poultry because it cuts into their market share. So I tried to teach the way I had been taught, and I think I failed for the most part. I did not understand my students, and they did not understand me. Although we all spoke the same basic language, we were not communicating.
After volunteering with AmeriCorps in Lincoln , I came face to face with how place affects learning. I worked with kids who lived in conditions that I had only read about in poverty studies. I helped students from other countries trying to adjust as refugees. I am sure that this experience made me understand the importance of place without any sort of formal education.

My next teaching experience was in Humboldt , Nebraska , another small school in a small town. I was better prepared for this experience because regionally, Humboldt is much more like Yutan than Stapleton was. I also began to incorporate place into my teaching. One of the worthwhile projects I attempted was to take my Junior Basic students to the nursing home to interview elderly men and women about the 1920's. We were reading The Great Gatsby , and I thought it would be more interesting for them if they learned what the 20's were like for people in Nebraska compared to the wealthy people in the novel. I'm sure I got more out of this experience than my students. It was an eye opener to see what a wealth of knowledge there was in that forgotten rest home.

Now, after six years in Ashland , I am still not incorporating place-based education as much as I would like to. I am too comfortable with my English Survey curriculum that deals with short stories, poems and novels. I do incorporate place into my composition classes, but I feel that I would be a stronger teacher if I wove some local presence into all my teaching. I guess the question is how? What can I do with my freshmen while still focusing on STANDARDS that will give them a stronger sense of place?

I read the examples we are given and I am overwhelmed by how much some of these schools do to incorporate their local place into the school and vice versa. I find myself toying with ideas to do the same here, but then I know the roadblocks that stand in my way. Last year I had a big idea. I wanted to have students create a website to share their writing with other students creating a space for showcasing and feedback. This has been an ongoing goal. In addition, I thought I could get the FBLA on board to help make this website more than just a place for student writings, but a place for student advocacy and community groups as well. I envisioned a space where the Ashland Community could visit to see what students are doing in school, offer feedback, and also see what else is happening in Ashland . I thought that students could learn web page building while making a site for each business and group here in town. We could also include surrounding towns that are now a part of Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools including Wan, Memphis , Greenwood and Ashland . This was a big idea that didn't seem to garner any support from the administration or other teachers. I will continue making attempts to build support for this idea to create this online community. I know that if I can just get my students interested and excited, then others will follow.


Where are you going my little one, little one.

She stands in front of the church with ten other little children, and I'm taken aback by how beautiful little kids can be. When they aren't running around screaming, breaking, destroying… when they are dressed and clean and not dirty and grubby… when they are smiling and not angry or whining… they are beautiful.

Maija is my daughter. She's the one in the purple dress with purple velvet pants. I asked her where she got the dress because I'd never seen it before, and she said she didn't know either. She is four. And she is the perfect age. Innocence combining with experiences… her life is a constant tumult of the good and bad. And sometimes it gets ugly. But up there, singing her preschool Christmas songs, doing the little actions, hair neatly combed and curled… there is no question of her perfection. I see no hint of her rage and temper. Behind those blue eyes, one could not guess the wild child that stirs beneath.

Of course this kind of magical moment cannot last forever, and as soon as the singing is finished and the candy canes have been handed out, she is “shooting" people with her candy cane making gun noises. And when all three of us, grandma, grandpa and I tell her not to shoot people and especially not in church… she laughs and shoots them anyway.