Jeff Charbonneau, a teacher from Zillah High School and selected as the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, spoke at this year’s WSPTA Convention. Zillah High School is located in a rural agricultural community in Eastern Washington. They are a minority majority high school with 50% of their school population receiving free and reduced lunches. In terms of funding, Zillah ranks 9th from the bottom in dollars per student, yet Zillah High School has a 96% graduation rate. In fact, when students graduate from Zillah High School, they have almost earned an Associates of Arts degree, with 69 college credits currently available for students to earn on-site. Charbonneau shared with PTA members how their school is able to succeed, despite the obstacles they face.
“I teach students of all backgrounds to be successful no matter what the circumstance because that’s what I’ve been asked to do, he said. “We also work as a team--parents and educators--we are a unified voice for the children.”
Charbonneau has been instrumental in creating the STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) program at Zillah, and also spearheads the robotics program, but he explained that rather than teaching robotics, chemistry, physics or engineering, he really sees his job as teaching confidence, self-sufficiency, courage, legacy and citizenship.
“When you stop looking at the robots and look at the faces of the kids instead, you can see they are learning confidence that they can and will achieve if they simply step up to the plate and try. I don’t care that I create the next generation of scientists, I care that I create the next generation -- that’s what’s most important,” he said.
To instill confidence, Charbonneau takes students, along with parent chaperons, into the mountains for an outdoor adventure and they learn self-sufficiency. “You have to know how to take care of yourself so your group is self-sufficient,” he explains. “This is important because in work and in school you have to know how to work in a group, but to be successful in group work, you first need to be able to take care of yourself.”
As an assistant drama director, he gives students the courage to try new things and to excel to their best of their abilities. He also is the advisor for the yearbook and encourages kids to look into the past and learn from the legacy of the students who came before them. “There are social disparities among every generation. In the class of 1919 just as in my student’s class, they had the same hopes and dreams for their future,” Charbonneau related.
As ASB advisor, he teaches students that “sometimes in order to make something beautiful, you have to put some work into it.” From this, students learn about citizenship.
Finally, Charbonneau explained that to teach kids to overcome the obstacles they face, they need to learn that they cannot stop what they are doing and let someone else take care of them; but rather, kids need learn that they can get up and find their way around or over the obstacles they face.