Rolling Meadows High School agriculture team wins Ennis Innovator Award

Kirsten Eubanks and Kendall Wright, agriculture teachers at Rolling Meadows High School, are the winners of the 2023 Dr. Elizabeth A. Ennis Innovator Award from High School District 214.

The legacy of the late Dr. Ennis, District 214's sixth superintendent, lives on through this annual award. It is presented to an employee or team of employees who have demonstrated leadership in the development and implementation of an idea to improve student learning and achievement.

Eubanks and Wright were recognized for their leadership in developing the District's new Agriculture Career Pathway. The two will receive their awards at the District's April 26 Salute to Staff event.

Eubanks and Wright were hired by Rolling Meadows High School five years ago to create an Agriculture Career Pathway that students could connect to. The work began with creating the first-ever NCAA approved Agricultural Biology class in Illinois. Six additional courses have created a dual pathway for students to explore: They can focus on animals in the Veterinary Science opportunities, and plants in the Food Science pathway.

"When we came to District 214, it was a blank slate. The District allowed us the freedom to build this program, and it's been a labor of love," said Wright.

Developing the seven courses has included writing curriculum as well as selecting classroom materials and equipment. The teaching team also founded the Agricultural Advisory Council, a group of school, industry and community stakeholders to help direct the curriculum and keep the program current.

Students who take the introductory Agricultural Biology course and then opt into the Food Science program can take two dual credit courses, Agribusiness and Sustainable Urban Agriculture, in partnership with College of DuPage. Approximately 90 students currently are in the program, which offers both unpaid and paid internships working in the plant beds, greenhouse and other food production systems used by the classes. Students in the Food Science program use the plants and food they grow to run a seedling sale, and also donate some of the food to local food pantries and to Rep's Place, a local restaurant.

The corresponding Vet Science pathway also has grown by leaps and bounds, with 150 students currently enrolled in its three specialized classes-including students who travel to Rolling Meadows from other schools in District 214. New this year is the capstone Veterinary Assisting course, which places students as interns at local veterinary clinics, zoos and animal shelters. Wright has applied for certification from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, with the hope that students can earn an Approved Veterinary Assistant designation as part of the capstone experience.

Wright and Eubanks also have worked to create co-curricular opportunities for students to learn more and practice their skills: the Rolling Meadows Future Farmers of America, now with 216 student members, and the MAST Dog Therapy Program, which has 32 certified dog handlers. Students also participate in competitive quiz bowl and at public speaking competitions. For the first time this year, students participated in the Future Farmers of America competitive vet science events-another chance to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

"For me, an important part of education is offering students transformative learning experiences," Wright said. "We think all the parts of our program are coming together for a program that is life-changing for students-a chance to explore careers and also get a leg up on their future."

She continued: "Over the past five years, I've been gifted the opportunity to build an agriculture program full of phenomenal students who continue to push themselves academically, personally, and professionally within the agricultural industry. So many people have supported us, including our colleagues, administration, our community, and most importantly, our students. Winning this award is humbling and so rewarding because to me, it celebrates everything our program has accomplished and all of the people who worked so hard to make it successful."

Said Eubanks: "I am very excited and I am thankful for the support we have received throughout the process of creating the agriculture pathway. I also appreciate the students who have shown so much interest in the program. Kendall and I have worked closely with countless community members, students, staff, and many others to create the vision and produce the program that will be beneficial to not only our students but our community as a whole."

RMHS principal Eileen Hart said, "Kendall and Kirsten have been incredibly creative in how they have introduced agriculture and sustainability to our students and school community. This is an entirely new and innovative college and career pathway for District 214. In a few short years, they have been able to develop a whole set of courses, as well as the creation of an FFA Club for students to connect to and expand their interest and knowledge of the many aspects of agriculture. In addition, they have also brought a dynamic Dog Therapy Program to RMHS that is very popular with our students and staff."

The District 214 Board of Education established the Ennis Award in 2005, in honor of Dr. Ennis' own leadership during her 15-year tenure of creating advances, including the initiation and growth of the District 214 Vanguard School and the Newcomer Center.

Every year, each District 214 school nominates one individual or team for the award. A District committee - composed of a Board of Education member, principal, support staff, licensed educator and central maintenance personnel - reviews the nominations and selects that year's recipient.

The other 2023 Ennis Award nominees include:

Manny Aguirre, Kristin Oversmith and Michelle Price, Buffalo Grove High School: Aguirre, Oversmith and Price, teachers in the BGHS art department, said they have worked to provide a variety of innovative experiences that allow students to give voice to their ideas and emotions, engage with their peers as well as a larger community of artists, understand career opportunities and gain technical skills for careers in the arts. The department offers career-based learning opportunities including the student-run One Grove Gallery, photography internships, art showcases and a variety of co-curricular projects. In addition, the teachers have been crafting a new Art Animation course to reflect new technologies and opportunities.

Saarah Mohammed, Ami Heng and Pedro Monarrez, Elk Grove High School: Mohammed, Heng and Monarrez led the Festival of Cultures: Golden Globes at EGHS-although they credit the help of many other staff and student participants. The three say they prioritized identity, inclusivity and representation in planning and executing the Festival of Cultures, which included a pep assembly, fashion show, food tasting and an evening cultural program featuring dance. They said they are particularly proud that the event provided students with "a platform to showcase their identity traits and express their authentic selves" as EGHS planned, created and celebrated together as a school body.

Robert Brown, John Hersey High School: Brown said it's been "an amazing year" for the computer science program at Hersey, with projects he feels are helping make District 214 a leader in computer science opportunities for students. Those include: an app-development "Shark Tank"-type experience in AP Computer Science Principles; Hersey Developers, students helping on web development projects for the school; and a reformatted District 214 App Showcase.

Kathleen Rafferty, Prospect High School: Rafferty said she experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in developing the URise (helping U Rise to an Independent Future) program at Prospect High School, which gives students with significant disabilities the opportunity to attend their home high school with the peers they have grown up with and their siblings, while also receiving specialized instruction to meet their individual needs. URise began with eight students, increased to 12 this school year, and will expand to 16 students in 2023-24. The program teaches life and employment skills aimed at helping these young people live independently in the future.

Rebecca Kinnee, Jolinta Voelker, Emily Rodriguez, Charlie Curran, Jen Kuehn, Greg Wallace, Carrie Mattingly, Trisha Tock, Keith Berger, Rolando Rocha, Allison Kulla and Evelyn Sanchez, Wheeling High School: The nominees, members of the Wheeling teacher leadership team, worked together to create Freshmen Foundations, a course to help meet the academic and emotional needs of students post-pandemic. Serving approximately 270 freshmen in its first year, the program includes academic, attendance and participation benchmarks to help students stay "on track," but also is aimed at helping freshmen have a sense of belonging at school, build peer relationships, and cultivate study skills for success throughout high school.

Erin Torrisi, High School District 214's Early College Program Supervisor: Torrisi has worked to expand the District 214 Early College Program, a one-of-a-kind, visionary effort to provide students with an opportunity to earn college credits while in high school. She's helped to build, organize, streamline and promote the program that has grown in 15 years from 12 to 76 course offerings from seven college and university partners, and from 282 student enrollments to more than 10,000-with more than eight of every ten graduates now leaving District 214 with college credit. For students, the opportunities can be life-changing; as Torrisi said, "They're a year ahead of their peers in terms of credits on their transcript, but they're also ahead in terms of confidence in their ability to take rigorous courses, navigate a college campus, and advocate for their dreams."

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.