Teen teacher for elementary students

Nebraska Extension
Cassandra Rodriguez, left, discusses lesson plans with Leo Sierra, center, and Nathan Rice, right, of the Scotts Bluff County Extension office.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Extension

Cassandra Rodriguez, a senior-to-be at Scottsbluff High School, is expanding her horizons this summer in the Teens as Teachers program at the Scotts Bluff County Extension office.

And as a teacher, she is helping expand the horizons of a group of elementary-age children with lessons about different cultures and countries of the world.

She developed lessons regarding different cultures and then shared them with 7- to 10-year-olds (third- to fifth-graders) in a series of workshops titled “Around the World” in Scottsbluff at Guadalupe Center. Cassandra taught the students about Greece, Brazil, Japan, India, France and Egypt, sharing interactive experiences to show how the other cultures live, eat and play.

Cassandra said she loves history and wants to share it. “I want to be a history teacher when I grow up, and exploring different cultures, different countries, different backgrounds of lots of people all over the world has always been fascinating to me,’’ she said. “I thought I could bring my love of discovering other cultures to the kids who are participating.”

This is the fourth year for Teens as Teachers program in Scotts Bluff County. Cassandra’s position is funded by Panhandle Partnership, and she has been trained by Extension professionals. Besides developing her own lessons for the July workshop, she also is spending the summer helping out with the Scotts Bluff County fair and other projects.

Extension professionals Leo Sierra and Nathan Rice have been coordinating the program locally. According to Sierra, the goal of Teens as Teachers is to provide positive learning experiences to under-served audiences by youthful teachers who look like them.

“Panhandle Partnership has been amazing in providing opportunities for youth in our area, especially working with 4-H and Leo extensively in past few years,” Rice said. “Their focus is to reach at-risk kids and new audiences.”

Cassandra learned about the teens as teachers program from an older sister who participated before her. “Thanks to her I found out it was something I could do,” she said.

At Scottsbluff High School, she is in the Teachers Academy, one of the SHS career pathways that helps prepare high-schoolers for their chosen vocations. In addition, she has served as a 4-H mentor to Roosevelt Elementary students as part of a 4-H mentoring program that has been directed for several years by Sierra. Sierra is leaving his Extension position this summer to take a teaching post with Scottsbluff Public Schools.

At the world culture workshops, Cassandra covered two countries per day. “I have some playground games that originated from the countries,” she said, as well as other activities that pertain to each country. Greece, for example, is the home of the Olympics, so during the Greece lesson she led the children in a mini-Olympic games. A key part of the lessons was having the young students try foods from Greece, Brazil, Japan, India, France and Egypt.

Special steps were taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing, facemasks for all participants and teachers, and a hand-sanitizing service.

An important part of the Teens as Teachers experience is providing the teenage teachers with training before they plan and carry out their lessons. In past years the teens have traveled to Lincoln with teen teachers from other counties, where they undergo several days of training on campus.

Because of the circumstances this year, though, Sierra and Rice have provided Cassandra with several days of training locally. They covered a broad range of qualities vital to teaching, such as leadership, communication, authority, behavior management, special elements of 4-H, the philosophy of 4-H applied learning, and curriculum development. According to Rice, an important part of the training is Better Kid Care courses developed by UNL along with Penn State University, which stress the positive youth development foundation central to 4-H.

Cassandra says she hopes the lessons leave the kids with an appreciation of others: “I hope the kids learn to appreciate other people’s diversity and cultures, and hopefully want to learn more and perhaps even go visit one of those countries one day.” ❖