Schools, Uncategorized

Vale teacher earns national award

A Vale Middle School teacher was recognized nationally for his work in helping students explore different career paths.

Zach Knapp, a career and technical education teacher at Vale Middle School, was honored in April with a YouScience Innovative Educator Award.

In an April press release, YouScience, an online career guidance tool named Knapp, a trio of teachers from an Arizona high school and another from Colorado, celebrating them as “educators who have implemented innovative approaches.”

Knapp’s approach included organizing a series of field trips for the middle school’s seventh and eighth graders across more than ten industries, from a small local business in and around Ontario to the Bureau of Land Management District office in Vale.

The press release also noted that Knapp, a longtime educator, played a pivotal role in recognizing the gap in health science education and “encouraged and supported” Vale High School’s establishment of a certified nursing assistant program, which the school did this year.

Knapp said he could not take credit for the CNA program beyond “putting a bug in some ears” about eighth graders heading to the high school who showed an interest and an aptitude for the medical field.

“As the Vale Middle School CTE teacher, Mr. Knapp’s innovative approach not only inspires but also empowers our students to reach their full potential,” said Lisa Anderson, principal of Vale Middle School.

Anderson said with the help of YouScience, which takes seventh-graders entering Knapp’s CTE class through a series of assessments and different puzzles and games and then aligns them with a cluster of careers based on their interests and aptitude, Knapp guides them in identifying their strengths and interests. From there, she said, students transitioning to high school have an academic plan tailored to their career interests. 

Knapp, a longtime educator, said the idea is for students to start high school “with the end in mind.” After students go through YouScience, he helps students narrow down their career choices to about two different fields. Knapp said then students then begin working on their 4-year plan for high school. For instance, he said, if a student is college-bound, then they need to take four years of science and three years of math and should be thinking about courses they can take at the high school that will give them college credit.

Becoming a teacher had not always been a career choice for Knapp. When he was young, the Ontario High School graduate said he wanted to be a fish and game biologist. A classmate’s father, a biologist, would come to the school often and give presentations to his class. Back then, Knapp said, it was important to have a “cool job.”

It wasn’t until Knapp told his uncle, a principal at a school on the west side of the state, how much he enjoyed coaching youth basketball over the Christmas break that his uncle told him he had a “twinkle in his eye” when talking about teaching kids.

Later, Knapp volunteered at a local elementary school, where he worked with a youngster who was struggling to learn his multiplication tables. Remembering what his mentor teacher told him about helping kids understand concepts, he said that kids are smart enough to figure things out, and they need someone to explain them in a way that will help them understand.

After about 20 minutes, Knapp threw a couple of problems at the student, which he confidently answered correctly and said he understood, saying, “I get it.”

At that moment, Knapp said, after helping the student work through and getting the concept of multiplying, he knew what he wanted to do and didn’t look back.

Knapp earned a bachelor’s in education from Western University and his master’s in technology from Walden University. He then returned to Ontario and taught seventh-grade science at Ontario Middle School. He later became the math and science teacher at the middle school in Vale and then the career and technical education teacher.

Knapp said the key to the field trips is answering the “why” for students. He said many will wonder what the purpose of going through YouScience and creating an academic plan is before they move on to high school.

One such student, interested in becoming a truck driver, had not found that inspiration until the field trip. The middle school class visited the College of Western Idaho and Vale’s CAPS Auto Truck, among other places.

As everyone was filtering back from the field trips, the student came running up to Knapp, excited about the automotive aspects of the field trip.

Knapp said that prior to the field trip, the student could not understand why he was being asked to complete the assignments. But now, Knapp said, he is “willing to jump through the hoops” and do what’s asked of him because he knows where the work will take him. He said the field trip completely “flipped a switch,” and he completely turned around his grade in the class.

“Now he understands why he needs to do the things that we’re asking him to do,” Knapp said. “Before then, he didn’t care. He didn’t know why he needed to do them.”

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Ruston Munk of Munk Family Dental in Nyssa works with students from Vale Middle School in May during a day-long field trip to explore career paths. (Contributed photo/Munk Family Dental staff)