New Faculty for our Professional Learning Programs
Jorge Yagual recently joined Shelburne Farms as professional learning and farm to school educator. His journey here perfectly captures the rippling impact of our work with educators.
“Living and working for almost 20 years in New York City was never going to be sustainable for me,” Jorge explains. “I needed a plan to move on. I didn’t know how exactly it would happen, I just knew that it would. I kept telling Bernard (his English Bulldog), every time we climbed the four floors to our apartment, ‘This is one less time that we’re doing this.’ Every day for 2½ years. And it happened!”
At first, Jorge was simply looking for ways to make his teaching more interesting. As a dietician / nutrition educator for preschool programs for more than a decade, he was implementing a USDA program called “Eat Well, Play Hard.” The program was designed to address the issue of childhood obesity by improving meals and creating a culture of health and wellness within the city’s day care system.
“I felt that I was teaching the same nutrition curriculum over and over and I was just getting bored.” So were his students, he thought. “I needed something to bring more life to it.”
He found Shelburne Farm’s workshop, Project Seasons: Cultivating Joy & Wonder. “That’s where the whole journey started. I came here looking for more tools and ideas to add to my teaching skills toolkit. But I got really excited and inspired.”
Back in the city, he added activities to his lesson plans and shifted his teaching techniques. For outdoor activities especially, he’d start by asking children, “What do you expect to see?” Afterwords, they’d reflect, “Was it what you were expecting?” Jorge found that these simple shifts helped kids relate to the learning experience. “Children were making more connections with the world around them.”
“The teachers really saw a difference in my approach,“ Jorge notes. “And they could see that the children were more engaged and eager to learn. ‘Mr. Jorge is coming tomorrow! Yay!’ the students would say.” Some teachers started applying Jorge’s methods.
So Jorge looked for other ways to get back to the Farm. He later participated in a year-long leadership academy and our Education for Sustainability Summer Institute. “That’s what kind of sealed the deal for me. It was very inspirational.”
“It helped me see that my practice of nutrition was just one tiny piece of the whole puzzle of food, food systems, sustainability, and building resilient communities,” he explains.
“The Farm is addressing the big endeavor of being sustainable by working through the educational system.” he continues. “That’s really key. It’s bringing in teachers and inspiring them to change their paradigm and see things in a different way so they feel empowered, and in turn they’ll go back to their classrooms and inspire others. Because this is what happened to me. I got inspired here and I went down to the city and inspired teachers – not everyone, but a lot of them.
“So I truly believe in the model. Everyone who comes here goes back home saying, ‘Wow. I just saw something magical. Now how can I apply that?’ It may be one small way (because we learn a lot here), but that is like a seed that’s going to germinate and create more change.
“I feel like I’m no longer a dietician. I am an educator,” Jorge states. Because of the job I did for eleven years teaching preschoolers and working with teachers and food service, I found my new career. When I came here, it opened my world. The Farm gave me another choice, another option.”
How does he find it working primarily with adult educators now? “It’s exciting and challenging,” Jorge answers. “But where there are challenges that’s where we grow. And I have the skills to relate to others and build rapport. If I always assume the best intentions and I’m open to whatever a person says, and if I listen mindfully, I’m going to find a way to move a person away from any place of resistance, even if it’s just a little bit. That’s how we’re going to make changes.”
As for Bernard, Jorge beams, “I’m so happy for Bernard! I never thought he was going to be a happy dog. He was so skittish. And he would hide when he saw the leash to go outside. Here, he can’t wait for me to open the door. He’s a happy dog now, he smiles all the time.”
Jorge smiles quite a lot, too.