“When we let kids own their projects and experience real world activities, they want to come to school.”
The Champions of Learning Awards are a collaboration between the Consortium for Public Education and United Way’s Be There Campaign, that recognizes adults in western Pennsylvania who go above and beyond to create opportunities and motivate students to meet their greatest potential. JR Pilyih was presented with a Champions of Learning Award this year for his incredible commitment to kids in our region.
Throughout his entire life, JR Pilyih has expressed a passion for helping young children. During high school, he took an elective course where he helped in the school’s nursery and decided through that experience that teaching was the career for him.
“Working with the kids there made the decision for me. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” JR remembered.
Now, as a teacher at Center Elementary in Plum Borough for more than 15 years, JR Pilyih has an incredible commitment to his students and goes above and beyond to teach them with innovative experiences. He seeks out ways to add unique opportunities into his curriculum by applying for grants, developing new strategies and creating STEM and real-world opportunities for his students.
JR assisted with an after-school club for fifth and sixth graders who planted and managed an indoor classroom garden, where they grew flowers, lettuce and herbs using aquaponics and hydroponics to do everything inside. They even created a small business for the garden. This past year, JR changed jobs and transitioned this project into his classroom where 45 fourth grade students rebranded the business and added on worm composting and decided to sell reusable water bottles.
Throughout the process of running their own business, the kids learn life and math skills. They developed a pricing strategy and budget, and they even made a philanthropic commitment to Oceana.org to save a sea turtle.
“In my classroom, I teach persistence and perseverance. It’s not always about the test scores, it’s more about working as a team and putting soft skills into practice,” JR said.
JR was nominated for a Champions of Learning Award by his principal, Jason Knisely. Learn more at https://uwswpa.org/be-there/.