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Meet Our Valley Southwoods Project-Based Learning Teachers

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The VSW team of New Tech teachers include (front row, top to bottom) Royce Mahoney, Karen Forrester, Corey Rasmussen, and Julie Carroll, (back row, back to front) Adam Kent, Josh Hohnholt, Jill George, and Sara Earp.

As project-based learning expands to Valley Southwoods Freshman High School next year, a new team of teachers will be breaking down barriers, connecting students to the community, encouraging collaboration, leveraging technology, and skillfully transferring the ownership of learning to students.

In short, they will be transforming the high school learning experience.

The team includes English teacher Julie Carroll, speech teacher Sara Earp, math teacher Karen Forrester, special education teacher Jill George, social studies Josh Hohnholt, science teacher Adam Kent, business teacher Royce Mahoney, and math teacher Corey Rasmussen.

Meet a few members of this new team of expert educators.

Julie Carroll, Language Arts

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Teacher Julie Carroll

Julie Carroll knows what it means to earn a Valley High School diploma because she has one.

She and her husband both attended West Des Moines Community Schools growing up and their children now do as well.

In fact, it was a Valley High School teacher who inspired her to become and educator. “I was inspired by my high school English teacher, Karen Downing. I saw the impact she had on so many of her students,” Carroll said.

Carroll earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Central College and her master’s degree in Teaching English from the University of New Hampshire.

Carroll began her career as an eighth-grade language arts teacher in Rockville, Maryland, and later served as an adjunct faculty member and freshman composition instructor at the University of New Hampshire. She came back to her hometown and was hired as a Language Arts teacher at Valley Southwoods, where she has been for 13 years.

Today, Carroll continues to be inspired by those around her, including her students. She looks forward to seeing her students’ creativity further blossom through project-based learning.

Sara Earp, Speech

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Teacher Sara Earp

Interpreting a song with the right vocal styling gives meaning to a song just like the right vocal inflection can add depth to a speech.

This might be why speech teacher Sara Earp likes singer Rod Stewart. “He interprets songs with that gravelly tone,” she said. “But I also like Phoebe Snow as she has a really unique style.”

Her varying musical interests and appreciation for performance reflect this educator’s background.

Earp earned her bachelor’s degree in speech communication/theater arts and physical education handicapped and special populations from Simpson College and her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin.

She began her career teaching speech, drama, and physical education at Corwith-Wesley Community Schools. She also served as one of Iowa’s few female boys’ basketball coaches. She was a graduate assistant at the University of Wisconsin and taught Itinerant Adapted Physical Education and directed “Kids On the Block” through Heartland Area Education Agency. She was a physical education teacher at Urbandale Community Schools, where she also served as assistant drama director. Earp also worked as the pediatric residency education coordinator for Blank Children’s Hospital. She has been with the West Des Moines Community School for 17  years.

She believes project-based learning will give students the communication skills they will need for tomorrow’s workplace. It will also give them the chance to experience real applications for the work world through group communication.

“I love to see students see themselves grow into confident individuals that can take risks even if they are small and see positive results,” Earp said.

Karen Forrester, Geometry

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Teacher Karen Forrester

Valley Southwoods Freshman High School math teacher Karen Forrester knows that tactical analysis, confident actions, and problem-solving skills are key to facing a problem—whether it is an academic or even a fencing challenge.

This former high school fencing club coach sees project-based learning as a framework for students to understand why they are learning math. In addition, it results in more engagement and investment from students.

“It provides an excellent way to challenge students to think more deeply about math, to problem solve, and to produce work that is more meaningful,” said Forrester, who is a math-certified teacher in her first year at the West Des Moines Community Schools.

Forrester began her career in education as an English teacher at Manor High School in Manor, Texas. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in English, a bachelor’s degree in history, and a master’s degree in teaching.

She will be teaching geometry next year in Valley Southwood’s New Tech school-within-a-school. She stands ready to begin this new adventure, or as they say in fencing, “En garde! Prêts? Allez!”

Jill George, Special Education Teacher

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Teacher Jill George

Valley Southwoods Freshman High School Special Education Jill George knows the value of hands-on activities.

“One of my favorite things in the world is to take my Polaris 850 four wheeler and head to the muddy trails of Wisconsin or into the Mountains of Colorado for thrills and adventures one cannot have any other way,” said George, who has been teaching in the West Des Moines Community Schools for 22 years.

She knows her students also enjoy hands-on activities, as well as discussions and opportunities to think “outside the box.” This is why she believes project-based learning will benefit her students.

“I believe students who have special learning needs will flourish in a project-based learning model because it is not just pencil and paper,” said George.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in K-9 general education and K-12 special education and a master’s degree in special education from Drake University.

She began her teaching career at Orchard Place, a residential treatment facility in Des Moines. George then served as a special education teacher at Valley High School. She transferred to Valley Southwoods when it opened in 1997.

Josh Hohnholt, Geographic Cultural Studies

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Teacher Josh Hohnholt

Valley Southwoods Freshman High School social studies teacher Josh Hohnholt believes in looking at the larger perspective of the world around us.

Sometimes that means climbing the world’s highest mountains for a better view.

Hohnholt’s goal is to climb the highest mountains on each continent. So far he has hiked on Mount Everest and plans to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro in the near future.

As he works on this goal, he is also sharing his experiences with his students and connecting them with people and places of the world through his Geographic Cultural Studies course.

He believes project-based learning will help deepen this work and give his students the skills they need to pursue big goals. “It will allow students to tackle large, multiple-level content, challenging them to think in new and critical ways,” said Hohnholt, who has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and social studies from Wayne State College.  

They will need these skills in an increasingly global society and workforce. Hohnholt knows this first-hand having started his teaching career as professor of Western Society and World Cultures at a school in Nanchang, China. Upon moving back to the United States, he was hired for his current position at Valley Southwoods, where he has served for four years.

Adam Kent, Science 

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Teacher Adam Kent

Students don’t believe Adam Kent rides a motorcycle, even though this self-described bow-tie-wearing, science-loving teacher rides his Suziki to work nearly every day when the weather is nice and in the homecoming parade every year.

“It should be well known by this point, but for some reason none of my students believe that I ride,” said Kent, who has taught science for six years at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School.

Kent holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in science education from Iowa State University, where he discovered he wanted to be a teacher.

“As cliche as it sounds, I wanted to join a profession that makes a meaningful difference in the world,” Kent said. “I knew I needed to find a career where I felt like my day-to-day actions mattered.” He was hired by Valley Southwoods right after graduating.

This is also why he believes in project-based learning.

“Project-based learning allows students to contextualize their learning in a more meaningful way. The projects provide an anchor for lessons on skills and content knowledge,” he explained. “I believe that the projects will help the learning stick with the students for the long term.”

It may even help them believe he’s the one riding that motorcycle.   

Royce Mahoney, Foundations of Business 

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Teacher Royce Mahoney

For Valley Southwoods Freshman High School business teacher Royce Mahoney, project-based learning is the perfect opportunity.

“Since I started teaching business, I have wanted to tear down the walls between my classroom and the business world outside,” said Mahoney, who will be teaching Foundations of Business next year in Valley Southwood’s New Tech school-within-a-school.

By connecting his students with the business community leaders, Mahoney will provide his students with opportunities to solve real-world problems and work on projects that improve their community. It will also give students the skills they need to be prepared for tomorrow’s careers.

Mahoney knows first-hand the importance of developing meaningful connections and professional relationships. His high school teachers and coaches made him feel like he mattered as a young man and continue to be his mentors. “I strive to create those meaningful relationships with my students,” he said.

Mahoney graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in business. He began his teaching career at Western Dubuque High School where he taught business and was an assistant football coach. He has been teaching in the West Des Moines Community Schools for four years.

Corey Rasmussen, Algebra I & Integrated Algebra

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Teacher Corey Rasmussen

Corey Rasmussen was not your ideal student in high school.

“I was a rowdy kid who didn’t like to sit down,” said Rasmussen, who teaches Algebra I and Integrated Algebra at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School.

He believes project-based learning can make a difference for students like him and any student who wants to have a new and engaging learning experience.

“I love the idea of getting kids more actively engaged in their learning,” said Rasmussen. “Project-based learning is a way to include real-world relevance and get students thinking deeper and show multiple sets of skills.”

Rasmussen holds a bachelor’s degree in sports administration with a minor in business management from Simpson College and a master’s degree in teaching from Kaplan University. In addition, he is certified to teach math in grades five through 12. He student taught at Stilwell Junior High and worked for Kids West’s summer program for three years as he worked on becoming a certified teacher. Rasmussen began his teaching career as a special education associate in the Van Meter Public School District and then became an eighth-grade computer teacher in Dallas Center-Grimes. He has taught at Valley Southwoods since 2015.

Topics: New Tech