Jon Yoder has been a science teacher at North Salem High School for over 20 years. Two years ago, he became coordinator for Straub Environmental Learning Center, a facility meant to serve students and the community. Inspired by Oregon Governor Robert Straub and his wife Pat Straub, the Learning Center provides a lab, classroom, and meeting space for local organizations.
As a member of Salem’s Environmental Commission, and Secondary Education Coordinator for the Northwest Center for Sustainable Development, Yoder’s interest in environmental stewardship and community connection is clear.

He’s written four educational manuals, and run institutes for teachers to assist them in establishing their own programs. It was creating this model framework for reproducible systems that spawned the program at North Salem High School.

“I was teaching others how to do this, and thought why not do it myself in the process?” said Yoder.

He credits Neal Maine in Seaside,Ore. as the philosophical architect of much of what he’s done.

“We’d meet once a month to talk about education,” he said. “I wanted to connect students to their communities as citizens.”

Yoder believes children should be taught that they are citizens now, and can have an impact now.

Measuring success can be tough, however. While the school system recognizes successful initiatives in the community, test scores also are pushed. “There’s no test for active citizenship,” Yoder said.

Yoder says his biggest joy is when students come back to report they have chosen environmental sciences for a career.

“It’s a bit uncomfortable when you meet parents who were in your class,and now their children are in your class,too,” he jokes. The nonprofit group Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center also presents an environmental lecture series. For event dates and more information, visit open.org/~selc