Story and photos by Randy Parks
Harney County School District No. 3 recently announced the Educators of the Year from Hines Middle School (HMS) and Burns High School (BHS). The staff members at each school nominate and then vote on the honorees. Kim Schweiren was selected from HMS and Jimmy Zamora was chosen from BHS.
While teaching has many rewards, the favorite for Hines Middle School (HMS) Educator of the Year Kim Schwieren are “those lightbulb moments.”
“When you can see the students eyes light up because they get it,” Schwieren said. “There’s no substitute for that.”
Schwieren has been teaching for 24 years and currently teaches sixth-grade social studies and seventh-grade math at HMS. “Teaching these two subjects is a perfect blend for me,” she said.
Her social studies classes learn about different cultures and past societies through a number of different projects designed to keep them engaged and interested. “I like it when the kids look up and ask, ‘Is class over already?’ ” Schwieren said. “When they get excited about what we’re doing in class, and want to go visit some place in the world because we studied it makes me happy.”
Schwieren’s teaching career in Harney County came by way of a circuitous route, but it seemed almost destined to happen. “My dad was in the Air Force and was stationed at the radar base in Burns in the 1950s when he met my mom,” Schwieren said. “I was born in France, and then we came back to the states and lived all over, Alaska, Mississippi, Utah, Texas, Hawaii, but Burns was always a special place for us to come to. We had lifelong friends here, something you didn’t have in other places when you’re only there for a short time.”
Schwieren graduated from Belleville High School in Illinois in 1981 and then went to Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, Texas, for a year. She then attended the University of Utah for one year, and finished college at Weber State with a bachelor of science degree in education, with a minor in social studies.
During her college years, her father had retired from the Air Force and eventually purchased a ranch in Harney County, so Schwieren moved to Burns after college. “I worked with the BLM during the summer when I first got here, and then started subbing in the Burns-Hines school district,” Schwieren said.
She then accepted a teaching position at Frenchglen, where she had two students. “P.E. was a bit of a challenge,” she laughed.
The following year she was hired to teach fourth grade at Slater Elementary School. Throughout the years and the reconfiguration of the schools, Schwieren has instructed both elementary and middle school students.
While Schwieren is excited to come to class every day, the lack of funding for education causes some concerns. “The crisis of funding forces the schools to use people and set priorities differently,” Schwieren said. “Every year we face cuts, challenging us to do more with less. I just try to give everything I have to the kids every day.”
Looking back on her childhood and career path, Schwieren seems satisfied. “I wouldn’t trade what I’ve seen and done for anything,” she stated. “But I think this is my niche, I was supposed to end up here. It’s my chance to give back to the community that gave so much to me.”
Growing up on a ranch near Mitchell, Jimmy Zamora developed a passion for agriculture, and it’s something that has served him well for teaching students at Burns High School (BHS).
“My favorite thing is when the students are enjoying a hands-on project,” Zamora said. “They’re involved, it’s something fun for them and they’re learning, even though they may not realize they’re learning at the time.”
Zamora’s days are full, as he teaches forestry, horticulture, ag science, animal science, ag leadership and one section of math. He also serves as the FFA advisor. “One of the challenges is that these are elective classes and it’s important to get kids to buy into the program,” Zamora said. “Plus you’ve got to integrate the essentials such as science, reading and writing while still making it fun.”
The class periods are long at BHS, 80 minutes, which actually works well for Zamora. The class spends the first 20 minutes or so on what is expected of them that day and the remainder of the time is spent doing it.
Hands-on projects the students experience include maintaining a greenhouse, preparing for a spring plant sale, raising willows for the U.S. Forest Service, raising FFA animals and the Ag in the Classroom Project, where Ag Leadership students go to Slater Elementary School to teach ag to fourth- and fifth-grade students.
Zamora really had no intentions of becoming a teacher after he graduated from Mitchell High School in 1991.
“I went to Oregon State for ag engineering, but they cut the program, so I went into ag business management,” Zamora said.
His senior year, an advisor suggested that he might make a good teacher and the seed was planted. “I remembered I had a good relationship with my high school shop teacher and I kind of liked the idea of working with kids like he did,” Zamora said. “Before that, it never crossed my mind that I could teach ag.”
After finishing college in December 1996, Zamora took a job in Poulsbo, Wash., teaching ninth-grade horticulture.
Three years later, he moved to Vancouver, Wash., to teach environmental science, animal science and ag biology at Mountain View High School.
In 2001, Zamora, his wife, Jenell, and their son, Isaac, moved to Burns. When he was first hired, he taught half-time at BHS and also worked at the experiment station. Several years later, Zamora began splitting his time between teaching ag at the high school and math at Hines Middle School, and for the last three years he has been full-time at the high school.
The Zamoras have also added three more children to their family since they arrived in Harney County, Elizabeth, Gabriel and Hannah.
Throughout all his successes, one project seems to stand out for this year’s BHS Educator of the Year.
“Building the greenhouse was special,” Zamora said. “We had an idea and the kids and I built it together. It was neat to see.”