CUBA, N.Y. – We are celebrating Western New York with a big honor for a local science teacher.
Scott Jordan from Cuba-Rushford Middle High School is the National Rural Educator of the Year. His passion for the outdoors has helped hundreds of students learn life's biggest lessons.
"I graduated from here, so I have a passion about my town," says Jordan.
When family pulled Jordan back to Cuba in 1993 to teach, the Cuba-Rushford Central School Outdoors program, or CRCS Outdoors, did not exist. He built it from the ground up.
"For three years, we sold t-shirts, we sold hot dogs. We've got a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into each one of these projects, but the bottom line is it belongs to the kids, it belongs to the community," says Jordan.
Nearly sixty students are part of the program this year. The Fisheries and Wildlife Technology classes are open to all high schoolers. Juniors and seniors can even get college credit.
Jordan says he draws from his experiences earlier in life as a sockeye salmon biologist and bald eagle hacker in Alaska to get his students excited about careers in wildlife research and education.
"Wouldn't it be great if everybody got a job that they were happy to go to every day and they actually got paid to do it? That's the goal," he says.
Jordan’s regular classroom brings the outdoors inside and even has editing equipment for the TV show the students produce that airs in the U.S. on Dish and in Canada on Wild TV.
Step outside, and you'll see what's taken more than two decades of work - a wildlife research center, hatchery, and deer park.
"Having kids be exposed to science that's actually being done in the real world, don't waste their time, they're different learners than we were, and so it's really good. I mean, honestly, they're so passionate about what they do. The kids have to be in charge of projects. They have to have people working underneath them, and that part of it's amazing," he says.
While Jordan has a budget, most of that money goes towards maintenance. For everything else, he relies on fundraising and grants. The 42-acre deer facility was made possible through a $42,000 grant.
Jordan is also an avid hunter and found out the National Rural Education Association was honoring him as its Rural Educator of the Year when he was on a hunting trip with students in New Zealand.
"Our rural kids are what I'm really passionate about because I call them out 19-percenters. They make up only 19-percent of the nation's students, and honestly, everything new that comes out in education is about inner-city schools and graduation rate and all of that stuff, which is fine for them, but not for us. The biggest thing that my kids lack is opportunities and I try to make them for them," Jordan says.
Jordan now has former students working in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Maine researching wildlife. Junior Camden Pfouts isn't sure where his career will take him just yet, but he is thankful for the opportunities he's had.
"I've worked my way up starting off as a freshman going all the way up, and now I'm in charge of everything in the deer facility," says Pfouts.
Paige Peterson is in charge of the hatchery where the students are raising brook trout. In the fall, Peterson will be a freshman at SUNY ESF in Syracuse. She wants to be a park naturalist.
"I think it gives me an edge going to college and stuff because I've had the experience of being here," says Peterson.
The students want the program to continue to grow. Next up, they're building a turkey facility. It's a challenge Jordan is ready for.
“If you give them choice in what they learn, and then you give them responsibility, you won't believe how they shine," he says.
Jordan says that even when he retires, he wants to continue taking students and adults on trips around the world.