Category Archives: Community-based learning

Fostering a Sound Culture at Hazen: Youth Voices and the Sounding Board Project

How can a school community emerge from isolation to reflect on individual and collective experiences from this uniquely challenging and transformative year? This spring, Hazen Union Middle/High School came back together around a creative engagement installation: the Sounding Board. Part of a broader Hazen Youth Voices Project — a collaborative initiative launched by the school’s Vermont Community Learning Network (VCLN) team — the board is an interactive timeline display that captures the year through visual and auditory reflections. 

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In line with their district mission of fostering learner agency through reflective practice, Hazen is exploring a variety of community-centered, project-based approaches that embed this theme into all students’ educational experiences. And Hazen’s participation in the Vermont Community Learning Network provides the infrastructure to do so. This network helps schools and communities evolve into a cohesive learning system. We collaborate to answer the essential question: 

What are the best next steps — the most effective sequence of professional development and community engagement — for educators and partners in their quest to help all students develop a love for learning?

School-wide initiatives include student-led parent/guardian dialogues, independent-based learning projects, narrative grade reports and digital Personalized Learning Plan and Portfolio Process (PLPPP’s). Faculty and staff from every content area and grade level prioritize tasks centered around student voice and identity. Multimedia projects, including interviewing and audio projects in partnership with Vermont Folklife Center (VFC) and Vermont Public Radio (VPR), are just some examples of Hazen’s efforts to make reflection and agency part of the school culture. This year, students engaged in conversations with neighbors, friends, family members, elder partners, authors and storytellers, teachers and even the elementary school to talk about everything from Youth Vaccines to Coyote Stories to Pandemic Adjustments to Healthcare Workers During COVID to Family Recipes

Sounding Board Project Goals

We are making history here — and youth voice matters.” (From the VCLN team’s framing for faculty.)

Global Citizenship classes at Hazen highlight the significance of primary sources and artifacts. Collaborations with the Hardwick Historical Society, VFC and VPR impressed upon the VCLN team the importance of contributing youth voices to historical records of the pandemic. Perhaps even more important, the team expressed a sense of urgency about hearing from students about their current needs. When a Hazen student and faculty member participated in the Senator Sanders Virtual Town Hall for Vermont high school students, the event hit home the immediate and overwhelming challenges facing our youth, exacerbated by the pandemic. 

With these seeds planted, the VCLN team wondered: How might we offer the Hazen community a fun and therapeutic way to come together and share our collective thoughts and feelings about the COVID experience? Key outcomes would include learning more about students’ needs and inviting them to take leading roles in shaping the future.

The team decided on a plan with two major components:

  1. Guided prompts for student-centered reflection and discussion,
  2. A large-format visual display on the school’s walls for collecting and sharing the work from these activities.
Project goals:
  • Active listening: Better understand how our students are doing and hear what they need. Make student voice and agency central to our message and mission and culture. Prioritize inclusion, accessibility and equity.
  • Historical record: Collect, document, archive and share student voices and artifacts from the pandemic.
  • Connection: Come back together as a school community before we head off for the summer. Reflect on the emotions and memories of the past year and a half. 
  • Shared wisdom: Identify lessons and insights, new routines and relationships that we want to carry forward into our future.
  • Visioning: How do we collectively envision our future? What do we want Hazen to be when we return in September? What do we need to do to rebuild our community?
  • Celebration: Celebrate the community’s resilience, which has been central to navigating this time. Showcase multimedia student work from the year. Celebrate graduating seniors.
Gathering Voices 

In a typical year, it can be a challenge to find the time, space and momentum to bring students from all corners of the school together around a single endeavor. This year, thanks to the pandemic, organizing a coordinated community project is a monumental feat. In an effort to hear from as many students as possible, the VCLN team identified Teacher/Student Advisory as an ideal place to initiate this work, from both a logistical and social/emotional standpoint. Because students begin every day in a 50-minute block with the same small group of students, advisory provides the necessary time, in a safe and welcoming environment, for students to comfortably engage in a range of topics and deeper reflection. 

In appreciation and acknowledgment of teachers’ expertise and nuanced relationships with their respective advisories, the team settled on a format that gave individual advisories and advisors creative freedom and autonomy. With the “please do and can do,” they were able to ensure a collective spirit and fidelity to the collective project. This also honored the needs and interests of diverse advisories. The team knew it was essential to make the menu concise and straightforward. So they worked together to offer streamlined and engaging offerings that would support teachers. No need to burden them with more responsibilities during an already hectic and overwhelming year.


The VCLN team:

  • uses weekly faculty meetings to introduce focus for the week: welcome, model, scaffold, and test; invite questions and ideas.
  • shares Menu of weekly goals and prompts, with one “Please Do” and additional optional “Can Do” activities. 
  • sends weekly emails and calendar reminders and provides resources and supplies.
  • collects responses to collate and display on the Sounding Board
Sounding Board Close-Up 

  • Reflective Responses: On sticky notes, students share why they chose the articles they did. In addition, they shared how the article/event made them feel.

  • Feelings Wheel: A spectrum of feelings, grouped by color and category, to help students explore and identify their feelings at different points throughout the year. Copyright Abby Van Muijen

  • Student Work: Multimedia class projects and artwork

  • Words of Wisdom: Graduating seniors will share advice with the rest of the Hazen Community.

Keeping the momentum going

Next up, when we return to school in the fall, we will create ways for students to share their hopes and dreams for the 2021/2022 school year. In addition, they also want to invite the local community to come inside to see and hear what the students shared. Moving forward, a major priority is strengthening community partnerships. This could serve as an excellent launching point for long term collaborations. 

How might you find ways to reflect with your community? 

Inspired by Hazen’s example? You can learn more about the Sounding Board by checking out this Wakelet  collection of mural/pandemic/timeline inspirations. And, the Vermont Folklife Center through their Listening In Place resource seeks “ways to maintain our connections to one another when we most need them, engage with personal stories to strengthen our relationships, and create a record of what we are experiencing throughout the pandemic, and beyond.” You can see here how they partnered with Hazen to do so, for even more inspiration. 

Lessons learned from a community conversation on race

How do we effectively engage people in our community who aren’t already predisposed to discuss race and the impacts of racism? How do we pull people into a community conversation on race? Especially people who aren’t already striving to be more antiracist? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that the more community conversations we have, the more likely we will bring a greater portion of our community to the table… eventually.

I live in a predominantly white, rural community where many people do not explicitly experience the harmful impacts of racial bias nor understand the complexities of structural racism.

So I was intrigued by this email I received from a historian about the namesake of our local elementary, Thatcher Brook Primary School:

“I wonder how people in town would feel if they knew that Partridge Thatcher and his wife had held people in slavery.”

Indeed, how would my community react to this new information? That would become the guiding question for a community conversation that brought together students, educators, community members and historians to talk about real world, meaningful change.

How it started:

I received the email in response to an inquiry I had sent to Dr. Elise Guyette. I had written to her after hearing her on the Brave Little State podcast Remembering Vermont’s 19th Century Black Communities, which was largely based on her research. At the end of the episode she invited people to contact her to receive her database of early Black Vermonters.

Just a few weeks before I had been part of the formation of the Waterbury Anti-Racism Coalition (WAARC). I had been invited due to my role in facilitating a monthly series of Race Conversations for the Waterbury Public Library. Over the course of the prior year, a few dozen community members had participated in discussions of Ijeoma Oluo’s excellent book So You Want to Talk About Race? 

Now, I believe in the power of dialogue about racism to help lay the foundation for transformational action.

As Oluo taught me, one of the reasons racism persists is because people, particularly white people, are not able to talk about it. Learning and unlearning how racism operates are the first steps toward dismantling and disrupting it.

Even so, upon learning this new information about the direct connection between the elementary school that my daughters attend and the institution of slavery, my first reaction was that we needed to take immediate action to get the name changed. But when I brought my obsessively assembled historical research to my WAARC friends, cooler heads prevailed. We were looking for inroads to raise awareness about racism and strengthen the collective antiracism commitment in our community.

Rather than rush to action, we decided to use this new information as a catalyst for collective learning and coalition building. It was time for a community conversation.

8 lessons learned from a community conversation on race

Now that I’m on the other side of the event, I’m happy to report that it was a success. Here are eight tips for anybody who wants to organize a community conversation about an issue related to racial justice, based on our experience.

1. Form a committed planning team

It was Ellie Odefey’s idea to focus on learning, rather than pushing right away to change the name of the school. She’s a student.

She’s also a member of WAARC and a student leader in the Rooted Organizing Committee (ROC) chapter of Harwood Union High School. ROC is a student-led socially justice oriented organization based in Vermont with a presence in several secondary schools. ROC focuses on grassroots strategies that will create change “from the roots up.” One of their values is community.

Ellie recruited some ROC student leaders to join WAARC members as a planning team. We had a multi-generational cross-racial group with plenty of experience organizing for change and facilitating conversations. We scheduled a weekly one hour meeting for the five weeks before the conversation. And then we were off to the races.

2. Learn from others

As we began planning, we researched how other processes have played out. We looked at the powerful project-based learning approach (.pdf) to renaming a school taken in Brookline, Massachusetts. We read up on efforts to rename schools and streets across the nation. And we reached out to folks in Vermont such as the Rename Negro Brook Alliance for tips.

Judy Dow generously provided guidance in the early stages of our planning. She is the Abenaki educator and activist who led the effort to change the name of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award due to the links of its namesake to the eugenics movement. She drew on her experience to emphasize the importance of having the background research compiled and clearly presented. “There will be pushback. Be ready.”

She also helped us understand the importance of involving students. Judy is an expert at supporting project-based learning that involves students in primary research about Vermont history. She recommended that some of the educators involved in the planning group bring the Partridge Thatcher history directly to their students.

Luckily, Ellie already had a plan for that.

3. Start the conversation in school(s)

When Ellie came up with the idea to make this into a learning experience, she wasn’t just talking about the community conversation. From the beginning, she wanted to bring the idea to Harwood Middle and High School students as well. She volunteered to create a lesson plan and worked with school administrators to distribute it to all 50 advisory teachers.

community conversation on race lesson plan

When Jonah shared Ellie’s work with the planning team, educators from other schools asked permission to adapt the lesson for younger grades. Eventually students across our district in multiple schools learned about Partridge Thatcher’s past and discussed connections to modern day racism.

For me, that is such a powerful example of a student exploring a Flexible Pathway to learning. An example of a school community being able and willing to support that student’s learning. And a way to tie a student’s passion for learning to real-world, authentic change.

Ellie’s lesson plan allowed students to process their own reactions and prepared them to participate in the community conversation. We hoped that they would go home and talk with their families about it as well. Because there was plenty of buzz well before the event.

4. Anchor the conversation

We wanted to make sure that the conversation wasn’t purely theoretical. But we weren’t trying to organize a debate, either. We wanted people to grapple with the implications of our community’s ties to slavery and racism in a way that was respectful and learning-oriented.

Educators on our planning team who had been teaching about racial justice busted out tools to support productive dialogue. We ended up using the agreements and compass from Courageous Conversations (for an example of these in action in a classroom, check out this unit on equity and identity from 6th grade social studies teacher Christie Nold).

We also wanted to make sure that people entered the conversation with the same basic historical facts at hand.

In response, I developed a packet of historical information. The packet presented the information in multiple ways, with a visual timeline, select quotes, and related background reading. Dr. Guyette provided feedback to ensure accuracy.

We wanted to provide people access to the information in whatever way best suited them. For some people, the bare basics might suffice, while for others they were going to click through to the source material. And some folks may not want to read at all. For them, we created an interactive timeline.

Jonah Ibson, a Harwood teacher and planning team member, worked with students to create audio clips to bring choice quotes alive.

Even people who didn’t attend the event were able to learn a lot from the informational materials.

5. Get the word out

About three weeks before the event we started advertising. We used multiple channels:

  • Front Porch Forum – each Friday, volunteers posted to this local message board site
  • Flyers – we created a simple poster (.pdf) and put it up around our community
  • School newsletters – principals announced the event in their messages home to families
  • Public library – the Waterbury Public Library co-hosted the event and included it on their website and in their emails to members
  • Social media – we made announcements on the WAARC FaceBook page and some members tweeted about it
  • Special invites – we sent customized email invites to local community leaders such as the School Board, Select Board, and historical societies
  • Local newspaper – the Waterbury Roundabout did a story about the upcoming event.


There was a lively discussion on Front Porch Forum about the event. Most of the comments were skeptical, but a few people also expressed support. I wrote directly to many of the commenters to encourage them to join the discussion. In two cases people realized that they were being interpreted differently than they intended and they wrote follow up posts for clarification.

The pre-conversation conversation had begun.

6. Provide facilitators with plenty of support

Kathy Cadwell, philosophy teacher from Harwood Union High School, joined the planning team early on to lend her expertise on organizing community dialogues. She has worked with students to offer several Socrates Cafe events over the years. And she has an amazing website about strategies for scaffolding dialogue and her expertise and enthusiasm were invaluable.

We envisioned facilitator pairs made up of one community member and one student leader. Students from the planning team recruited fellow students who had facilitated other dialogues. Almost all of the adult volunteers ended up being educators from our school system.

The week before the event, we held a 90 minute facilitator training where we:

  • Talked through the flow of the event
  • Introduced tools such as norms we would be relying upon
  • Provided time for the eleven pairs to meet their co-facilitator
  • Role played a conversation and debriefed it

Based on the feedback at this training, we refined the facilitator guide. Most co-facilitator pairs met before the event to discuss roles and make sure they were totally set.

I can now say with certainty that they were well prepared. Because on the big night, they were amazing.

Community conversation on race The event agenda - welcome, land acknowledgment, agreements, intro to history, small group discussions, report out.
Agenda from the facilitator notes.
7. Execute your plan with purpose and flexibility

We asked participants to register via Google Form. In addition to giving us an idea of numbers, we were able to gauge what type of crowd we were going to have. We were able to see, for example, that the vast majority of people who had signed up were coming due to genuine curiosity about the subject.

Alysia Backman, a WAARC member and fantastic educator in her own right, handled the tech for the evening. She created Breakout Rooms on Zoom by asking the facilitator pairs to put their assigned number in front of their name. During the introduction, she randomly assigned all 80 participants and matched co-facilitators.

We shared duties and used a slide deck to keep us on track:

  • I welcomed everyone;
  • Gavin Thomsen, a student provided a powerful land acknowledgment;
  • an educator went over the agreements;
  • and Dr. Guyette did a quick review of and commentary on the historical materials.

Having Dr. Guyette provide historical perspective was incredibly powerful. She had put me in touch with one of the descendants of people who Thatcher had enslaved. I was honored by the fact that this woman, Karen Henry, and her husband, Dean Henry, attended the event. As Dr. Guyette presented they sent me a private chat message and asked to say a few words. The Henrys then shared the story of how they had learned about their ancestors’ connection to Thatcher. And they thanked the community for grappling with its past.

We had planned our agenda to the minute yet this unexpected portion of the evening was one of the most powerful parts. Many participants shared on the exit survey that this was something they would never forget.

How it’s going:

Our stated goals were to learn together and build community. And our exit survey suggested that we accomplished that. More than 90% of respondents answered positively on questions about whether the event it was a good use of their time and whether people were respectful of each other. The Waterbury Roundabout did a favorable follow up story as well.

Next, our planning team will go to the School Board to recommend that they initiate a process for changing the name of the school. We will recommend that they do so through a process that centers student leadership and collective learning.

We had Select Board and School Board members participate in the event and I’m optimistic that the renaming process will continue to be a source of growth for our community.

I’d imagine that some families had conversations about race that broke new ground. Perhaps some students took ideas home or adults picked up on the hubbub or some combination thereof. Although there was a lot of focus on the event itself, I’m hoping that the ripple effects had positive impact as well.

The biggest obstacle to fighting racism in my community is that many people deny that racism exists here. But to me, each community event about racism is part of an ongoing reckoning. For things to change, we’ll need every community, including predominantly white ones, to acknowledge the harmful impacts of racism. Especially on people of color but ultimately on all of us.

This event was a step toward normalizing consequential conversations about race in our community. As we learn together as a community, we build shared understandings and commitments to more effectively work towards racial justice. Together.



An audio version of this post appears below.

Confronting climate change in the classroom

We’re not talking enough with students about climate change

At least, many of us are not.

At the Global Youth Climate Strike last fall, I spoke with a lot of students who are really concerned about the future. Like, really concerned. Topping their list of worries is that not only are adults not doing enough to address climate change, but we’re also not talking with them (much) about it either. One student even characterized our inaction on climate as the ultimate homework procrastination.

Four students facing backwards holding signs, confronting climate change
Student activists at the Youth Climate Strike in September 2019.

But why?

I have a few hunches: first, despite being addressed in curriculum content standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards and the C3 Social Studies standards, climate change somehow feels like a political issue.

Newsflash: It’s not. It’s not a political issue. It’s science. And civics. It’s everything, really. And all too imminent. I mean sure, it has political implications, economic implications, social, ecological…it changes everything.

Yet wading into anything that feels like partisan waters can be anxiety-provoking for educators.

And speaking of anxiety, yeah, well, eco-anxiety made Oxford’s shortlist for words of the year 2019. Climate emergency won the top spot, and the whole list was related to climate change. Many of us are feeling the burn, so to speak. And for many of us, our strategy is to tamp that feeling down and focus on something else.

The problem is so very big and complicated, and we are so very small.

Or so it seems. It is very easy to feel powerless in the face of such a complex, global challenge.

And yet. The future is at stake. And as educators, just as we value our students, we value their future. Our job is to help prepare them for that future, however uncertain it may be.  And we can’t get there by ignoring or minimizing the threat posed by climate change.

So what’s a teacher to do?

I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few ideas. These, plus a little courage will move us in the right direction.

Knowledge is power

Climate change is a trans-disciplinary concept. There is not a content area that isn’t connected to this issue. From math to art, relevant academic connections can be made. Our students are asking us to help them understand what’s happening, why, and what we can do about it.

 It’s science:

To start, help students understand the facts of climate change in a developmentally appropriate way. Provide matter-of-fact explanations about the science of climate change. Help students understand what greenhouse gases are and how they function. Explore what happens when we upset the carbon balance in our atmosphere, and how scientists use models to try to predict and understand the impacts and outcomes of these changes in global chemistry.

Here are a few science resources to help you get started:
2 adults hold a plastic tube-shaped bag to a car's exhaust pipe, confronting climate change
Teachers in VEEP’s Energy Action Project Institute learn to measure auto emissions.

It’s civics:

Help students discover how governments — from local and federal and beyond- work and how we can get involved. Explore international policy and global efforts to combat climate change.

Who is in charge, makes laws, benefits, and suffers? What happens when we don’t follow through? How does change happen?

Help students understand power and privilege. Who has benefited from the dominant global system? And who has suffered as a result? Who is predicted to suffer the most severe impacts of climate change first? What is our responsibility?

Check out these civics resources:
Large group of students walk on sidewalk holding signs. Confronting climate change
Middlebury Union High School students walk out of class to attend the Youth Climate Strike in September 2019.

And sometimes it’s both together:

Learn together about humans’ relationship with the earth and other living things. Discuss the concept of natural resources. Identify how we use earth’s resources and explore the mental models and perspectives on how those resources should be consumed (hint: contrasting a Western capitalist mind with an Indigenous mindset can be revealing).

Check out this Tar Sands – Keystone XL role play from A People’s Curriculum for the Earth from Rethinking Schools.

It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers! Be the lead learner and model for students how we can seek answers to our questions.

Kids books confronting climate change
There’s a great picture book collection called The Sunlight Series by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm that explains energy concepts. I highly recommend these books, even for middle schoolers! ‘Buried Sunlight’ explains what fossil fuels are and how their use is warming our planet.

And it’s connected to everything.

Help students become systems-thinkers, who can flexibly understand the relationships and interconnectedness of systems, their parts, and issues. Teach them to look beyond the surface to the complexity of the interactions within and between ecological, economic, and social systems. (Hint: The Climate Change Playbook has a ton of great games that help students understand these concepts and more.)

Keep it developmentally appropriate

We need to be real, and we need to be mindful. Exposing kids, especially younger ones, to the horrors of starving polar bears or burned kangaroos may lead to what educator David Sobel termed ecophobia, which means a fear of the natural world. This fear can lead to a sense of powerlessness and withdrawal from nature (and activism).

Help them find answers to their questions, but avoid alarmism.  It’s paralyzing; it invokes our flight, fright, or freeze response. Instead, be truthful while emphasizing the efforts focused on mitigating the problem. There is hope; we are the hope.

Developmentally speaking, our students are primed to seek opportunities to develop their competence and autonomy, to fight injustice, and to seek connection. Lead the way!

Cultivate agency and empowerment

Once we’ve kindled interest (and maybe a little righteous indignation) and our students’ passion for making a difference, it’s time to teach them that no one is too small to make a difference.

Think globally, act locally

Yeah, that catchphrase harkens back to the eighties, at least. But it holds.

Use your own community as a setting for getting students engaged in tackling global issues. Engaging in local service-learning projects will help students develop a sense of agency and empowerment. Through this work, they will discover their ability to make a difference right here, right now.

Help your students start a school-community garden, initiate a no-idling campaign in your school parking lot, or even establish a climate action club. Let them lead. They have great ideas! When we exercise our ability to make a difference, it buoys us.

Enter: service-learning

I am happy to report that this blog is packed full of great resources for service-learning, project-based learning, and using frameworks like the United Nations’ Goals for Sustainable Development, also known as the SDGs or Global Goals, which specify 17 goals that folks across the globe are working on together.

UN Sustainable Development Goals tiles atop a piece of paper with student writing
Students at Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability brainstorm local projects aligned to the Global Goals

Here are some of our best resources on service-learning:

And a few more that explore ways you can use the Global Goals:

Quick shout out to my brilliant colleagues Katy Farber and Jeanie Phillips, who wrote most of the posts on these lists (and Katy even wrote a great book on the topic!)

Finally, feel the feelings

Grappling with climate change is scary. The future may be uncertain, but the days ahead are likely to grow harder. It’s important that we acknowledge our feelings, not tamp them down. The grief we experience when we confront the impacts of climate change and the sixth mass extinction unfolding around us is real. It is also evidence of our deep connection to the earth and the other life we share this planet with.

Sarah Jaquette Ray’s Coming of Age at the End of the World guides educators to attend to both the affective and academic in the classroom. While her students are a bit older, her point remains valid. We have to welcome students’ fully human selves in the classroom. Which means we have to welcome our fully human selves, too.

In order to be able to make space for emotions that may arise for students, we need to be able to acknowledge and confront our own first. We do this emotional work so that we may move through the despair into hope and courage, and show them the way.

We are in this together. And remember, we are the hope.

What I Learned at the Youth Climate Strike

On this episode of the 21st Century Classroom:

Veronica: My name is Veronica, I’m 13, and I’m in eighth grade.

Emily: And why are you here, Veronica?

Veronica: I’m here because every morning I wake up afraid. And so knowing that so many other people feel the same thing? It makes me hopeful, for the first time in a long time. And so seeing this and seeing the change it brings after? Is the best thing I could wish for.

This past fall, educator and parent Emily Hoyler, took part in the Youth Climate Strike, along with her three children. They visited various protests in Vermont, and Emily interviewed some of the students she met at the protests. She asked them why they were there, what they hoped to achieve, and how this day of action related to their in-school lives.

Here’s Emily.

Emily at Youth Climate Strike


Lately, I’ve been freaking out about climate change.  After years of denial about the severity of the situation, this past spring I confronted the evidence.  And I found it terrifying.

Why?  Because I learned some stuff.

I learned it takes carbon dioxide up to 10 years to *begin* warming the atmosphere.  And once its warming effect starts, it lasts for about 40 years.

I learned that 20% of the total emissions since the Industrial Revolution have happened within the past 10 years.

I learned that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are issuing dire warnings about the need for immediate action. The need to drastically reduce emissions, immediately, if we’re going to avoid catastrophic disruption.

But you know who’s not learning these things?  Our students.

At least… that’s what they told me when I met up with them at the Youth Climate Strike.

The Global Youth Climate Strike had been on my calendar for at least 6 months. Spurred by youth climate activist Greta Thunberg’s Friday School Strike for Climate, this event promised to bring momentum to the movement. As an engaged citizen and reluctant activist I knew I wanted to be part of this global protest, demanding world leaders take action. And I wanted to do it with my own children.

I pulled them from school, and we headed out on the road.

We began our day in the nearby college town of Middlebury, where about 500 people gathered on a town green to demonstrate our demands for action.

As we marched we waved our signs at the passing traffic.  The honks and waves we received energized us.

Folks of all ages were there in droves — toddlers to elders. I was thrilled to see so many students– many of whom I’d taught in the classroom!

I drifted away as a college professor began to speak of the power of civil action to find some kids to talk to.  Why were they here? What are their hopes for the future? Is the climate crisis finding its way into their curriculum?  What do they want adults to know?


Emily: So, tell me your first name.

Milo: My first name is Milo.

Emily: How old are you Milo?

Milo: I’m 12 and I’m an 8th grader.

Emily: Awesome. Why are you here today?

Milo: I’m here today because climate change sucks. It’s pretty terrible and definitely needs to be changed and as soon as possible. Yes, as she’s talking about right now, it can’t… you guys can’t wait for the younger generation, it has to start now.

Emily: Does climate change are the reason we’re here today connect anything you’ve learned about or do in your school work everyday?

Milo: I wish it did more. I know we have a lot of teachers that are in support of us, but we don’t actually learn anything about climate change in like social studies or anything like that and I think that should be probably changed especially because it’s one of the biggest issues by far in our world right now.



B: My name is B.

Emily: All right, B. And how old are you?

B: I’m 13.

Emily: Where do you go to school?

B: I go to Middlebury Union Middle School.

Emily: Why are you here today?

B: I’m here today because I think that climate change is a really big problem for my generation because we’re going to be the ones that are suffering from it because we’re the ones that are in it now. Even the generation above us and all the generations to come will face climate change, unless we stop it now.


Jack : My name is Jack. I’m 14 years old. I’m a freshman at Middlebury Union High School.

There hasn’t been a time where in a class we’ve really talked about these issues yet, but I don’t think that means that we won’t. Definitely, kids are definitely thinking about these things whether it be on social media or at the lunch table kind of things, in the hallways.

Sometimes just in class you just kind of get on these little tangents about discussions about issues like what’s going to be happening today. I think while maybe it’s not exactly being talked about in school, discussions still happen around the school.


Nora: Okay. I’m Nora, I’m 14 and I’m a freshman in high school. I’m here – everyone says to make a difference, but I’m also here to make a difference. Also, I feel like it’s important for everyone to see just how many people care and a lot of times it can feel really overwhelming. So, I feel like that’s a lot – it’s really helpful for people to see other people caring as well. Basically, we’re just… there are way too many emissions in the air, which is causing like this, almost like a shield around the earth to trap heat from the sun and the earth is heating, which is causing all sorts of natural disasters and natural effects and repercussions around the world.

Emily: Okay. So how does this connect to what you’re doing in school at all?

Nora: Not really. I feel like that’s a problem. Like, so many people don’t know what’s going on and we need to bring that into school because every generation needs to help, but the generation that’s coming up is one of the most important generations because we’re the ones who are going to be voting soon. We’re the ones who are about to enter the workforce and make changes and all of that. If people don’t know what’s going on, then they won’t know to make the change. They won’t know to influence their actions.

Emily: What advice would you have to educators in Vermont?

Nora: That just teach it, tie it into your lesson somehow. It’s one of the most important issues. Every issue on this earth is important, but if there’s no earth for them to be important on them, what’s the point?

Emily: What about other kids across Vermont?

Nora: Just get involved. Just go to the climate rallies, see, meet people, get involved in that.

end mark


Next we drove up to Burlington.

Yes, drove.  And while we drove a Prius, we still burned fossil fuels and contributed to the problem we’re trying to address.

We unloaded, grabbed our signs, and began the long trek uphill to find the action.

When we finally arrived, the whole block was swarmed with people.  There were jugglers, a brass band, and lots and lots of people. Including students!

Some kids were just excited to join in on the fun (hey, activism is fun, there is joy and celebration in coming together over a cause).  And so many students knew exactly why we were there and what they hoped the day would bring.

student at Burlington Youth Climate Strike



Cheyanne :  My name is Cheyenne and I’m 12. I’m in 7th grade.

Emily: Great. Why are you here?

Cheyanne :  I really believe that the whole climate change strike is really important because I want to have children. I want them to grow up in a safe environment and I want to grow up in a safe environment.

Emily :  How does this connect to what you do at school?

Cheyanne : Well, we have a really good sustainable sustainability program. We work with a lot of solar panels. We have a huge field in the back where we have a bunch of solar panels and stuff. We’re really committed to that.

Emily : If you could give advice to Vermont teachers, what would it be?

Cheyanne :  You really need to enforce that climate change is real and that it is a real issue.




Callie: I am Callie. I am 11 and I’m in 6th grade. 

Emily: Callie, why are you here today? 

Callie: To speak out against climate change and to make… if enough people start doing this, then everyone will realize that this really is a problem that needs to be fixed.

Emily: Does what your… I’m going to wait a minute and let that crowd die down for a minute. What I’m going to ask you next though is how this connects to what you do in school or what you’re learning about? Let’s let this exciting crowd… look at all this energy. How does this connect to what you’re doing in school?

Callie: We have learned a bit about climate change, but most of it I’ve just learned about on my own time and schools definitely are not doing enough, and spreading enough correct information about climate change and all that needs to be done about it. 




Elsa: My name is Elsa, I’m 13 and I’m in eighth grade.

Emily: Why are you here?

Elsa: To kind of find a voice for climate change, I guess.

Emily: Tell me more about why that issue is important to you?

Elsa: I guess it’s at a point where—it’s kind of putting off your homework, we’re all really good at procrastinating and we’re at the point where we kind of just kind of like sit down and do our homework otherwise we are not going to have it for tomorrow in class. That’s kind of where we are right now. Where like the world and climate change if we don’t do something right now, we’re all just going to blow up. I need you to help us. To give us a good set up so we can learn and grow and be the best people we can be and help the world.




Emily: Okay. Name, grade, age.

Sadie : Sadie. 7th grade and I’m 12.

Emily : Why are you here?

Sadie : I think that it’s really important. I mean, adults are just going to die of natural causes, but if we’re going to be alive when the world is going to end of climate change, I don’t want that to happen.

Emily : Do you think you should get credit for being here? How will an event like this connect to what you do at school?

Sadie : Well, at school we are really aware of how what we do at school and what we do in our out of school lives affects the environment and we talk about it a lot. I think a lot of kids in our school have come here and we’ve seen a lot of them. I think that we should get credit for being here because it’s important. Actually, our school is having their own rally outside on our lawn. I think that is really important that we show people that it matters and that we care.

Emily: Awesome. Anything else you want to say?

Sadie: No.

end mark

While I was happy to hear some kids talk about how the climate crisis showed up in their curriculum many kids said they don’t talk about it at all at school.

That concerns me.

And I hope it changes.

But… I also totally get it.

As a classroom teacher, each minute of my day was spoken for several times over.

Human impacts on the environment (i.e. climate change) are covered in both the main science & social studies curriculum guidelines. (For you teachers, that’s the Next Generation Science Standards and the C3 social studies standards.) But there are also a multitude of other concepts that need to be addressed and taught.

Not to mention: sometimes it *feels* like climate change is a partisan issue. To be clear, it is aaaaaabsolutely not. The scientific evidence is clear and evident and readily available. But we live in interesting times. And there are narratives right now in the public discourse that are both partisan and, well, complete fabrications.

[Spooky editor voice: Merriam-Webster defines “fabrications” as “made up, for the purpose of deception.” See also: lie, falsehood.]

And every teacher knows that getting into politics in the classroom can get tricky.

So I have some hunches about why many kids told me that they aren’t learning about climate change at school.

But as an educator *and* a parent I’ve been doing some deep thinking lately about how education can prepare our children to meet the challenges of the future… and the present.  How can we prepare students for an unknown future? What skills, attitudes, knowledge, and experiences will students need to survive in a world riddled with catastrophes like extreme storms, rising seas, wildfires, acidifying oceans, widespread hunger, air pollution, and the corresponding economic and social unrest and possible collapse?

Students hold up homemade signs at the Youth Climate Strike in Burlington


Amelia: I’m Amelia and I’m 13.

Emily: All right. Why are you here?

Amelia: Because I feel like if we’re not— if I’m not, then how are people going to get the word out and I skipped school because people are realizing that I’m skipping school to come to this because this is more important. If the teachers start realizing that, they’ll be like, “Oh, we actually have to start informing students about that and making known to people.”

Emily: Awesome. Is there anything you want teachers in Vermont to know?

Amelia: Just that like, we’re skipping school because, not because we want to skip class, but because we need to be here to get the word out. And that if they start realizing that, then, yes, they’ll understand that it’s actually a problem.


Sophie: Right. Okay. I’m Sophie. I’m 13 years old. And I’m in 7th grade and I go to FHTMS [Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School].

Emily: You’re here with your classmates?

Sophie: Uh-hmm.

Emily: Why? Why did they let you leave school?

Sophie: To protest against climate change.

Emily: How does to what we’re here to today connect to what you’re doing at school?

Sophie: What we’re learning about kind of how to group together and work together. This is kind of a community thing. We’re working together to change it.


Abby: I’m Abbyi. I’m 12. I’m in 7th grade. I go to Tuttle Middle School.

Emily: Why are you here?

Abby: I think really because I feel called to this issue and as I grow up, I want my children and grandchildren to be able to live in a world that’s as beautiful as it is right now we’re living.

Emily: Does this connect to what you do at school?

Abby: Yes, it does in many ways especially science, we’re working on engineering design process and how people communicate in different ways. It should get something done. I think this is a great example of that.


Simone: I’m Simone. I’m in 8th grade.

Emily: And uh, why are you here?

Simone: Because I want a future where I can do anything I want in an environment where I don’t have to struggle to breathe or anything like that. We are fighting for climate justice to make sure that every generation before us still has a world that they can stand on and see the grass below their feet.

Emily: How does this connect to your schoolwork or what you do in school?

Simone: School, in my opinion, is all about preparing for the future and without the world, there is no future.

Emily: Uh….Mic drop!

Simone: Tell your students if you have… if you’re aware of this strike but you still have to go to work? Tell your students, this is a strike, you can go to this, to stand up for what you believe in.

end mark

A couple weeks after the Climate Strike I went to a professional development workshop held by the Vermont Energy Education Program — VEEP.

Vermont’s largest greenhouse gas contributions come from our heating & cooling, electricity, transportation, and agriculture systems . And all of these systems are present in schools.

VEEP educators help students measure lighting, heat loss, and track energy use in pursuit of making their own schools more energy efficient, thus lessening their carbon footprint.

Deanna: “I am Deanna Bailey. I am Director of Education for the Vermont Energy Education Program. We hope in our deepest of hearts that students take the– it’s very personal for students. So many students are concerned about the climate now, much more so than our generation, was as we were growing up. So our hope is that we can help students feel empowered to make a difference.

We do a lot around supporting schools, to supporting students in particular to latch onto and investigate an aspect of their school that they’d like to change some energy use within. We’ve had groups of students motivated to go to the school board and request putting solar panels on, and using solar panels instead of using just fossil fuels for electricity. So, the ideal is to get into students’ personal interests and tap into that. And then with that, find out, okay, what project do you want to do? How can we support you? And that’s what we’re here to do: is support you to make a difference.”

Another way VEEP helps bring our energy use to the forefront is by making the invisible visible.  After lunch, we headed down to the parking lot to measure auto emissions. With a simple stopwatch and a 10-foot clear plastic bag (and a few brave teachers with car keys), we were able to capture a few different car models’ emissions directly from the exhaust pipe.

We timed how long it took the bag to fill at each car.  Spoiler: the SUV filled that bag much, much more quickly than the hybrid.

I have to admit that even I was blown away watching that bag fill up.  I mean I knew our cars produced emissions, but to literally see the emissions – and the difference between the vehicles – made a deep impression on me.

Educators making emissions visible at a VEEP workshop.
Educators making emissions visible at a VEEP workshop.

Putting the onus on educators to include climate change as a structured topic in their classrooms is probably not the one-size-fits-all solution that can harness student passion for saving the planet. We need organizations like VEEP who can provide structured, informed activities for students that extend beyond their school walls and their school day, and give them regular outlets for getting involved and making a difference.

Here’s Deanna Bailey again.

Deanna: “It’s a personalized experience and a class. It begins at the class level with the teachers, supporting the teachers to understand how they can support the students to do this with them, with support from VEEP if they’re interested. It’s not just the curriculum, but it’s us actually getting in there, putting people in classrooms with side by side with teachers to help students understand how to make a difference.

We have this Youth Climate Leaders Academy. We started it two years ago. It was relatively small the first year, last year it grew at almost doubled this year it’s up to 100. We had to cap it at 120 students. There are so many students that are really wanting to make a difference. It’s heartening and I’m sad for them that we’ve done as much damage already as we have. How do we retreat from that and support students to feel empowered and feel like what they’re doing is making a difference. These are huge obstacles to overcome and the only way we’re going to do it is collaboratively with a lot of people working to make change happen.”

end mark

Now, Vermont’s unique — in a lot of ways — but in our education system, we have something called Act 77, legislation that provides students with more vigorous opportunities in personalized learning. With Act 77, students can explore flexible pathways to learning — basically they can identify things they’re passionate about and ask schools to support them in learning in real-world ways. And students can demonstrate proficiencies in learning, instead of the traditional grading scale. How does this relate to climate change?

Deanna: The personalized learning and proficiency go hand-in-hand. It’s really rethink of the way, the entire way that we do things in classrooms, putting so much agency into students’ hands and then taking the time to figure out how to help them get to a place where they achieve proficiency as opposed to achieve a grade from seat time. That’s a monumental shift for us, for us as educators. It’s a huge shift for students as well. There absolutely are ways that this: the whole strategy, the whole approach that we really boost at VEEP is about helping students be proficient in those transferable skills. We need to be able to think critically and be able to be socially responsible citizens. And that’s really what this is all about. It’s… having the skills to be able to take on a project that makes a difference in your community.

Now,  as much as we need VEEP, and flexible pathways and proficiencies? We. Need. #ClimateStrike.


June: My name is June, like the month and I’m 11 years old.

Emily: Why are you here June?

June: Well, my friends were here and I really love the environment. I love polar bears and I love winter… skiing, ski racing. I really want the environment to stay healthy.


Luke: Hi. My name is Luke. I’m 13 years old, 8th grade. Um… yeah.

Emily: Why are you here today?

Luke: I’m here today because I think that climate change is so important. We need to stop it and if we don’t stop it, then it’s going to be a disgusting world. It’s going to be hot. The ocean levels are rising. It’s anything that people can do, big, small donations, striking, literally, anything helps. Just that tiniest bit of help can do a lot.

Emily: So, what do your teachers think about you being here today?

Luke: Well, when I first heard about this and I asked my teacher if I could go, if I could go to this, he said, “Sure, just call your parents, have them give you permission” and I called my mom, and then, she tried to give permission to my teacher. And she asked him, “So what is *your* personal opinion on this?” To that, my teacher responded, “Well, we’re doing a civics unit right now, and it’s about kids and how they can take action in government and so, I think that this is the best thing that could be done.”



Veronica: My name is Veronica, I’m 13, and I’m in eighth grade.

Emily: And why are you here, Veronica?

Veronica: I’m here because every morning I wake up afraid. And so knowing that so many other people feel the same thing? It makes me hopeful, for the first time in a long time. And so seeing this and seeing the change it brings after? Is the best thing I could wish for.

Emily: So tell me a little about why are we here today?

Veronica: We are here today because the older generations have not been responsible. They have not been caring, they have not been conscientious. And so now that we have the mantle of change, we need to do the best we can with it!

Emily: So how does this connect to school? Does climate change show up at school? Does activism show up at school?

Veronica: I think not as much as I’d like. Certainly it’s being talked about. I think our schools have been stuck on too much things happening in the past? And so I’d certainly like to see more stuff about climate change being talked about, more things happening now.

Emily: And you’re here *with* your school today? Are you getting credit for being here? Do you think you’ll follow up on this?

Veronica: I’m sure we’ll do work to follow up, but this is totally optional. And so I came because I wanted to.

Emily: If you could design the curriculum, what would be most useful? What do you need to face the future that we’re facing?

Veronica: I think… certainly more skills about how we can create change? I think also to be responsible in a world we live in? And also how to decide… what is best for ourselves.

Emily: Do you feel supported by adults, looking around at the turnout today?

Veronica: I do! I think also… I… am incredibly lucky? My family and the adults that I’m surrounded by have been incredibly supportive about the decisions I’ve made, influenced by the climate? I think that… there’s always room for improvement? And I think there’s certainly room for improvement here, but I think that… I do feel very supported.

end mark

Later, I chatted with my own kids about their experience at the Climate Strike.  They’re still young — ages 6, 9, and 10 — and while I think they grasp that we’re facing some serious challenges they don’t yet fully understand the extent. And for that I’m grateful. But I also want them to know they have the opportunity to act, and to change the world — in school, or out.

Phoebe at Youth Climate Strike

Phoebe :  My name is Phoebe and I’m 6 years old. I’m in 1st grade.

Emily :  Phoebe, what did you do today?

Phoebe :  We went to the climate strike.

Emily :  Why did you do that?

Phoebe :  We didn’t want the planet to look bad. My cape said, “Global Game Changer.”

Emily :  What’s a global game changer?

Phoebe :  A global game changer is someone who changes the planet.

Emily :  Are you a global game changer?

Phoebe :  Yes. We’ve been trying to make the world a better place.

Emily :  Thank you for making the world a better place.

Phoebe :  You’re welcome.

Margaret at Youth Climate Strike

Margaret: I’m Margaret and I am in fourth grade

Emily: Okay. Margaret, why did you go to the climate strike today?

Margaret: I went to the climate strike because my parents forced me to, but I wanted to go to school. But also, to help save the earth. To help the earth, yeah.

Jack: My name is Jack. I’m in fifth grade and I’m 10.

Emily: All right. Why did you go to the climate strike today?

Jack at Youth Climate Strike

Jack: Because it was basically a demonstration for climate and I don’t like climate change because it’s not good.

Emily: What is climate change?

Jack: It’s CO 2 in the atmosphere that lets it get hot. Yeah. The heat gets in and then it doesn’t come back out.

Emily: Don’t put the chip in your mouth if you want to keep talking to me. All right? Why is striking for the climate important?

Jack: Because climate change is bad.


Stinkers. You’ll thank me for this field trip later!

Anyway. I want our children — mine, and yours too, all of our students — to know: we are trying. And I want them to remember painting banners and marching, and standing up for our neighbors near and far, standing up for our planet and all the other living things we share this place with.

I want them to know why we’re moving toward a more local diet. I want them to know why we’re shopping less and when we do it’s at thrift stores and the Farmer’s Market rather than online.

They should know that our actions matter.  That our actions speak our values. That we all live upstream and we all live downstream, and every choice makes a difference. And I want them to know that we have a responsibility to use our privilege to improve the quality of life for all.

Even if it means missing school. Even if it means being marked, ironically, “absent”.

I want you to know, educators, that if you’re considering bringing the climate crisis into your curriculum, help is out there.  Heck, get in touch with me, I’d love to help you!

But really, let’s just start talking more with kids about the real-world issues that are on their minds. They need us to be honest with them, and they need us to listen. And they need to be empowered to tackle the challenges of the future.

Deanna: The work that we do at VEEP is definitely the same mud that we’re all crawling around and trying to help students build those transferable skills and make them really excellent lifelong learners that seek out change, that want to make a difference in the world, that have the skills they need to make that difference. Helping them be proficient, all of those skills is very important. You can do it through climate and energy.

Reach out to VEEP because we offer support to individual students as well with deepening understanding of the issues and helping you think through what you personally can do about it. We’re not averse to just going directly with the students to support you to do that, so we have a strong desire to be doing that work.

We know school works best when students are engaged in and motivated by the learning. And at the Climate Strike, I heard nothing but engagement and motivation. Now it’s just up to us to find a way for school to simply keep up.

Emily: How does this connect to what you learn in school or what you do there?

Aiden : Well, school teachers kind of want us to be aware of what’s going on in the outside world and I think this is a great opportunity to show them that we can be activists and do things like this.

Emily: Is there anything you want teachers to know?

Aiden: I’ll make up the work later.





This has been an episode of The 21st Century Classroom, podcast of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. Thank you to all the students who took time out of their protests to speak with me, especially Margaret, Jack and Phoebe. And a big thank you to Deanna Bailey, of the Vermont Energy Education Program. This episode was produced by me, Emily Hoyler. Series producer is Audrey Homan. Music for the podcast was provided by Meizong and Yeeflex, and Ben Vanderbosch. Used with permission.

Subscribe to us on iTunes or Google Play. If you like what you hear, leave us a review. And thank you for listening.

(re)Building community

Breaking bread & stereotypes with formerly incarcerated Vermonters

community-based learning the humans of burkeFood and community are inextricably linked.

Birthdays, funerals, weddings, holidays: a meal with family and friends is a powerful component of our life celebrations and milestones. We create connections and build relationships around the dinner table, the buffet line, and the sheet cake.

What happens when we eat with members of our community that we don’t ordinarily encounter?

Sixth graders in the cooking seminar at the Dorset School, in Dorset VT, have been growing their kitchen skills, eating and sharing the food they cook.  But their teacher, Nate Merrill, wanted them to explore how their newfound cooking skills could create connection outside the school walls. With that in mind, he reached out to Rutland Dismas House.

What’s Dismas House?

Dismas of Vermont provides a supportive home for formerly incarcerated Vermonters as they transition back into society.  

The mission of Dismas of Vermont, Inc. is to reconcile former prisoners with society and society with former prisoners. Community is fundamentally about relationship and it is precisely the relationship between the person who has committed a crime and their community that is broken, first by the real harm done by the crime committed and subsequently by the alienation that results from incarceration. In reconciliation, wholeness is restored to the former prisoner and to society.

Dismas visited Dorset

A few of the Rutland Dismas House residents visited Dorset’s sixth graders along with Rutland Dismas director Terese Black. Terese began by asking students,

“If someone were to go to prison, where do they go when they get out?”

Students then listed a variety of options: the homes they lived in before, their family, a homeless shelter, the streets. Terese explained that for many people, options are limited. With this in mind, Dismas House provides support so that the formerly incarcerated can get a job, reconcile with their family, and get their lives back together.

“These are good people who made bad choices,” said Terese.  “We offer them a safe place to come home to so they can be in the lives of those they love and do the work they are skilled to do.”

Jason and Travis’s stories

Rutland Dismas House director Terese Black and residents Jason and Travis talk to 6th grade students from the Dorset School.

Travis and Jason each shared accounts of their lives, outlining the choices they made that landed them in prison, and the choices they are making now to rebuild their lives. Jason claims, “Dismas saved my life.”  He is currently working in construction and has re-connected with his son. Travis shared the conditions of his childhood that were beyond his control and caused some trauma in his life.  He urged students to reach out for help when they are struggling, something he wished he had been able to do. Dismas House is a place where he gets the support he needs to reintegrate into society.

Students asked questions about life in prison and life at Dismas House. They learned about the hard work prisoners do for little pay, the living conditions in prison, and the limited access to appealing food. They listened as Jason and Travis explained how Dismas supports them as they pursue their hopes and dreams.  And students shared their own interests and passions, which Jason and Travis urged them to stay focused on.

…and Dorset visited Dismas

Meals are an integral part of building community at Dismas Houses

Five nights a week community members cook for and eat with the residents of Dismas House.  These meals have a purpose beyond feeding hungry people.  Dismas believes in bringing society into the house to share a meal is a process of reconciliation.  Former prisoners reconcile with society, and society reconciles with former prisoners.  Each has harmed the other, these meals are a way of restoring positive relationships between the two.

Dorset students visited Rutland Dismas House on two consecutive evenings. They brought food — chili, chicken soup, bread, and cookies — as well as genuine curiosity about these residents of their community.

The meals begin with grace, and an opportunity to share gratitudes. Then everyone digs in. The conversation flows. People share stories, tell jokes, and enjoy each other’s company.  It’s hard to tell who benefited more: the residents of Dismas House or the students from the Dorset School.  Both parties had the opportunity to expand their sense of community — and share some delicious homemade food!

Building empathy, breaking down stereotypes

Dorset 6th graders set out to learn an important life skill: cooking.  But their teacher elevated the experience by giving it a larger purpose: community-building. They brought food, lovingly prepared.  The table was set.  And then the magic happened.  A group of people sat down together to share food and stories, and as happens over many a dinner table, they also cultivated connections and strengthened community.

We live in a country with the largest incarceration rate in the world. Once prisoners have served their time, they face societal bias and stereotypes, which impact their ability to re-assimilate into society. The Dismas mission faces this problem head-on:

If we hold people accountable for their actions as a matter of justice, then reconciliation is a completion of that justice. For a former prisoner to be reconciled to their community that person needs to overcome the sense of alienation – that sense of being an outsider and unwanted, they must become participating members of their community, and they must be returned to full citizenship with all its responsibilities and rights.

Society must do its part to tackle this problem as well. Visiting Dismas House provided Dorset students with the experiences necessary for expanding their own understanding of community by practicing empathy. Tying this type of encounter to such a central, primal ritual as the meal makes the connection heartfelt.

One parent reported, “I’ve never heard him talk so much about anything before. He was sort of afraid, but after going to Dismas he realized that they were just really nice people.”

Spending time with real people had a powerful impact on this student. It dismantled the assumptions he had about the formerly incarcerated, and allowed him to see that we are more alike than we are different. And by connecting students with the Dismas House, Nate taught them that who they eat with is just as important as what they cook. That inviting people to the table is just as invaluable a skill as cooking a perfect egg.

As Margaret Wheatly says, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.” A meal not only nourishes bodies, it also nourishes community.  As we share food and stories, we get to know one another and nurture empathy for our common humanity.

How are your students making meaningful connections with their communities?

How to create empathy with your community

Meet the Compassionate Faces of the Shires

community-based learning the humans of burkeHow do your students recognize compassion? Do they recognize it in the faces of your community?

In Manchester VT, one educator set about teaching her students to recognize and honor compassion in community members.
Continue reading How to create empathy with your community

“Who are we as West Rutland?”

Community exploration builds connection

community-based learning the humans of burkeWhat happens when you ask your students what they want to learn about and how they like to learn, then you turn them loose on a three-day self-directed series of projects generated from their ideas? Teachers at West Rutland School recently found out.

(Spoiler alert: it’s harder, fun, and more engaging than regular school days!)

Continue reading “Who are we as West Rutland?”

4 ways to jazz up a school exhibition

Going beyond the gallery walk

community based learningExhibition season is upon us!

And as you’re making ready to throw open the doors of your school and welcome in the community, let’s look at a handful of ways to jazz up any school event: by planning your capturing in advance, making interactive takeaways, going off-campus(!) or setting up a digital guestbook.

Continue reading 4 ways to jazz up a school exhibition

Developing empathy for your community

Meet the Humans of Burke

community-based learning the humans of burkeSo many schools operate in isolation from the very communities they are situated in. Do your students know community members? Does your community see your students as young community members?

One small school in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom interpreted the popular “Humans of New York” project to foster connection between their 8th graders and the town’s community. Meet the Humans of Burke.

Continue reading Developing empathy for your community

Having the hard conversations in Southern Vermont

It takes a village to talk about substance abuse with students

The 21st Century Classroom podcastLondonderry, VT-based non-profit The Collaborative is in its 14th year of “Refuse to Use”, a substance abuse-prevention program that creates community conversations about alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

They base their curriculum off hyper-regional data and depend on community members — parents, educators and students — telling them what to talk about next.

Continue reading Having the hard conversations in Southern Vermont

The value of a community mentor

How did an 8th grader turn his passion project into a summer job?

the value of a community mentorI found Connor in the tech ed room during the first session of Brainado, a school-wide Genius Hour at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vermont.

He was taking apart a lawn mower. When asked why, he shrugged and mumbled something about how another student might need an engine part for their project. His Brainado project was undefined. He didn’t seem to have much of a plan other than tinkering.

Fast-forward four months and Connor is getting paid to work part-time at the Waterbury Service Center garage. He knows his way around the shop, has learned about persistence and problem-solving, and gleaned plenty of life lessons from Albert Caron, the owner and lead mechanic. But how did Connor get from Point A to Point B?

Continue reading The value of a community mentor

Idle-Free Vermont in Shelburne

8th grade scientists tackle carbon emissions at a busy traffic circle

community based learningThis past year, Shelburne Community School middle grades students took part in Idle-Free VT‘s ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions from idling cars near schools.

The students’ outreach efforts led to a 79% measured reduction in carbon emissions at the school’s traffic circle, while an unanticipated response from drivers led the students to initiate a change in the study’s protocol.

Continue reading Idle-Free Vermont in Shelburne

Making history on the radio with community partners

Middle school students power Brattleboro’s radio days

The 21st Century Classroom podcastBrattleboro, Vermont was incorporated back in 1753, a former military fort that embraced trading, commerce and the power of nearby Whetstone Falls to spur mill production. It was where Rudyard Kipling settled to write The Jungle Book, and where Harriet Beecher Stowe came to seek the famous 18th century water cure. It’s been home to countless tiny, fascinating episodes of Vermont history — episodes that current residents can now listen to each week on the radio, being described and re-enacted by students from Brattleboro Area Middle School.

Continue reading Making history on the radio with community partners

Community Based Learning in Vermont: What’s going on?

4 lessons from a recent gathering

community based learningOn Friday, March 11, more than 50 participants from public and private schools, community education partners, and higher education from Vermont and the surrounding region gathered for a Community Based Learning workday, put on by Big Picture Learning, Eagle Rock School, Big Picture South Burlington, and Partnership for Change. This day of speakers, working sessions, and roundtable discussions brought together educators from different settings to “explore the possibilities, challenges, and resources of community-based learning in Vermont.”

A few folks from the Tarrant Institute were in attendance, and in this post we present 4 lessons about community-based learning in Vermont, gathered from the formal and informal discussions throughout the day. Continue reading Community Based Learning in Vermont: What’s going on?