How to make real, sustainable change in the Northeast Kingdom

Think Global Goals, make local change

 

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious goals that countries, organizations, and institutions are committed to. They provide a framework that inspires students to connect local issues with global movements, to care deeply, and to make their own a plans for positive change. They include things such as:

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Cleaner Water and Sanitation
  • Gender Equality
  • Affordable and Clean Energy

While these may sound pretty daunting, students around the world are finding them useful in designing projects to improve their own communities. At Burke Town School, in West Burke VT, 8th graders have spent the past year putting the Global Goals into action around their school and community. Here’s how it worked.

Sustain your community garden

Last year, one of the projects the 8th graders at Burke did for Global Goals was to plant a garden — outside the Burke Town Offices. The garden continues to thrive, and Burke’s students continue to stock it with plants and seedlings. Burke Town School has a greenhouse on campus, and this year’s 8th graders have been hard at work planting new seeds and establishing how to add them to the community garden, and who will be responsible for them. They’re hoping to teach their community to take what they need from the garden and contribute to the planting cycle. In addition, the 8th graders are teaching Burke Town School’s kindergarteners the fine art of gardening, passing the message on. It takes a village to sustain a community garden.

Put a beehive on campus

Believe it or not, it is possible — with a few caveats. Burke students worked with principal Stacy Rice on what it could look like to install and maintain a beehive on school grounds. Rice helped students get in touch with the district’s insurance agency, to talk about how they’d need to amend their coverage. And here in Vermont, it’s a state law that if you’re going to put a beehive anywhere, you must inform the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. They just like to keep track. Additionally, whenever the students are outside working with the bees, Burke’s school nurse must accompany them, just in case. “I just want it to be part of the school’s culture, just to be normalized to have a beehive,” said Burke 8th grader Wisteria.

Build bike trails

The Northeast Kingdom boasts some of the best mountain biking trails in the country, including the famed Kingdom East trails system. And most of the Burke students are themselves avid riders. So they decided to build their own trails on school grounds, including berms and jumps. The eventual goal is to connect the Burke Town School trails with Kingdom East. Students believe that having readily accessible bike trails at school supports Global Goal #3, “Good Health and Wellbeing”. They hope it will inspire students and the community to be more active.

Make good art — and help people go see it

One of the concerns Burke’s students have is that their community could use more support with mental health issues. Depression is an issue they see a lot in the area. So to raise awareness of mental health issues and more importantly, to get their community talking about them, students contacted some local artists about installing murals around town. They hope the murals spur conversations around mental health, and normalize asking for help when you need it.  In fact, they are planning a community walk/run between these murals to raise awareness. This group also worked with Up for Learning to learn about restorative practices. They then taught the teachers and younger students how to support each other’s mental health needs.

Plant trees for the future

Concerned about plants in the future? Take action now and get some trees in the ground! Partnering with the Connecticut River Conservancy, Kingdom Trails Association, and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Conservation Group, and “Mad Dog” chapter of Trout Unlimited, (“If you take care of the fish, the fishing will take care of itself.”) students picked up some shovels and got to work, lining a section of the Kingdom Trails bike path with new maples and dogwoods.

Fight hunger at home

Project HOPE is a food shelf serving more than 30 towns across the Northeast Kingdom. In addition to holding a food drive and donating two laundry baskets *full* of food to HOPE, Burke’s 8th graders rolled up their sleeves and turned bakers. Students in the younger grades don’t have a ready source of snacks on Fridays. So with a grant from King Arthur Flour, 8th graders have been making pretzel bites to hold the younger ones over at the end of the week. They also made a huge vat of homemade minestrone soup for Project HOPE’s food pantry. The pantry feeds 15-20 people in the Kingdom each day.

This project-based learning packs a punch

By using project-based learning as a framework for Burke Town School’s Global Goals, educator Morgan Moore provided students with elements key to the impact of the projects.

  • Start with an exciting entry event: At the beginning of the school year, students attended the Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability conference at Shelburne Farms, nearly 100 miles away on the shores of Lake Champlain. They met other Vermont students working on Global Goals and worked with community leaders on strategies for implementing change.
  • Create a driving question: After choosing the most meaningful Global Goals for their local contexts, students brainstormed how those goals could answer a question in the community.
  • Enter the research and creation phase: Students researched how to connect with community partners, and wrote grant applications to fund their projects. They learned from the school how to properly process purchase orders. They made calendars to make sure the work got done on time. Then they did the actual work themselves, digging holes for trees, rolling out pretzels, clearing bike trails, designing murals, assembling a beehive, and planting seeds. Along the way, they documented evidence and reflected on their growth on their PLPs (personalized learning plans). They also considered transferable skills of self-direction, responsible citizenship, and collaboration.
  • Finish with an authentic community sharing opportunity: Burke’s students are returning to Shelburne Farms at the end of the year to share what they’ve accomplished with the same cohort of students from the fall. Additionally, they presented to students from other schools in rural Vermont at the VT Rural Education Collaborative.

How have your students worked on the Global Goals this year?

We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Audrey Homan, Katy Farber

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

What do you think?