School Notes: Sustainability in the Classroom

At two Upper Valley schools they’re planting seeds: figuratively in the case of 80 seventh- and eighth-graders competing to design the most efficient model wind turbines at Hartford Memorial Middle School, and literally in the case of pupils cultivating a prize-winning garden at Thetford Elementary.

“I saw some (commercial turbines) on our way to Canada for a French program,” seventh-grader Caitlin Gaudet recalled while her team in science class measured the power output of different angles and numbers of blades on one experimental turbine last week. “When you see them you don’t realize why they’re there, what they’re doing…”

“Doing this,” teammate Alexis Johnston continued, “it helps to understand better about how we get our energy, and what we can do.”

Seeing his students connect the dots pleases science teacher Joel Singley as much as the direct lessons they’re learning in engineering, electricity and magnetism.

“While they’re evaluating the data they’re collecting, they come to their own conclusions and debates, rather than just reading articles and repeating it back,” Singley said. “They really jumped on the data from the (blade-angle) tests right away. They’re already getting ready to use that information in their final design.”

After five teams of Singley’s students present those final designs for a competition on Wednesday, it remains up in the air whether this exercise — designed to prepare seventh-graders for the study of life sciences in grade eight — will lead them to study science or engineering or renewable energy in college, or move on to careers in those fields.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Aidan Grant said. “Right now it’s just fun doing activities, more than just reading about these things. It’s fun doing interactive things.”

Working with instructors from East Thetford’s Cedar Circle Farm and the Upper Valley Farm to School Network (UVFSN), students at Thetford Elementary have been interacting with the soil since 2007 — and have refined their system to the point where, this spring, the Northeast Resource Recovery Association named Thetford the Vermont School Recycler of the Year.

“We’re especially proud of this honor because recycling is just one part of our overall effort to reduce our landfill trash,” said school nurse Joette Hayashigawa, who with her husband installed the first seven raised beds of the garden in 2006. “It includes growing fruits and vegetables in our extensive gardens, serving the produce in our school lunches, composting all organic waste in our five-bin compost system and returning the resulting compost to the gardens. We’ve developed curriculum at nearly every level of this cycle and have over the past several years developed many community connections, especially with Cedar Circle Farm. It’s a great model of other schools, especially in light of the new Vermont legislation barring organic waste from landfills.”

Transitions

The Upper Valley Farm to School Network (UVFSN) announced recently that it will merge with Vital Communities on July 1. Under the joining of forces, Vital Communities will hire a farm-to-school coordinator to work with Becka Warren, manager of Vital Communities’ Valley Food & Farm program.

In announcing the merger on UVFSN’s website, founding director Peter Allison, who is stepping aside, said, “Growing interest in local food and farm to school programs has generated an increasing demand for our services, and with those, a need for more complex and stable organizational functions. We were at a crossroad: Either grow bigger and become an independent non-profit organization, or merge with a partner organization. For a host of reasons, the latter became the obvious choice. And once that decision was made, it was clear that Vital Communities was the ideal fit. We have had a long and positive relationship with Vital Communities on both the fiscal and programmatic front. Both organizations are place-based and have a similar service region. Our missions are fully aligned and the cultures, values and approaches of each organization are in sync.”

Allison said that he will now focus on the Farm to Institution New England (FINE) network, a six-state collaboration of “many partner organizations working to strengthen the regional food system by increasing demand for and use of New England food by New England institutions.”

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