Sustainability and eco-responsibility: VSC walks the talk

By Laurie Caswell Burke

Shelburne’s neighbor, Vermont Commons School (VCS), has a longstanding mission guided by a strong environmental ethic. “Understanding the relationships between humans and the world they share is the primary goal of education,” VCS believes. “For students to appreciate their place and role in their environment – and respond with wonder and confidence – the learning experiences must be embedded in multiple human and natural contexts.”

Things have clearly ramped up this academic year. The school is focused on integrating their ecologically-focused mission into daily operations. A Sustainability Committee formed last fall – comprised of faculty, students, parents, and a school board member – to look at the different ways they could improve sustainability as a school. Subsequently, math teacher Bradley Materick taught “Launching the VCS Sustainability Initiative,” a course which focused not only on what sustainability means to VCS but what VCS can learn from other schools about energy use, water issues, and waste. The twelve students who took this class became members of the Sustainability Committee.

Recently, Materick was appointed the first VCS sustainability coordinator. “One of my key roles in this capacity is to look at the different ways we can be sustainable as a school and identify and prioritize projects,” he shares. “One of the goals is to utilize the classroom as a way to inspire students to tackle projects themselves.” This semester, Maverick is teaching “Redesigning the Handling of Solid Waste,” which focuses on trash, compost, and items able to be donated in order to reduce what ends up in the landfills. Students had multiple field trips, including visits to Green Mountain Composting, ReSource, and the Environmental Depot. Students recently took part in a trash audit where they discovered that 60 percent of the materials in their trash can be composted—which they transported to CSWD.

Like Champlain Valley Union High School, the VCS community works to reduce their carbon footprint and inspire students to engage in ecologically-minded initiatives. I anticipate this is only the beginning of many initiatives that will emerge in the coming years as VCS and other schools embrace a cleaner, greener landscape.