By MADELINE HUGHES
Shelburne Farms has had the Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability program for three years, helping students from grades K-12 learn about sustainability. Now, Shelburne Farms has been recognized by the United Nations as a “Flagship Project” for its contributions to quality education.
Vermont students and educators are invited every September to Shelburne Farms to learn about the sustainability goals, to cultivate ideas on how to meet those goals, and to network with individuals working in those fields. Students then go back to their respective schools and create projects to achieve those goals. In May, they return to the farm to present their projects.
“Part of our innovation is getting students K-12 to learn about sustainability,” said Megan Camp, Shelburne Farms Vice President and program director. “There’s lots of talk at a higher education level, but people fail to recognize the role that middle schoolers and elementary schoolers can play in their community.”
In 2014, Shelburne Farms became part of the Greater Burlington’s United Nations designation as a Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. That led to Shelburne Farms being recognized for its Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability program in December.
The program started with a collaboration between Kate Toland of Peoples Academy in Morrisville and Lindsey Halman, formerly of EDGE Academy at Essex Middle School, in collaboration with Shelburne Farms and the Rubenstein School of the University of Vermont. They paired Vermont’s personalized learning initiative with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to form a curriculum where students would create year-long projects to address those goals.
The United Nations set 17 goals for sustainable development ranging from eradicating poverty and hunger to promoting equality between genders to combating climate change.
“We talk about sustainability beyond the theory and turn it into practice,” Camp said. “People tell us sustainability is so abstract, and you look at the K-12 students running around doing these projects. It’s a tremendously popular opportunity for authentic student engagement.”
Student projects inspired through Shelburne Farm’s program have included a student-run cooperative that operates under a sustainable mission, a project providing healthy food on weekends to students in need, teens teaching younger students about gender equity, and a collaborative art project between schools on the development goals.
In 2016, Shelburne Community School sent a small group of sixth through eighth graders to Shelburne Farms to participate in the program. Students came back inspired to look at the school’s recycling and composting practices. They organized an in-school awareness campaign to inspire improvements.
“There were some bright spots and belly flops from our group that year,” said Sam Nelson, a Shelburne Community School middle level teacher who worked with students on the 2016 project. “Many of the learning curves came from figuring out how four passionate students can generate momentum and support from the greater student body, all while competing with things like limited time, varying schedules, and figuring out who the most effective partners for change might be.”
The educational partnership between Shelburne Farms and Vermont schools is going strong in its third year. Students will return to the farm in May to share their most recent projects.
“The big thing is that kids are making a difference in their community today – they aren’t waiting to become adults,” Camp said. “They are citizens now today, and they can contribute to a sustainable future.”