Champlain Valley Union High School is using its rural setting in the community as a perk.
There are bonuses to attending school in a city like Burlington or Montpelier. There are museums and other institutions, organizations and agencies that students can walk to in a larger city. But CVU has capitalized on its forested and agrarian setting to building equally rewarding learning opportunities in the Natural Resources program.
“One of our biggest assets is our property,” said science and natural resources teacher Dave Trevithick as he toured the CVU campus. “We’re trying to create equity for students to be able to do projects on campus.”
Trevithick shared examples of the quantity, quality and variety of projects by students in the Natural Resources program. And although they are encouraging students to use the campus as a learning resource, they are also encouraging students to reach off campus to do their projects. For example, Trevithick said, students might consult with members of the community who work with greenhouses and who would share techniques they’ve learned in their work.
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Audubon Center have someone who works with students every semester on campus,” he said.
Every student is expected to have a Personalized Learning Plan and this is an opportunity for a student to discover what drives them, what their passion is.
“They can flow that passion and have a structure for working on it,” said Trevithick.
In the Natural Resources classes, students work on projects that are environmentally sustainable.
A plethora of projects
Students are working on green energy for the school greenhouse. The greenhouse itself was a student project and now students are working on a solar-powered green energy system, so they will be able to have lights or close or open the sides of the greenhouse according to the weather.
There’s a chicken coop that was welded by students in the Innovation Hub, which is a technical education program.
“It’s all interest-based learning,” said Mike Abbott, another science and natural resources teacher. “If you give kids a chance, they can do amazing things.”
In one of Abbott’s natural resources classes, a group of students are sitting around a table, huddled over laptops. They are using GIS (geographic information system) and mapping out all the paths on the school’s property, looking at what remediations or trail work are needed.
Last year, students worked on a project to take plastic straws out of the cafeteria. Now, Gracey Hoechner is looking at a sustainable alternative.
Abbott introduced Clara MacFaden, who is looking into the feasibility of installing turf on CVU’s athletic fields and searching for an option that is affordable.
“Lacrosse, baseball, ultimate frisbee and almost every other sport in the spring is at the mercy of mother nature because of the snow,” said Abbott. “A turf field would provide the opportunity to have a field early in the season every year. This has been a pretty hot topic of conversation here in this community. She’s not really taking a side; she’s just really investigating what it is.”
Clara is reaching outside of CVU, contacting other schools that have turf and hearing their pros and cons on the issue.
Researching a late bus
Madison Casarico is looking at more sustainable transportation and alternative fuels. The school used to have a late bus for students who played sports or participated in other extracurricular activities but who didn’t have rides home.
The late bus has been discontinued, at least in part, because of the cost of gasoline. And there has been a subsequent drop in participation in extracurricular activities, said Abbott.
“Almost every kid is doing something completely unrelated to any other student,” he said. “All of the work is completely interest-based in here – which makes this class very unique.”
“Everyone in here is contacting other sources beyond me. My capacity is limited in a sense. I have a very broad understanding of what’s going on in here, but these projects are super specific, so I ask them to connect with people who are experts in these fields,” said Abbott.
In a large tech education lab filled with all sorts of woodworking equipment, Kyle Cahn is building a boat for students to use to sample water in the school’s fire pond.
Back outside the school, Trevithick strides down a hill via a grass trail that leads to the backside of the school’s fire pond, next to a small but promising grove of apple trees. The trees were planted as a student’s project two years ago, and the plan is for them to eventually supply apples to the school cafeteria.
The pond is surrounded by a thick buffer of reeds and other wetland plants.
“The bank of the pond used to get mowed all the way down, but some of the students did planting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife as part of their stormwater project. They planted this vegetative buffer that’s protecting the fire pond,” he said.
Trevithick points out duck boxes for the waterfowl to use for breeding, another student project. Around the field of apple trees, there are bat boxes, also a student project.
Trevithick explained how educational goals are met through a project like the bat boxes. The project required students to “understand bats and how they’re part of the ecosystem, they have to understand that ecosystem, what happens if we don’t have bats. White nose fungus is a problem and then there’s the building process.”
Building the boxes exercised students’ math skills. Trevithick said.
“Bats need a way to climb up, so the kids needed to learn how to use a CNC (computer numerical control) router.” That required some knowledge of computer programming.
So, students at CVU may not be able to walk to an art museum, but they can walk to the world’s best laboratory – nature.