Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability
The room at the Coach Barn was completely silent. Along with thousands of others around the world, we were observing a minute of silence for International Peace Day. Then it was over and the room began buzzing again with the voices of 70 educators and students gathering to kick off a year of learning, collaborating, and building a sustainable future – Education for Sustainability!
The event at Shelburne Farms on September 21 was the inspiration of two exceptional educators: Kate Toland of Peoples Academy in Morrisville and Lindsey Halman of EDGE Academy at Essex Middle School. Both are deeply committed to engaging their students and communities in addressing local and global sustainability. And they know a lot of other educators are, too! So Kate and Lindsey collaborated with Shelburne Farms and the Bay and Paul Foundations to create a project called Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability.
Specifically, their vision is to connect the promising efforts of Vermont’s Act 77 — personalized learning, flexible pathways to graduation — to that of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They want to link what is going on inside classrooms to larger statewide efforts that are making a difference in our world. The dream of Kate and Lindsey is to rewrite the somber narratives around many issues that middle and high school students will face: climate change, poverty, gender inequalities, etc.
Planning for the kick-off event began last spring. Students were invited to outline how cultivating authentic youth-adult partnerships can help build a socially, economically, and ecologically just society. The response was overwhelming, attracting teams from around the state.
At the event itself, students prioritized the 17 Sustainable Development goals according to which ones they felt were most critical to creating a sustainable future. In a special pre-recorded address, Bill McKibben of 350.org shared how a systems approach to problem solving has informed his work to address climate change, and how being part of a global movement motivates him for all the hard work it demands. He also encouraged students to seek diverse perspectives in grassroots problem solving.
Throughout the day, educators and students developed a sense of their potential to address critical issues such as global climate change and clean water and sanitation. “This was out-of-the-classroom learning at its best,” said Sam Nelson, a middle school teacher from Shelburne Community School.
“The day was fun. I loved the rap about the sustainable development goals! I don't often get to spend so much time thinking about these bigger issues and learning about global sustainability. The day has helped me better understand and look at our school in general and how students can initiate positive change using the goals that the UN has established.”
— Hadley Perkins, sophomore, Burr and Burton Academy
Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability was inspired by the work of the Vermont Learning for the Future network, and it focused on one of VLFF’s key goals: to engage educators and student teams in learning beyond conventional school hours and walls. Throughout the year, students and educators will work with resource experts to develop and implement student-driven projects, then share results, questions, and inspiration via a blog. In April, all of the teams will gather again for more learning and sharing. And for celebration!
I couldn’t help but feel inspired and full of hope when I heard the students report out on their projects and their vision for their work this fall. Or, as Sam Nelson put it, “the time was fruitful, meaningful, loaded with potential for immediate and long-term progress, and - most importantly – fun.”
“This institute was a deeper dive into Education for Sustainability. My personal values align with its goals, but now I am driven to take more of these topics and values into my classroom.”
— STEM Coach, VT