New Americans at the Farm

For more than a decade, we’ve welcomed refugee and immigrant children from Sara Holbrook New Arrivals Camp for some summer days at the Farm.

Our partnership has grown over the years, and for the first time this summer, they came for a full week of camp. It was a special week for everyone – kids and staff alike – and for a lot of reasons.

The focus of the New Arrivals Camp is on learning English. For any child, hard-earned academic skills can slide over the summer months. For new Americans hailing from countries all around the world, a backslide in English poses special challenges. The Farm can help solidify and expand those language skills.

“Farming is something that we can all relate to,” explains Anna Viets, instructor for Grades 3-4 campers, “These students are all at such different levels of language proficiency, but for English language learners, it is so important to find common ground that can activate prior knowledge to form the basis for new learning.”

Farming is that common ground.

Kevin Cross, instructor for teens in the camp, puts it this way: “These [farm] experiences bring up new vocabulary or language that is meaningful to students because it is anchored in something that they have seen, touched, or done. They have new experiences that they can connect to previous, or future, learning.”

Some of that learning simply gets them used to their new home – Vermont. That might include understanding the region’s four distinct seasons, Vermont’s tradition of maple sugaring, or knowing that red raspberries ripen in July! “Opportunities like our visits to Shelburne Farms give them some historical and cultural perspective about their new home,” says Anna.

Whatever they are learning, their experiences here are hands-on. It’s what the Farm does best (and a farm offers endless possibilities for it). Hands-on learning is a great equalizer among these children. No matter what your background or language skills, anyone can pull a pea or an onion from the garden, or capture pond critters with a net, or milk a cow.

The Farm can also open kids up. “The classroom can be an intimidating place during the school year, when there is so much to overwhelm newcomer students,” explains Kevin. “Being with peers they can relate to in the New Arrivals program, in a welcoming atmosphere at the Farm, gives students a chance to open up a bit more and take risks they’ve been afraid of in the classroom.”

And the hands-on learning on the Farm has one more check in the plus column: it’s all outside. Anna explains, “Most, if not all, of the students in my class have spent their entire lives in refugee camps before resettling in the US. Many refugee camps are like small cities, with really limited opportunities to explore the natural world. Then these kids to come to a place like Vermont, with almost limitless opportunities for outside exploration, but for the most part, they don’t often get out of Burlington. Their knowledge of what is outside their neighborhood is very limited.” The Farm helps change that.

The talents and dedication of the Sara Holbrook staff, the magic of the Farm, and the irrepressible nature of these kids – despite all they may have faced in getting here, make for a pretty powerful combination. Kevin sums it up simply, “The Farm brings learning to life.” That’s true for any kid.

We are honored to support the work of the Sara Holbrook Community Center, and to play a small role in the lives of these children.


Posted by Holly Brough

September 5, 2017


A great post. It is terrific SF is taking a leadership role in helping the refugees orient themselves to the new world they have come to in Vermont.

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