Post-Graduate Education Fellows 2020 - A Reflection
Through a variety of internships, apprenticeships, and fellowships, the Farm has long supported students and young professionals as they explore career paths in education, agriculture, or the environmental fields. In particular, since 2018, we have hired 12 Postgraduate Education Fellows, who stay with us for 6 months to a year to immerse themselves in our education programs and practices (and just about any other experience on the Farm!). Their time here often shapes their future career choices in profound ways.
Our latest cohort of Fellows wrapped up their time with us in late May, and due to COVID-19, we are not bringing on new Fellows for the fall. We checked in with our 2020 fellows mid-way through time with us, now Alice Cusick shares her final reflection.
The arrival of spring this year was bittersweet: it’s a beautiful time to be living and working at Shelburne Farms, but it also meant that my time as an education fellow was coming to a close. This place has come to feel like home, and I am so grateful to the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had here.
My main goal for the past ten months was to gain clarity about my career goals. I knew I was interested in teaching, but lacked direction beyond that. I hoped for a breadth of experiences that would help me discover what shape I wanted my professional life to take. Throughout the course of my fellowship, I’ve worked with preschoolers to college undergrads. I’ve led half-day programs and eight-week long programs. I’ve taught programs that educators have been teaching for years and created entirely new programming. I’ve worked indoors and outdoors, both on and off the farm. All of these experiences have made me a more confident educator, and I now have a better idea of how a future work environment could look.
None of the aforementioned experiences would have been possible if it weren’t for the incredible team of school programs educators at Shelburne Farms. Because we taught the same program over and over for a few weeks, I often got to observe more than one educator teaching a given program. I enjoyed getting to see the different ways in which the same activities could be run, and was constantly amazed by the creativity I witnessed. Everyone was excellent at leading school programs, but also at helping me learn how to teach (meta teaching, I suppose). I appreciated how much time we took for reflection, and how even the most experienced educators modeled seeking guidance. Teaching the same program day after day, it would have been easy to routinely deliver the same material to every group that came to Shelburne Farms. Instead, we took time to discuss how each day went, why, and how we could improve for the next day.
In addition to school programs, I got to participate in other experiences at the farm. Doing chores at the Children’s Farmyard was an unexpected highlight of my experience, and provided me with new skills, and an unexpected love of donkeys. Helping out during holiday shipping gave me insight into a different part of the farm’s operations. I felt really supported in finding ways to represent Shelburne Farms at events off the farm, including the NOFA-VT conference, the Farm Show, and Wintervale. At all of these events, I was able to interact with children who might have been to the Farm, and have interesting conversations with curious adults. All of these opportunities helped me gain a better understanding of the complexity that defines Shelburne Farms.
I was devastated when school was cancelled due to COVID-19 and it became clear that we would not see any more students for the remainder of my fellowship. All the parts of the job I enjoyed most were no longer safe, and it was hard to imagine what would happen during my last three months at Shelburne Farms. Fortunately, there is always a lot happening on the farm, even when there are no students to witness it. The other fellows and I transitioned into working nearly full time at the market garden, and I feel lucky to have been able to spend so much time there. I have learned so much about the process of growing and distributing food, and have enjoyed every second of the work.
When I applied for this position, I could never have predicted what the next ten months would bring, but I’m so glad I took a leap and landed here. My time here has solidified that I want to be an educator, and the lessons I’ve learned here will be with me for the rest of my life.
— Alice Cusick
Shelburne Farms 2020 Graduate Fellow
Although Alice has wrapped up her Fellowship, she is continuinng to work part-time at the Market Garden through the summer and fall, as she seeks out her next position in this pandemic-skewed world. We appreciate all her work for the Farm.