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Place-based learning for Vermont high school students

7 min read / June 10, 2022 / By Rachel Mullis

Outdoor education inspires high school students at King Farm in Woodstock

Learning from the land

Ada Mahood is an avid student at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock. But her favorite teacher is the land. “Being in a school building can cause a lot of stress,” says Ada. “I love learning outside and being immersed in that.”

Ada can get that chance through a school program called CRAFT: Community and Climate Resilience through Agriculture, Forestry, and Technology. Many of its place-based learning courses use the grounds of VLT’s King Farm in Woodstock.

CRAFT is an example of place-based learning, where students learn from their surroundings. A class might study chemistry by collecting water samples or take a trip visit the Statehouse to see how a bill gets passed. Teachers who use this model report higher student motivation and knowledge retention. Perhaps that’s because students can see the impact of their efforts.



Photo: courtesy of the CRAFT program

Learning about climate change from the land itself

“It connects you to how you make an impact on the world, up close, right where you are,” says Priscilla Richardson, another Woodstock Union student who participated in CRAFT.

Learning that lets you get your hands dirty resonates for students who are worried about climate change but feel disconnected from opportunities to take action.

“Learning about climate change without any outlet to feel like you’re making any positive change is not productive or healthy,” says Kat Robbins, Woodstock Union teacher and co-developer of the CRAFT program.

“Place-based learning informs so many professions beyond agriculture and forestry,” says Kat. “We want city planners, biochemists, investors, and everyone in between to have this lens of sustainability and community to make decisions from.”

“The idea is to create a much deeper connection between students and the place where they live,” said Janis. “The hope is that students will want to take care of the place around them, no matter where they live or what their career path may be.”


Photo: courtesy of the CRAFT program

King Farm is an ideal outdoor classroom

This learning model can happen almost anywhere outside, but King Farm is particularly well-suited.

“The farm has everything we could possibly need, and is across from school, and is connected to the national park system,” says Janis Boulbol, the school’s Agriculture Innovation Instructor and CRAFT program co-developer.

The land has been farmed since . It was given to the Vermont Land Trust by Francisca King Thomas in 1985. The farm was our headquarters for many years. The forested hills are an invasive species control demonstration area for VLT and the neighboring historical park.

Trails are open to the public. There are art installations during the annual Sculpturefest. Vermont Youth Conservation Corps volunteers tackle invasives and improve the trails.

High school students sugar there each spring, study carbon sequestration, and install poems along the trail.

Land trusts: Connecting land and learning

As a member of CRAFT’s advisory committee, we are excited to support the program’s vision.

“The Vermont Land Trust provides expertise around what’s needed and what’s possible, as well as technical support to make it happen,” said VLT’s Ben Waterman. “We foster community connections to the land and are pleased to have added this program to King Farm’s ongoing partnerships.”

“We hope this experience will give young people a variety of skills and new ways of looking at the world around them,” says Janis. “In our world today, so many of us are heads-down, do what we’ve got to do, make the money,” she adds. “But how can we build community? That’s what it’s really all about.”

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