School’s Out

Kids running toward the camera in a hay field that has been recently mowed, with teachers following in background - Vermont

Outdoor Learning Equals Deeper Connections

After a year of disrupted learning, children headed back into classrooms this fall. But at Mettawee Community School in West Pawlet, it is what’s happening outside that has families talking. Through a partnership with the Merck Forest & Farmland Center and VLT, students can explore the fields and forests behind their school every single day.

“Whether it’s peering at an iced-over pond or buzzing with questions about a deer carcass, children are enhancing their learning—and their well-being—through a deeper connection to the natural world,” says VLT’s Donald Campbell. “For many kids, especially those without a lot of exposure to nature, the experience has been nothing short of transformational.”

biy looking up at camera from the ground where is studying nature with his notebook outdoors - Vermont

“Kids for the past year and a half have been sitting in front of screens learning—how much better to be out and putting your hands on something! As opposed to sitting in the classroom to read about biodiversity, they are actually exploring it.” — Christine Hubbard, Education Director, Merck Forest & Farmland Center


“When the kids are outside, they are absolutely beaming, loving, laughing. Kids that would sometimes be reluctant movers being like, ‘This is so awesome!’ Being excited. Or sledding and making the long hike back up the hill: they didn’t really realize that it was exercise.” — Janna Webb, P.E. teacher, Mettawee Community School


two girls examining milkweed seed with their nature education teacher -- out in a pasture - Vermont

“It’s fun learning about nature. Sometimes we would go outside and see something new and learn all about it. When I went home, I would tell my parents and we would go to different places to learn about it even more. We would ride our four-wheeler up different trails and look at the things we looked at school, and I would tell them about it.” — Cheyenne, fourth grader


“My favorite spot is Snake Rock Mountain. Me and Mr. Harmon [teacher] would see a lot of snakes on the way. Now we call it Newt Rock Mountain because there’s been a lot more newts.” — Eli, third grader


girl smiling at camera and holding up a leaf and a sprig of flowers in the woods - Vermont


“I’m really excited about the future. The potential for what we can do is unlimited and we’re having the kids brainstorm a vision for the land. It is an amazing gift for our kids — so many experiences that they will always remember.” — Brooke DeBonis, Principal, Mettawee Community School


“I believe that more teaching and learning focused on ecology, and occurring in the natural world, is a critical aspect of raising innovators who will understand the challenges that we face and be poised to make meaningful change.” — Rob Terry, Executive Director, Merck Forest & Farmland Center


Story by Rachel Mullis. Photos by Caleb Kenna. A version of this story appeared in our 2020-21 Year in Review.