August/Sept 2021: Gifts

Gifts, however large or small, are at the center of the relationships that power our communities and our learning. Stories from the summer and the reopening of school are full of examples of giving and receiving from each other and the natural world.

At Wolcott REACH! summer camp, the garden gifted ingredients for herbal footbaths, summer spritzers, pickled garlic scapes and lots of taste-tests. In return, campers gifted the garden with hard work to keep new plants watered and weeds at bay.

REACH! kids at the Hardwick summer camp walked down to the community gardens at Atkins Field to help harvest produce to share with the community through the Hardwick Area Food Pantry. Peas, garlic, lettuce, kale, and mixed herb bundles were picked, cleaned, weighed, portioned and of course tasted by these young gardeners.

Hazen greenhouse: Just before summer break, a group of students, teachers and community partners spent an industrious day putting a new plastic roof on the Hazen Greenhouse. The problem-solving and teamwork were amazing to witness, the results were high quality, and the process was joyful. Food and flowers have been happily growing under the new roof this summer and are beginning to be harvested and used by classes now that school is back in session.

During inservice week, teachers at Lakeview began collaborating to plan for community-centered learning this year. The list of ideas and resources that they generated illustrates so much possibility for deep and meaningful place-based engagement.

A reflection from Lakeview 3/4 teacher Ms. Beckley:

My class and I had some beautiful moments in the garden today. We did a “Cool in School” meditation, a little flowy standing yoga, had snack during our read aloud, and sketched the beauty around us. During these moments, we were visited by many monarchs, one I was lucky enough to catch a photo of. I thanked my friends for being calm enough for the monarchs to feel like they could stay near us. Pretty powerful and beautiful moments.

Welcome back bouquets being put together by Hazen librarian, Sarah Keener, for the first day of school.

May/June 2021: Landing

Through the challenges and changes of this school year, we have landed in new perspectives, new relationships, new awareness, new priorities, and new intentions. And in many ways we have also landed in renewed connection with the land itself – a context and partner for learning and healing. The stories, photos and audio clips below are just some of the many examples from OSSU of springtime learning with the land.

A village of forest classrooms can be found in the woods behind Hardwick Elementary School athletic fields. Each class has a special space where they gather and learn each week. Listen to the audio clips below to hear students from third grade and kindergarten share their forest classroom experiences.

Forest Classroom – 3rd Grade
Nature Sit-Spots – Kindergarten
Living/Nonliving Collection – Kindergarten

At the Lakeview School Gardens, students in Leslie Campos’s class are growing food, flowers and art. And math skills, too! (as you will hear in the audio clip below).

Lakeview Garden – 4,5,6 Grades

Also at Lakeview, a wildly popular outdoor mud kitchen is the playground’s newest feature. Former Lakeview teacher Lisa Sedore wrote a North County Credit Union Educator Grant in May 2019 (before COVID), and para-educator Della Hall helped see the project through. Michael Lapierre of The Bend Woodworking built, delivered, and set up the kitchen.

At Hazen, we find:

  • Recipe for Human Connection students on a wild edibles walk with guest herbalist Rachel Keener
  • Eighth graders installing artistic and informational signs downtown to educate and spark environmental action
  • Middle school TSA green up heroes
  • Acorns planted as an experiment in the fall, bursting into life this spring
  • Students preparing to re-plastic the greenhouse where pumpkins, veggies, herbs and flowers are already growing for fall harvest in the new school year

Woodbury 5th and 6th graders took science outside to use a limited set of materials to design and build an “umbrella” that can keep a tissue dry when it “rains.”

REACH! After School students at the Wolcott site celebrate spring with a sunflower garden and a cooking project to make veggie dip flavored with herbs growing in the school garden. In Hardwick, REACH! students sift compost to prepare and plant a garden bed that will grow food for the Hardwick Area Food Pantry.

Wolcott 3rd graders lovingly transplant the cucumber plants that they started from seed in the classroom.

At the Craftsbury Academy Woodlot, students find a sapsucker’s sticky pink insect trap on a yellow birch, a porcupine den above the beaver ponds, and a patch of beautiful lady slipper flowers.


Land acknowledgement is a way of connecting to the land and its history while recognizing and honoring the indigenous people who have stewarded the land for generations. In this story, read about how a school community in Shelburne, VT went through the process of creating their own land acknowledgement practice in partnership with local Abenaki leaders.

April 2021: Perspective

Stories this month celebrate learning experiences that create space for multiple voices and many types of wisdom – from collective poetry to social science research to reading the stories written in the landscape. Enjoy!

Excerpt from the Hazen collective poem, “Today I feel…”

Today I feel

like a dishrag

a square

a butterfly antlers

a sloth

a rectangle

a cow

a flower in early spring

a cat

a smashed phone screen

a golden retriever

Like when you ride your bike through a puddle and hoping and praying to God you

don’t get mud all over your back but you do

and you just have to keep riding.

by Hazen students and staff


Coyote Stories

9th and 10th grade students in Hazen’s Biology class recently completed a cooperative project with UVM doctoral candidate Josh Morse, the Vermont Trapper’s Association, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, the Vermont Folklife Center and Cold Hollow to Canada. Students interviewed community members to collect social science data on attitudes and values related to coyotes.  Students practiced listening without judgement, data collection and interpretation, navigating scientific and social ethics, and integrative thinking to relate diverse attitudes to policy. The stories have been added to a larger collection at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury to serve as a reference for policy makers. For more information on the project, you can follow this link: UVM Coyote Stories Page. To hear about the project from the students themselves, click on the audio story below!

Click on the triangle to hear students describe their experience!

Teachings from Trees

At the Craftsbury Academy Woodlot, third-graders investigate signs of spring, practice tree identification, and reflect through journaling. The woodlot will welcome these students several more times this spring as they learn to read the landscape and listen for the wisdom of the non human species around us.


Summer Professional Development Opportunities:

March 2021: Possibility

Springtime offers the balance of light and dark that can help us hold space for grief while also leaning into joy and possibility. This month’s post is dedicated to the spirit of possibility that has continued to be fueled by the creativity, collaboration and community support that are alive in OSSU.

Is collective art possible in a pandemic? Take a look at this gorgeous example from the REACH! after school program. A project that wove together journaling, nature explorations and visual art, the resulting digital mural is a wonder – and doubly so given that it was made possible through a partnership with WonderArts 🙂

May be an image of text that says 'NEAR OR APART, TOGETHER WE MAKE ART pandemic-time, community project made possible WonderArts, REACH!, and the creative hands of many children'

Fire, knives, freezing temps and third graders… a recipe for disaster? Far from it! With the support of school staff and administration who cultivate the conditions for learner agency and healthy risk-taking, this was a recipe for an afternoon of teamwork, culinary creativity with local ingredients, and palpable collective joy and gratitude. While waiting for apple and veggie creations to heat over the fire, the question was asked, “Is anyone feeling grateful for something right now?” Without a moment’s pause, the answers rang out, “My family!” “Trees!” “SCHOOL!”

Wolcott students are busy preparing the soil to unlock the possibility contained in seeds! The bright bay window of the third grade classroom is already full of eager green starts. Outside, a rain catchment system has been installed on the garden shed to provide a convenient water source for the garden, and pea seeds are in the ground!

Resources and Opportunities!

  • 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge! Join us April 5th through April 25 for our 7th version of the Challenge. Learn more and register here. (FREE)

Jan & Feb 2021: Warm Hearts

In these coldest months, we know how to haul firewood and layer up, but we also look to the stories and connections that keep our hearts and spirits warm. Enjoy!

Craftsbury third-graders in Julie Higgins’ class worked together during the month of January on the construction of a sturdy, cozy quinzhee hut for winter shelter. In the audio story below, the group shares their experience with teamwork, science connections, outdoor survival skills, the challenges of frozen masks, and outdoor joy. Thanks to Hollis Allen, Jordan Flint, Josie Paré, Poppy Gletsos and Cordelia Marshall for sharing their time and voices for this story.

Click on the arrow to listen!


The OSSU Community Partners Coalition (CPC) is now in its second year and includes over two dozen participants representing entities from both our local area and regional and statewide partners with ties or interest in our school system. This group is establishing a community of practice for engaging with our schools and has continued to meet regularly throughout the pandemic, functioning as a space for networking, resource sharing, and problem solving. This group has helped catalyze a new mentoring program at Hazen, bring STEM funding and curriculum to the district, spread recognition and stories of innovative work in OSSU, and strengthen the collective commitment, enthusiasm, and ability of community partners to support our schools. All are welcome (partners and school folks), so please reach out to if you are interested in joining in for a CPC meeting to see what it’s all about! Hearing from teachers about their needs and dreams for community partnerships is especially valuable.

When CPC members were asked to describe how they feel after a CPC meeting, the following word cloud resulted:


Congratulations to Hazen Union for launching a new practice of student led conversations about growth! In this new system, the parent-teacher conference has been reimagined as a personalized space for students to reflect on areas of growth with a chosen group of caring thought partners, starting with a faculty advisor and growing the concept to include family, friends, teachers, and mentors. Teachers, students and parents report that despite the challenge of trying something new, the experience was positive and powerful – each conversation unique, kids and families discovering things they didn’t know about each other and engaging about what next steps could look like. The virtual format used for these conversations had many benefits, including a rate of participation dramatically higher than in the past. As Hazen continues to develop this practice, there is excitement about the momentum and potential of this model to change the relationship between kids and school, kids and their own learning, and between schools and family.

FREE Resources !!

  • February 24 De-Colonizing Place-Based Education – Join Judy Dow of Gedakina, Marie Vea of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, Emily Hoyler of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education and Aimee Arandia Østensen of Shelburne Farms to “tease apart, examine and reconstruct what place-based education is and can be.” FREE
  • February 25, 4 PM An Ecological Civilization: The Path We’re On – Join Vandana Shiva, Leah Penniman, Winona LaDuke, and Jeremy Lent for a discussion on moving the world to a community-oriented way of life. The path toward an ecological civilization moves us from an uncivilized society based on selfish wealth accumulation to one that is community-oriented and life-affirming. You’re invited to join us for a virtual conversation on the ways communities are already working toward that goal—and how you can be a part of it. FREE
  • Feb 25, 2021 4-5 PM – Growing a Cultural Lens in School Gardens (VT Education and Environment Network). Hear from educators who address a variety of cultural and curricular themes, topics, and standards while tending to and teaching in the garden with students of all ages. 
  • March 25, 7-8 PM – Traditional Abenaki Sugaring and Stories (VT Land Trust) The Abenaki people are an essential part of the sugaring story. They developed methods of tapping trees and using sap that they later taught to white colonists. Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk – Abenaki Nation will share the maple syrup story and ancient Abenaki sugaring traditions. In a conversation between Chief Don and VLT forester and sugarmaker Caitlin Cusack, we’ll explore the Abenaki relationship to the land and how the maple story is alive today in Abenaki-owned sugaring operations.
  • March 31, 3-4:30 PM – Student Engagement & Youth Voice in Farm to School (VT FTS Network Webinar Series for Educators) Engaging students as decision-makers in FTS has increased participation and shifted learning to a student centered model. We’ll uncover where potential partnerships in schools already exist and how they can be leveraged to elevate project-based teaching. We’ll share strategies and methods that invite students in as active members of the food system. 

December 2020: Return of the Light

Happy Winter Solstice! As the steady return of light guides us forward into a new year of healing and strength, this month’s offering is a short and sweet celebration of the care and learning that has flourished despite so many challenges.

First, a brief listen that illuminates student perseverance, collaboration, learning from mistakes, and holding onto possibility even when the process is not easy – this one from a conversation with the Hazen robotics club.

Click on the arrow to listen!

Second, a huge thank you to the OSSU nurses!

Nursing staff facilitating the drive-through CV-19 staff testing at Hazen.  From Nurse Cindy Doerr: “We had a great turnout!  And yes, we socially distanced for the pic! These are great nurses and a wonderful team that I’m proud to work with.  They are Simona Ponoran, Andrea Dobson, Tammy Preston, Rebecca Agone, and me, Cindy Doerr.”

And finally, some resource treats!

1) Teaching Outdoors in Winter recorded webinar from VT Education and Environment Network. Check out this Padlet of viewer questions, answered! View past webinars on their YouTube Channel.

2) NOFA VT Agricultural Literacy Week workshop recordings:

November 2020: Gratitude

These first eleven weeks of school have been a feat of innovation, courage and humility. THANK YOU. May we all continue to draw on the threads of care and joy that keep us connected, even as we navigate distance, grief and stress in these difficult times. Here are a few glimpses into the care and joy that have been thriving in OSSU as students, teachers and community members continue to build resilience through connection to place and to one another.


Wolcott Bike Busters: Thank you to Lydia Mandigo, Hayden Greene, Saul Thompson, and Riley Haggett for sharing about this awesome new project at the Wolcott School. Play the audio clip below to hear the story in their own words!


Craftsbury Outdoor Learning: Thanks to Tina Lyon for sharing these photos of Craftsbury’s Farm to School Fair and explorations at the Craftsbury Academy Woodlot!


Teacher reflection from a conversation with Hazen Middle School teacher Greg Hennemuth:

RB: How are you doing?

GH: It’s hard – I don’t want to bring the virus home, so I wear a face mask and a shield – which makes communication tough sometimes. But I’ll tell you, it’s the most amazing thing co-teaching with Kelly! We’re having a lot of fun! We’re messing up left and right, mostly because of technology, but it’s a free expression of ideas as we collaborate and help one another and make mistakes with each other. It’s been a kind of milestone in my career. It’s never happened like this before. It’s been a real spark.


A Recipe For Human Connection class at Hazen has distributed dozens of “Red & Blue Apron” soup kits to members of the Hazen school community. Ingredients for the soup kits were largely sourced locally through gleaning, donations, and harvesting from the Hazen greenhouse. Thanks to the following farm partners: Harvest Hill Farm, Eastview Farm, Riverside Farm, and High Mowing Seeds. Exploring ways to connect to each other and to the community through food has also included virtual cooking classes with partners at Hosmer Point Camp, sharing family recipes (see venison stew being cooked over the firepit in slideshow), and baking pumpkin desserts to contribute to the Thanksgiving Everyone Eats Community Meal.

HES students and REACH! participants are also contributing to the Everyone Eats Thanksgiving Community Meal by making greeting cards to include in each meal for an extra serving of joy and connection!

>>> For more info about how Everyone Eats benefits local businesses and farmers while connecting you to delicious free meals, go to, where you can sign up for free meals in Hardwick, Craftsbury and Glover. Also check out the Localvore Passport app that connects you to free meals supporting Vermont businesses around the state.



Celebrating our Roots Recipe Book (amazing resource from South Burlington Farm to School)

From VT Folklife Center: Listening in Place Thanksgiving Activities

Field trip transportation cost assistance: CAE has funds to help support field trips for OSSU! Reach out to to submit a request for assistance with bussing fees.

October 2020: Reconnecting

As we all plunged into the new realities and complexities of the pandemic back in March, this regular blog report took a hiatus to make way for the urgent flow of information being communicated to navigate the crisis.

The significance of the work our schools and communities (you!) have done to come together in moving through this difficult time can not be overstated.

Thank you – for taking care of each other, for holding on to hope, for prioritizing our young people, and for wasting no time in providing incredible learning and community building experiences for our kids despite the fraught circumstances of reopening. Here are just a few examples from around OSSU:

Hardwick Elementary community garden projects at Atkins Field.

REACH! Afterschool Program Apple Fest activities at Woodbury, Lakeview, Craftsbury and Wolcott.

Wolcott School fall garden work projects:

Craftsbury students are getting outside in all kinds of ways, including team building activities led by Sterling College students majoring in outdoor education. The Craftsbury Academy Woodlot is another rich context for outdoor learning where students regularly meet with forester Jared Nunery for lessons and explorations of the forested landscape. (Hope to have some photos of this to share soon!) In the management plan for the woodlot, the overarching goals of the plan include:

The woodlot should be managed to provide demonstration of exemplary practices of land stewardship, as well as natural areas to observe and learn about natural processes.

Building on the first goal, this land should serve as a place of doing, a place for students to get their hands dirty and learn from the natural world, within the natural world, and be a part of any management actions within the woodlot.

Hazen has expanded the Pathways program this year through additional teacher collaboration and a significant increase in students doing independent-based learning (IBL) projects and community and work-based learning. Some IBL experiences also include collaborative projects. For example, one group is looking at community food access and connecting learning proficiencies to a project around creating community meals.

The “Dare to Be Me” class and the Hazen Arts Collaborative programs are two, new, multi-disciplinary learning experiences launched this year.

  • Taking place off campus at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro, the Hazen Arts Collaborative was recently visited by Vermont PBS to interview students about project-based and immersive learning. Stay tuned for info about when the story will be broadcast…
  • The “Dare to Be Me” interdisciplinary class, “aims to help students develop an ‘I can’ attitude and the courage to be themselves.  All activities are geared towards fostering health and wellbeing, a positive sense of self, independence, and a sense of connection and purpose. As much time as possible is spent in Nature and blends many different exercise routines with opportunities for mindfulness, quiet introspection, and meaningful conversations.”

Woodbury and Lakeview, members of the OSUED district and further linked through shared principal, Justine Guthrie, are prioritizing the value of collaboration – both schools now have the opportunity to work together in Professional Learning Communities, and the collaboration between schools has cultivated a positive and growing community of practice.

The OSSU Leadership Team has begun regularly incorporating facilitated equity work and practice into team meetings, recognizing this lens and learning as critical to seeing ourselves, our community, and the impact of our schools more clearly in doing the collaborative work of creating and supporting educational systems that serve all of our students.

And a huge shout out to the Student Services Team and Special Educators who have been designing and amending learning plans to reflect the current educational model as well as contingency plans for 100% remote learning and/or hybrid learning. Thank you for climbing this mountain in service of our kids!

And finally, some inspiring artwork to send you off with a bit of beauty: natural mandalas made by Wolcott School third-graders:

P.S. Check out this free resource:

During Agricultural Literacy Week, November 16 -19, each night will feature a free webinar bringing together the voices of our community. Click on the links below for each workshop to learn more and register. All events are free and open to the public!

11/16 6-7:30 pm: Exploring Abenaki Foodways Cooking Class, Guest Speaker: Chef Jessee Lawyer

11/17 6-7:30 pm: #MilkwithDignity: Advancing the Human Rights of Farmworkers while Fostering a Sustainable Northeast Dairy Industry, Guest Speakers: Migrant Justice

11/18 6-7:30 pm: Building Soil Health Resilience, Farmer Panel: Misse Axelrod (Drift Farmstead), Nic Cook (Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center), Tyler Webb (Stony Pond Farm), Kate Spring (Good Heart Farmstead)

11/19 6-7:30 pm: Gender, Agriculture, and Food Access, Guest Speakers: Ike Leslie, Postdoctoral Researcher in Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire; Tatiana Abatemarco, Visiting Faculty of Food Studies, Bennington College; Bennington College Students taking course Gender, Subsistence, and Agriculture

Agricultural Literacy Week is a project of NOFA-VT, the Vermont Department of Libraries and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

February 2020

In the last month, a visitor to OSSU schools might have witnessed: a student poetry slam, sled dogs, a student cooking show, forest classrooms, cross-country ski expeditions, sledding celebrations, students designing a maker-space, teachers hand-writing letters to students, school leaders meeting to imagine and support expanded opportunities for youth, community partners showing up with science kits, fat bikes, massage tables, art projects, and local ice cream — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Folks also wrote in with the following stories and photos of community-building in OSSU. Enjoy these, and keep sharing!

“At the HES breakfast cart, a fourth-grader approached my first-grade son and offered him a cheerful “Good morning, Oscar!” and put his arm warmly around his shoulder. My son responded with a huge bear hug, then they went their separate ways. It was really sweet to witness this pause, acknowledgement, and sharing of warm feelings for each other in the midst of so many kids rushing past each other in the hallway.”

“I found an old letter (1970) from then-Senator Barry Goldwater thanking me for supporting the Clean Air Act – Shared it with the students to let them know how easy it is to support legislation that is pending in Congress. “

“On March 12th, the students in Mr. Hennemuth’s and Jen’s TSA are sponsoring a community meal at the United Church of Hardwick. A dozen seventh grade students will be planning the menu, collecting donations, preparing and serving the meal and setting up and cleaning up for the event.”

“Guest presenters in Craftsbury Academy’s high school Spanish class include a local cabinet maker, a Sterling College student from Guatemala and retired language teachers. It is a great example of community participation and volunteerism that makes Craftsbury a special place. Foreign language studies raise the cultural awareness of our students and bring to light the diversity right here in our own community.”

“Art classes at Hazen are working on a community project at school to raise awareness of our contribution to plastic in the Ocean — and everywhere else.”

“Winter activities abound! Fourth and fifth-grade Craftsbury Academy students with Ms. Lyon and Mrs. Holbrook like to keep active while learning about the community and all it has to offer: Skiing and snowshoeing at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, planetarium and museum explorations at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, swimming and playing together at Jay Peak water park, collaborative adventures with Sterling students at the Craftsbury woodlot, and an outing to Burlington for the Peking Acrobats later in March.”

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“The Friends of Woodbury group held an event on a recent Saturday – It was incredible!  A lot of the school and community showed up!”

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Mark Your Calendars for the Community STEM Festival!! 

When: Thursday, March 26, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Where: Hardwick Elementary School Gym, 135 S Main St, Hardwick, VT 05843
All are welcome for this FREE and fun festival featuring STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) activities and career path resources for all ages, youth and adult.
Activities include a 12-foot tall wind wall, a 15-foot “soil tunnel” showing the science of healthy soils, coding robots, giant blue building blocks, a 30-foot Lego race track, an inflatable planetarium – and more!
Light snacks will be provided (bread, cheese, veggies, dip).
Festival partners include:


January 2020

This month’s post is a request to YOU:

What stories do you have of community-building in OSSU?


Whether among students, among teachers, between students and adults, between schools and community members – any kind of submission is welcome and can be something you have done OR something you have seen. Use the PLEASE SHARE link to participate. Even just a sentence is welcome!

Collected stories will be shared back out through this blog.

Let’s stay inspired and committed to connection.