The resource challenge identified by the partners was twofold: people didn't understand forests or forestry, and many people in communities affected by the Green Mountain National Forest and the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park were not engaged in their communities--failing to run for local offices/boards or to even vote in large numbers. When the partnership was formed we decided that building capacity in teachers, teaching them about forests, public land challenges, and encouraging them to become involved in their communities might start to reverse the issues we had identified. We developed three goals:
- To cultivate an understanding of "place"--teachers and their students experience and understand local forests as complex and dynamic systems of natural and cultural resources. Interaction between the school and community increases, building a strong sense of place;
- To enhance teacher practices--teachers have learning opportunities and time with curriculum specialists to help them address different learning styles and multiple intelligences. They learn strategies for utilizing public lands as outdoor classrooms and integrating service learning into their existing curriculum; and
- To develop citizenship skills and the fundamental tools of democracy--students gain knowledge, skills and motivation to be active stewards and citzens in their communities.
A Forest for Every Classroom recruits teachers--first from communities that are affected by the National Forest and National Park and then from all of Vermont. Teachers agree to an 11-day program with a heavy load of work to be accomplished at home. There are four workshops, one in each season so that seasonal forest changes can be discussed. During the workshops, teachers spend 60 percent of their time in federal/state/community forests, learning about canopy, tree identification, bird and frog songs, forest floor composters, wildlife habitat, amphibians, and looking at cultural sites such as stone walls and cellar holes. They learn about logging, milling, forest products and land use and land management challenges. They also learn, from environmentalists, why they disagree with the way federal, state and local agencies manage public lands--even their own schoolyard, which is also public land.
Teachers must take what they are learning about forests--ecological or cultural--and create their own curriculum with the help of state experts in innovative curriculum development. The curriculum must have a service learning component where teachers learn about the natural resource people/projects that are presently in their community and work with them to get the kids involved in a project the community needs accomplished. What happens is the walls of the school come down with resource people going into the school to help the teachers with lessons and/or setting up a project in the community, and the kids coming out of the school to work with the community to accomplishment something. The teachers receive grants for resources (books, equipment), service learning projects, and they also can apply for graduate credit for the program.
A Forest for Every Classroom is now in the fifth year. There have been 45 teachers who have gone through the training and continue to meet every year for additional coursework, exchange of ideas, and strategy sessions about their continuing service learning projects.