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Sustainability: Making Things Better for Future Generations

Anna Wetherell and Adrianna Corbett demonstrate setting up a photo shoot for the Lost and Found Project. Photo by Mary Cole Mello.
The environmental movement is much older than the 1970s, but it was then that the concept of caring for the environment became more mainstream and, with this change, new words were becoming part of everyday vocabulary, words such as ecology, biodiversity, organic, and sustainability (although many were actually old words). But, even after many decades, some adults might have trouble defining them. For example, what is sustainability? 

Eighth grader Amanda Supan offers a simple and clear definition: “Sustainability is about meeting our own needs and using resources responsibly so we don’t make it hard for future generations.” Amanda, like all other students at Montpelier’s Main Street Middle School, has been part of the new sustainability curriculum (officially MSMS_Sustain) for one quarter of every school year. The course has been pioneered by MSMS teacher Don Taylor along with teaching assistant Drew McNaughton. 

Taylor, who notes that he “hates waste” has designed a project-based curriculum. Students are encouraged to come up with activities that will foster sustainability. The ever-growing lost-and-found pile at MSMS, for example, led to the creation of the Lost and Found Project. Those who participate carefully photograph lost articles and post them for the school community to view. Those who step up to claim their property may be rewarded with a slightly used water bottle (abandoned water bottles tend to be the lonely orphans in any lost-and-found collection). The group donates unclaimed items to Amy’s Armoire, a Barre thrift shop, which uses the proceeds to help foster children. 

One eighth grader is “passionate” about doing away with hunger and poverty. “I want to just get rid of it.” she says. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also lists ending poverty and hunger at the top of the organization’s 17 sustainable development goals.

Because of her interest, she’s drawn to the Backpack Project. Backpacks will be filled with personal care items, hats, mittens, coupons, and ready-to-eat foods that have been collected by MSMS students. When the backpacks are ready, they’ll be donated to people who are homeless. Students may also create projects that reflect their individual talents as well as their interests. Phoebe Bakeman, for example, likes to write, so she helps to inform the school community by contributing articles to the Sustainability Newsletter. 

There’s a lot of cooking going on in sustainability classes. Fresh-baked bread from the school’s “test kitchen” is sent to the Montpelier Food Pantry. The middle schoolers use fruits and vegetables gleaned from local farms by Community Harvest of Central Vermont to make applesauce, pickles, and baked squash.These will also fill the Food Pantry shelves. And there are other deserving recipients. In November hungry members of the MSMS staff were treated to a buffet lunch featuring apple pie with a lattice crust.

While all MSMS students will take part in sustainability classes, some may also choose to join the Sustainability Leadership Team, which meets throughout the school year to facilitate long-term planning. In addition, the team is learning what leadership is all about. According to one team member, “A leader gets the group to where it needs to go.”

All of these MSMS students are involved in a learning experience that will hopefully make life a little better for themselves, for their children, and for their grandchildren. When seventh grader Isabel Moorman was asked what sustainability education had given her, she answered, “I wouldn’t have known as much about the world (without it). I would be oblivious to UNESCOs Sustainable Development Goals. Now I can build my life around them.”