Vermont Commons School’s mission statement makes explicit our need to contribute positively to our community and our environment as we foster our sense of citizenship, both locally and globally. To that end, the mission of the Research & Service Program is to go beyond the traditional disciplines and classroom walls in order to connect learning to community engagement and environmental stewardship. The Research & Service experience teaches students that with knowledge comes the responsibility to take an active role in improving their communities. This is achieved through rubric-based assessments that help the students reflect on their experiences and grow as people. R&S courses run for a semester and are taken during the fall in mixed-aged 6th, 8th, and 10th grade classes, and similarly in the spring by 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students. In their fall semester, 12th graders attend the Senior Internship Program by engaging with local businesses, organizations, and professionals. Students are evaluated on and — self-assess — their active participation, preparedness, attitude, mastery of project-specific content, and leadership.
Typical Research & Service offerings include:
The Changing Face of Vermont
Students work with Burlington’s resettled refugee community. As a U.S. Refugee Resettlement city, Burlington is home to families from all over the world. In Burlington, more than 50 languages are spoken! Working through local organizations such as the VT Refugee Resettlement Program and the Association of Africans Living In VT, students help some of Vermont’s newest residents learn to speak English. Students also work with English Language Learners at the Sustainability Academy in Burlington’s Old North End. The goals are to learn from and get to know the people, gain a deeper understanding of the international context of refugee resettlement, and learn what it takes to successfully integrate people from around the world into a community together.
Greening Up Our Cities with Trees
This class considers many aspects of Burlington’s Urban Forests, from species selection and tree maintenance to human-tree relationships and urban planning. Students spend time at the Burlington City Tree Nursery, caring for and learning about the trees that will soon be planted on Burlington’s city streets. Students also travel downtown to help maintain Burlington’s green spaces and corridors, and to observe for themselves how trees impact the urban environment. In class, topics such as the benefits of urban trees, challenges facing city arborists and planners, and the importance of nature in childhood development are discussed. Working with Branch Out Burlington!, the Burlington Department of Parks & Recreation, and the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program, the class strives to develop an understanding of urban forests and caring for green spaces locally and globally.
In this R&S class, an intrepid group of explorers will map the Bartlett Brook natural area. Using Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), students will construct a narrow-scale 3D map of the natural area we use so frequently. We will visit a UVM lab that specializes in GIS research to learn how cutting-edge research uses these tools. After we construct our digital map, we will build a set of Geocache-driven scavenger hunts for the community (for elementary students at The Schoolhouse, neighbors, and nearby businesses).
Art for All
In this course students work with residents with Alzheimer’s at the Shelburne Bay Community each week. Through art projects, the students connect with residents to encourage them to share their stories. Students record these memories and art activites to share with families. In the studio at Burlington City Arts, the class learns silk screen techniques to create t-shirts featuring classic cars that residents have taught them about. These shirts are then sold to raise money for Alzheimer’s research in a project called Memoria.
What has been the impact of human development on the ecology of Vermont? Specifically, how have invasive species changed our riparian (river and streams) corridors, and what can VCS do to better understand the emerging system? This class has two general components. As part of the long-term strategic plan for VCS, the Commons Campus Committee has developed a proposal to build a building-length 4-season greenhouse attached to the Biology and Chemistry labs. A large part of that space will be occupied by a full-scale research-oriented EcoMachine. About one-half of this R&S class will be spent designing that system. Students visit existing industrial- and commercial-scale EcoMachines, and meet with experts in ecological design from UVM and local consulting firms. The other half of the class is spent in our local watershed measuring and mapping the Bartlett Brook watershed, including the VCS-designed Artificial Wetland just west of Shelburne Road. Students work with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and will present their findings to them. Eventually, the new EcoMachine will be the basis for research into invasive species.
Senior Internship Program
As a capstone to the community-based education of our Research & Service Program, seniors engage during their fall semester in internships with local businesses, organizations, and professionals working in a broad array of fields, allowing each of our students to pursue one of his or her passions in a deep, meaningful, and challenging way over a long period of time. The internships are intended also to enable the student to do work that both contributes to society and allows each student to develop personally and uniquely. After a three-week course orienting seniors to the expectations and habits of the professional world (including skills such as interviewing, resume writing, and job etiquette), students intern for three school-hours per week throughout the first semester. The Program Coordinator both assists students in establishing these internships prior to the start of the school year and visits and oversees the ongoing internships over the course of the semester to assure their quality, as well as the accountability of the student. Juniors participate in a workshop in April, during which they examine their interests and life goals and scrutinize how these might lead to the internships they will pursue.