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The Wealth of Communities

The Senior Social Studies class, Ecological Economics, takes a close look at what local folks are doing to increase community vitality, raise levels of health and happiness, and decrease our carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

This has been an inspiring and eye-opening semester in Social Studies 12: Ecological Economics. Using Deep Economy by Middlebury College Professor Bill McKibben as our main text and the basis of our curriculum, we have explored McKibben’s central thesis that a reorientation toward local economies, community mindedness, and neighborliness, is necessary for addressing climate change and peak oil, as well as human wellbeing and connectedness. We’ve had impassioned classroom discussions and the students have written reflections on their idea of a “well-lived life”, their thoughts on personal responsibility to ones community, and to their own personal path to happiness or their role within a consumer society.

Most recently, we have shifted from analyzing the problems to taking a look at what Vermonters are doing to address them. This orientation “out of the classroom and into the world” has brought practical reality, with all its joys and challenges, into clearer focus for the students.

Mitch Wertlieb at Vermont Public Radio gave us a tour of the station and talked with us about the technical and practical aspects of radio, as well as the role that listener-supported radio plays in keeping a community strong and connected. Brian Waxler of Pomerleau Real Estate gave us an exclusive tour of their Ferrisburgh Solar Farm and told us all about the challenges and rewards of solar energy in Vermont.

We met with Chapin Spencer at the offices of Local Motion and heard about their efforts to “increase the incentives for human-powered transportation and the disincentives for fossil fuel-powered movement.” We visited the Burlington Cohousing development and spoke with Don Schramm about the cohousing movement and why he has worked for years to build a place where residents can intentionally increase their interaction and cooperation with neighbors while decreasing their impact on the environment and their bills. And most recently, a representative of Front Porch Forum met with us to talk about the role that the internet can play in connecting neighbors and communities.

In the coming weeks, the Seniors will visit a local farm, hear some music, meet with professors from the Gund Institute at UVM, and meet with representatives from the Community and Economic Development Office in the Burlington city government.

Vermont is truly an inspiring place to live! Bill McKibben is correct that there is a great deal of wealth (of the social capital variety) in our community, and it is an honor to make that community part of our classroom.

Posted by Mark Cline Lucey, Social Studies Department Chair and Community Engagement Coordinator

Scholarship. Community. Global Responsibility.

Students emerge from their time at Vermont Commons School intrinsically motivated to seek out their role for improving the world, with the skills and competencies to do so.