SJA Field Semester Journal

FSJ Final Edition 2017 — Difference

November 27 - December 8, 2017
Chris Dussault

When we first interviewed students interested in the Field Semester program in February 2017, we asked each of them if they were prepared to do something different. We asked if they were willing to help build the program from the ground up, reflecting along the way, with the intent of building an even richer experience for the students who will come after them. In a word, we told them that if this program were to be sustainable, they would need to contribute. They all agreed, and expressed excitement at the prospect of helping to create something that future students would benefit from.

On the very first day that we sat down to begin planning the curriculum of the Field Semester program, we planned on our future students playing a prominent role in Sophomore Stewardship Day. Our idea was to have our students independently research a sustainability-related topic of their choice, design a project around it, and then pitch their project to the Sophomore class in December. Sophomore advisories would then make a choice as to which projects they would be interested in executing during the May 2018 Sophomore Stewardship Day. While this was the longest sustained indoor time that we spent together this semester, the effort paid off with several excellent student presentations delivered alongside those of local professionals.

Since our last post we also embarked on our final unit: Energy. With the semester winding down and the weather getting colder, an energy unit that required a bit more indoor time was welcomed by students. This past week students learned about the solar energy production capabilities of the Field Campus, as well as its energy consumption profile. Students crunched numbers in spreadsheets, did an energy audit survey, and even had a chance to tour the Green Dorm, seeing first-hand how a modern building can maximize efficiency without sacrificing comfort or utility.

The past few weeks have, like the entire semester, been an experiment in what is possible when a group of people try to make the most of an opportunity. As teachers, we have worked to maximize our resources, doing our best to create a rigorous academic experience that just happens to take place outside of a traditional classroom. This wouldn’t have been as successful as it was without the contributions of the students. They, first and foremost, have been a delightful group of young people. Class chemistry has been excellent since day one, and their feedback, flexibility and insights have made a lasting impact on what this program will look like in the years to come. In a class that focuses on how humans can best manage their resources, these students have learned that their contributions can make a real difference.

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FSJ Week 11 — A Primer on Industry through a Historical Lens

November 6 - November 10, 2017
Chris Dussault

In planning the Field Semester pilot, James Bentley, Jessica Bakowski and I wanted to focus our students’ time on examining new and upcoming models for understanding our environment and managing its resources to build a sustainable community. At the same time, we saw value in giving our students an opportunity to look closely at what types of businesses sustained people in this area in the past. This led to our creating a short unit on industry in the area.

This week we focused on two sites: Greenbanks Hollow in Danville and the Fairbanks Mill Property, owned by Bob Desrochers, in St. Johnsbury. Greenbanks Hollow was a 19th-Century company town in the southern part of Danville that included a five-story woolen mill, a gristmill, sawmill, and a local store. It burned in 1885 and was never rebuilt. We met with Dave Houston and Hollis Prior for a tour of the site, which they have spent the past 15-20 years working to reclaim as a historic site of interest. To this end, they have been developing trails, installed an informational kiosk, and reclaimed some of the old foundations. Field Semester students helped with some trail work, and took some ideas to our next site.

At Fairbanks Mill, students met Bob Desrochers, proprietor of Fairbanks Mill Construction and Hydroelectric Systems. Fairbanks Mill is situated on the site of the former Fairbanks Scale Works, the local factory that helped to economically sustain the town and region throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Students walked the site to examine some of its more visible ruins, and later did some reconnaissance, using a Beer’s Atlas map from 1895 to search for further evidence of the footprint of the factory. On Thursday students drafted a proposal that they will present to Mr. Desrochers in hopes of developing some interpretive material that could be used to help others better understand the scale and scope of the factory.

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FSJ Week 10 — Parks and Recreation: Season Finale

October 30 - November 3, 2017
Chris Dussault and Jessica Bakowski

This was the third and final week of the Outdoor Recreation unit. While the first two weeks focused on the various impacts of recreation, this week included aspects of sustainable trail development, how recreation (hunting) can be used as a means of wildlife management, and further examination of how soils are an important consideration when developing trails.

On Monday and Tuesday students were introduced to a number of trail building concepts and techniques which they immediately put into practice on a new rerouted section of the Rank n’ Roll trail in Danville. Here they employed a bench-cutting technique that created a five-degree outslope that maximizes sheet flow over what will become a hardened trail surface, minimizing the possibility of channeling and pooling.

On Wednesday students visited the Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area to learn about how hunting is used to manage wildlife population. They also learned about how wildlife viewing in the area, aka birding, is a low impact recreational pursuit that draws birders from throughout the northeast.

On Thursday we concluded our soils lab research by measuring the quantity of differently sized soil particles in samples taken in the field last week. By measuring the amount of clay, silt, and sand in each sample, we were able to determine soil texture, which informs its suitability for supporting different activities such as trails, agriculture, and roads, and how prone it is to compaction and drainage issues.

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FSJ Week 9 — A Balancing Act

October 23 - October 27, 2017
Chris Dussault and Jessica Bakowski

This week we focused on both the social and environmental impacts of outdoor recreation. We aimed to have students weigh the positive impacts of outdoor recreation on a social and economic level against the less-desirable impacts that can come from overuse and over reliance on resources like fuel and water.

On Monday, we trekked to East Haven Mountain to meet and work with Mike Moriarty of Northeast Kingdom Backcountry (NEKBC) and Dave Senio, a local forester. NEKBC is a local advocacy group that seeks to sustainably develop and maintain backcountry ski routes in the Northeast Kingdom.

Students worked on clearing out some underbrush and smaller trees, while Senio explained how traditional silviculture can co-exist with management for recreation.

On Tuesday, we worked with a local Hunter Education Instructor, Linwood Smith. He discussed how hunting has changed in the 35 years that he has been in business. Students also got a chance to experience archery and learn about the technical aspects of the sport. 

On Wednesday, we took a trip to the south end of Willoughby Lake and looked at issues of overuse with Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation Stewardship Forester Lou Bushey. We discussed the move to develop the area to better accommodate the large groups of people who regularly visit the lake.

On Thursday, we took a grand tour of the different recreational offerings at Burke Mountain, aka Darling State Park, to get a perspective on an area that sees intense recreational usage year-round. Students got some perspective on the energy and water consumption necessary for snowmaking, and how the park manages resources for skiers, bikers, campers and hikers throughout the year.

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FSJ Week 8 — Managing Outdoor Recreation on a Vermont Scale

October 16 - October 20, 2017
Chris Dussault and Jessica Bakowski

This week we began our much-anticipated Outdoor Recreation unit in the Field Semester class. As with all of our units, we are examining outdoor recreation through the lenses of economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Our central question for the unit, “How do we best manage our recreation resources in Vermont?” intends to have our students weigh the costs and benefits of the different types of outdoor recreation.

On Monday students learned about about VOREC, the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative. VOREC is a new initiative in Vermont that acknowledges the role that the outdoor recreation economy has in supporting related businesses and organizations. This dovetailed nicely with our visit to the Village Sport Shop Traill Side Shop in Lyndon, a retail business that has evolved significantly to address the demand for more specialized, service-oriented offerings and an increase in clientele who are from outside of Vermont.

On Tuesday students visited the Lonesome Lake Hut, run by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) in the White Mountains to examine the differences in business models between a non-profit organization and businesses designed to bring in revenue.

On Wednesday students learned a bit about the basics of sustainable trail design on the Field Campus. They learned why fall-line trails are not an environmentally sustainable design, and how trail builders take grade into account when laying out trails. They also had an opportunity to ride mountain bikes at Kingdom Trails, where they experienced different types of trail design and got a feel for how bike trails differ from hiking trails.

On Thursday students worked with Knight Ide, a locally-based trail builder who has built trails all over the east coast. Knight spoke to the all three aspects of sustainability in regards to mountain bike trails, and walked students through the process of designing and constructing a sustainable trail.

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