This year’s Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability (CPS) teams met virtually on May 15th to share the work they completed this year, as well as to reflect on all that they have learned about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), leadership, and the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) process. CPS is a program that is held jointly by UP for Learning and Shelburne Farms in which teams of youth and adults develop action projects towards reaching one or more of the UNSDGs in their community. 

Over the course of this school year, seventh and eighth graders at Shelburne Community School focused on leadership development and skills lessons, greenhouse restoration, vermiculture, air pollution, mental health, and water pollution awareness. They also hosted a group of visiting youth and adults from Myanmar and presented their projects to them and a team from Georgia Elementary and Middle School. It was a fun and inspiring international exchange about sustainability! Youth at the Burke Town School worked on creating a kiosk for a new trail in their town, put on talent and fashion shows for their school community, worked on campus improvement and beautification, and also focused on gardening, baking, and mentorship programs. Georgia Elementary and Middle School teams held a day of service focusing on food drives, campus improvements (including adding new picnic tables and trash bins) as well as planting projects. At St. Johnsbury Academy, the team focused on composting awareness and education for their community, education around the UN SDGs for the community, the creation of an herb garden for the school, as well as leadership and youth facilitation. Youth at Miller’s Run School in Sheffield focused on creating a mural to build awareness and community in their school, putting together bags of supplies for people in need, and raising funds for a local food shelter. 

Some of the highlights of this year’s CPS program were the regional gatherings that took place, the Kingdom East district-wide participation of schools participating in CPS, and Shelburne Community School teams bringing their learning to the classroom as leaders and ambassadors. The regional gathering at St. Johnsbury Academy created an in-person opportunity for Kingdom East school district teams. Youth from the Academy were joined not only by the 7th and 8th graders from the Burke Town CPS team but Miller’s Run School, UP teams from Concord Middle School, and a small club team from Lunenburg, Vermont. This day was particularly powerful because the St. Johnsbury CPS team co-designed and co-facilitated this gathering at their home school. During that day, the team facilitated leadership activities, presentations, and hands-on workshops related to sustainability. Another highlight was how the leadership team (16 students) from two different middle school groups at Shelburne Community School brought the learning from the virtual gatherings of CPS to the entire 7th and 8th grade, which is about 300 people! 

Some of the challenges over the past few months included navigating the large groups of students virtually at the beginning of the year. UP and Shelburne Farms facilitated six gatherings over the course of the school year to build leadership and project management skills, as well as discuss sustainability and awareness between teams. At first it was tricky for the large groups of students to navigate Zoom, but throughout the year, everyone worked hard to build a culture of virtual respect and responsibility, which is so important for our digital age. 

Next year, UP and Shelburne Farms plan to focus more on the Youth Participatory Action Research Process, as well as to support the teams’ data collection and analysis during the virtual gatherings. They will host a hybrid of regional and virtual sessions next year to make the program as accessible as possible. If you are interested in having your students participate in the CPS program next year, please contact Katie Ingraham at [email protected]