Red Cedar School recognizes the profound need for young people to foster and strengthen their relationship with the natural world — both for their own sense of wholeness and connection, and for the sake of the environment. We offer a range of outdoor experiences to nurture an awareness and love of nature, and provide the springboard for deeper deliberate academic study of natural systems, communities, and human interactions with the biosphere. Our hope is to help our students truly know our local place, and to combine intuition, passion, and academic understanding with active caring about our local and global environment.
Daily Experience with Nature
The school is fortunate to be located in a valley of extraordinary beauty within the skirts of the Green Mountains. All rooms of the school look out onto the surrounding natural world, and most classrooms open directly to the outside. Students are in and out of doors throughout the day. Science classes are frequently outside: designing a sun dial, testing the soil in the garden, experimenting with a model wind generator, exploring the ecosystem of a nearby pond. Art, woodworking, building and music workshops often take place outside. The school day is structured to provide ample time to play outdoors, and students are as likely to dig in the hillside sand ‘waterworks’ or build brush houses in the ‘village’ as to start up a game of soccer or tag.
We consider the study of science to be essential and this is reflected in the amount of time and energy we give to it. Classes are active in nature and involve students in hands-on lab and fieldwork, experiential projects, content reading, critical examination of controversial issues, writing that develops analytical thinking, participation in scientific research, lab reports, oral presentations of learning, and service learning projects.
Our lead science teacher is a field conservation biologist who regularly participates in environmentally related field research when school is not in session. Through his leadership, the school is infused with an interest in science that transcends the classroom, inspires students’ genuine curiosity about the natural and physical world, and involves them in scientific exploration of their questions and observations.
Environmental issues are examined through authentic learning experiences: gathering data on local bird populations through observation and banding, and submitting this information to Cornell University and the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; testing local waters for contaminants and considering causes; conducting natural and energy resource inventories of the school’s property; exploring local South Mountain for artifacts and evidence of how the land has been used over time and the consequences of that use; tracking variables that affect the productivity of the school garden.
Each year students work to create and maintain an outdoor classroom space on the school’s land. Our most recent undertaking was the building of a small barn that provides space for projects and workshops, and storage for tools. Students helped to build a yurt from recycled and locally grown materials. The students also helped build a cob oven that gets freshly cobbed every 3 – 4 years, and that we use for baking projects, including flatbread pizza for community dinners. We built a post and beam open shed with shingled roof to cover the oven. Students are involved in each step of these projects: designing, building and working by hand, finishing, cleaning and maintaining. These projects are often integrated with math classes. They also provide opportunities for older-younger partners to work together.
School Garden & Greenhouse
Our gardens, small apple orchard and greenhouse provide opportunities for students to experience sustainable agriculture as a local way of life and are a living laboratory for scientific observation and inquiry. Students help to till, plant, weed and harvest the school’s garlic, gourds, sunflowers, carrots, potatoes, beans, tomatoes and apples.
Stewardship of the School’s Land
Students help to care for our two acres of land through working in the garden, pruning the apple trees, maintaining and adding to the outdoor classroom each year, planting trees, and building and stocking bird feeders. Students have helped to do site studies to analyze the soil, geology, water sources and flow on the school’s land and surrounding land, to ascertain the impact of our presence in order to acquire permits for our water and our operating plans.
Wilderness & Outdoor Adventure
The school has a tradition of retreating to the woods to grow as a community through overnight camping trips, canoe excursions, hikes and picnics. We have learned to rely on the wild’s ability to simultaneously calm and awaken students, and to foster closeness and interdependence as students and staff work together to deal with survival in the wilderness.
The middle school group starts the year with a three-day backcountry trip. Past trips have included canoeing at Green River Reservoir in Vermont and the Bog River Flow in the Adirondacks, and backpacking in the Green Mountains and the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness in the Adirondacks. The upper elementary group does an overnight trip each fall. We spend a day hiking in the Green Mountains and then camp overnight in a Vermont State Park. The entire school hikes Mt. Abe or Camel’s Hump each fall, and we make frequent use of the nearby Watershed Center.
We plan several daylong backwoods excursions with each of our groups in the winter season. These have included snowshoeing, hiking with micro-spikes, and cross-country skiing expeditions.
History & Culture Trips
Each spring we undertake a multi-day history and culture trip with our each of our older groups that ties into the year’s social studies focus. We value these trips for the direct experiences they provide with cultural sites, tours, museums, living museums, theater, music, and on the street explorations. Students learn important travel skills including staying safe around traffic and in crowds, being courteous to others, recognizing when others such as the elderly get preference, reading maps, and navigating public transportation systems.
We also value the enormous potential trips offer for the social and emotional growth of students. Traveling away from home into the new and unknown can be both exciting and challenging. Learning how to handle these challenges with the support of teachers who understand and care, but who are not parents, can provide a safe bridge to independence. We find the trips to be invaluable for helping students to develop personal responsibility; learn organizational skills; gain confidence in speaking up to get their needs met; gain experience in helping out and compromising for the sake of the group; and acquire increased comfort in dealing with the new and unexpected.
Recent trips with the middle school group have included a weeklong trip to Washington D.C., and a four day trip to New York City. Recent trips with the upper elementary group have included three-day trips to Plimoth Plantation and Cape Cod, Sturbridge Village and Boston, and Montreal.
We approach the arts in several ways: we integrate the arts into the curriculum with projects in the content areas, we lead art classes focused on specific skills, and we explore the arts through workshops.
Examples of projects integrated into the curriculum include:
- Detailed realistic drawing: to help us see and understand cells or other matter under a microscope; to study plants and small animals in the field; to observe the architectural details of a building, etc.
- Creating a guide to the spring flora and fauna of the local Watershed Center which includes drawings and water color paintings
- Developing a play as part of a language arts project
- Creating a 10’ x 15’ map of the world to scale, to represent the earth’s biomes
- Building Rube Goldberg type contraptions while studying physics
- Creating linoleum block prints of birds we are studying
- Learning songs from a movement or people at a particular time
We offer choices of workshops in the arts in each session of our Wednesday Workshop series through the year. In our annual Arts Immersion Week during the March mud-season, we turn our classrooms into art studios and dive into the arts for most of each day. We offer in-depth weeklong workshops in a variety of art forms.
Examples of workshops in the arts include:
- Portrait drawing
- Acrylic painting
- Water color painting
- African dance & drumming
- Hip hop dance
- Theater improvisation
- One-act plays
- Film making
- Fashion design
- Silk screen printing
- Andy Goldsworthy style environmental sculpture
- Japanese calligraphy
- Wood carving
- Pottery – hand building & wheel
- Geometric art
Each Wednesday afternoon we offer workshops: in the arts, handcrafts and living arts, building, gardening, sports, cooking, and other experiential learning opportunities. Many workshops take place outside. Teachers, some older students, and community members lead these. Students choose a workshop among those that are offered for each month-long session.
Some examples of workshops that have been offered include (see above for arts focused workshops):
- Apple picking (from our orchard), cider pressing, and cooking and baking with apples
- Building wooden chairs and other forms of woodworking
- Japanese language
- Rebuilding the yurt
- Shingling the barn roof
- Basket weaving
- ‘Waterworks’ – creating small streams, dams, bridges, etc. on the hillside sand area
- Cooking from various regions of the world
Inspired by the Chautauqua movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s which was based on the concept of life-long learning, we invite people from the area who are doing interesting things to come in and give an interactive presentation, or we go and visit them.
Recent Chautauqua speakers and on-site visits include:
- Don Stevens, Chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki
- Deborah Felmeth, presentation on Syria
- Cindy Sprague, hydrogeologist and researcher of the local rat snake population
- Vermont Department of Health Laboratory with microbiologist Keeley Weening
- Tai Chi workshop with Nancy MacLaran
- Kent McFarland, conservation biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies
- Carvell Taylor, her perspective and experiences with the Civil Rights Movement and the Jim Crow South
- Vermont Tree Goods with John Monks
- Johnson Lumber Mill with Ken Johnson
- Stark Mountain Woodworking with Skimmer Hellier
- Julia Doucet & Kevin Kite presentation about the local migrant workers and the project to publish their stories
- Japanese Culture with Corey Selover