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Charlotte Kids Turn Tables on Environmental Educators

By Kevin Foley Article published December 5, 2001

When fourth and fifth graders from Charlotte Central School deftly completed a role reversal on Dec. 4, travelling to UVM to teach a class to the UVM environmental education students who spent much of the semester teaching them, a mutual admiration society was born.

"My students are always blown away by the understanding of the Charlotte kids and the rich content of their presentation," says Tom Hudspeth, associate professor of environmental education, who collaborated with Charlotte teacher (and UVM alumna) Cher Feitelberg. "They’re also amazed by their technical sophistication: In some years, the children have produced great PowerPoint presentations."

The elementary students and their teacher gushed as well. Feitelberg calls the biannual project and exchange, which has gone on since 1990, an exciting "self-esteem builder." The children, she says, love showing off their knowledge to UVM role models and teachers. Feitelberg also lavishly praised the environmental education students who came to her class.

"They not only worked with our kids phenomenally, they worked with each other wonderfully as well," she says. "Their spirit, the fun in which they did it, and the way they balanced that fun with a passion for the environment, was delightful. It was just an extraordinary way to represent the university in the community."

Hudspeth’s environmental education class assigns students (student interns from outside the class also participated) to develop an activity and field-test it with a real client group. The idea is build a place-based program, one that imparts a better understanding of a particular area. This year’s Pease Mountain project, which put the area in the larger context of the five-town Lewis Creek watershed, included field workshops in Charlotte and cumulated in the construction of a web site, Pease Mountain Stewardship Program. (Caveat Internet: The site is still under construction.)

The program will next take place in 2003. Feitelberg is already looking forward to it.

"This program is a showcase for the caliber of the environmental school, the kind of passion, skill and professionalism the UVM students are bringing even as novices," she says.

Hudspeth will also enjoy the next round.

"Every year, my students are surprised to see that the elementary school students know things that they didn’t learn until they went to high school, even college," he says. "It’s wonderful to see Vermont raising the bar for youth environmental education."