“The geography presents a perfect opportunity to study forest, lake and mountain environments. There were plenty of ways to apply learning in the local landscape,” they said.
In the Rubenstein School, Freas worked as a TA for two classes including “Birding for Change,” led by Trish O’Kane. The class brings local Burlington kids and college students together to build connections through birdwatching. Freas also brought to UVM a love of the Spanish language and minored in the subject. “It felt important for me to keep up with Spanish—I was told continuously that it would be advantageous to be bi-lingual,” they said.
It turned out to be good advice. Freas’ first job was with AmeriCorps at Education Outside, a San Francisco Bay area non-profit serving a bilingual community.
Education Outside fully engaged Freas’ passion for making science come alive for young learners. The organization serves low-income Bay Area public elementary school students by converting concrete and asphalt schoolyards into lively hands-on outdoor classrooms where students learn earth and life sciences, practice environmental sustainability and plant and cultivate nutritious food.
After completing their two-year commitment to AmeriCorps they moved on to another Bay area non-profit CommunityGrows, where they work as educator and program manager for BEETs (Band of Environmentally Educated and Employable Teens). BEETS provides students with nature-based outdoor education programs, giving them the tools, confidence and resources to navigate and challenge societal injustices. BEETS serves students of color and low income youth. The students get paid hourly, with a pay increase available if they choose to return as a Leadership Crew member the following year. The program helps graduates move on to higher education—one of Freas’ first students recently enrolled at Middlebury College.
"Since my time coordinating the program, I've been focused on bringing in a strong environmental justice and climate justice lens to everything the students learn,” they said.
Freas understands their students are better equipped to fight climate change and environmental injustice when they build a broad appreciation for the natural world. In any case, their students don’t need lectures about the climate crisis—they can see and smell the ash from nearby wildfires.
“I level with my students—‘yeah, here’s the reality of climate change.’ But my goal is to give them the tools to join the fight for a Green New Deal, affordable housing, and environmental justice,” Freas says. “And show them that people advocating for these things are already here, and that the work has already started.”