The Stone Wall Project: A Reflection on Hands-On Learning and Immovable Objects


EDITORS NOTE: The Stone Wall Project at Guilford Central School in Vermont was part of a long term effort to create and demonstrate the effect and power of hands-on place based
service-learning experiences — for both students and faculty.

School faculty began the project during the second of four local designed and run K-8 Institutes on Service-Learning. Students and community participants finished the wall as a community building effort when school resumed in the fall.

Martina Dancing and Joe Brooks, director of Guilford’s Institutes worked closely with local craftsman Smokey Fuller to find local stone donations and create a working space during the Institute for teachers to learn and participate in stone wall building.

While some teachers were a bit tentative about their own ability in the beginning, everyone quickly dove into the art of building this wall. The clearest evidence of that was how difficult it soon became to get teachers to come inside for their next workshop on curriculum design.

As teachers we may come to realize that our interests and values, our PASSIONS become a critical part of our ability to function as good teachers, parents and community members. My experience in planning and guiding a hands-on learning experience for classroom, specialist, and administrative educators, at The Guilford Summer Institute suggests how this fits for me. Continue reading

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One-Room School Houses: A Living History Curriculum Unit

The Little Red Brick School in Guilford Center—a painting by Bud Henry

This article is from our Journal archives and is one of our top reads ever. Kathy and Dale designed and carried out this unit as members of the primary teaching team at The Guilford School in Vermont. Dale began planning a study of Guilford’s one-room schoolhouses at the first of a series of Summer Institutes held at Guilford School. Kathy also worked that summer with a group of teachers and community members planning garden projects at the school. Near the beginning of the school year they made the decision to work together with their students on the one-room school unit, which they reprised and improved over the years.

The Beginnings
Our interest and study of One Room Schools went back to Guilford’s Summer Institute. During the summer we had worked at the Institute with a team of community members and school staff to develop projects that would bring together the twin strategies of service learning and community inquiry. We created a planning document and used that to help guide our way. We were also seeking to use our local resources to bring the school and community closer together. We saw the study of one-room schools as a way to do this, while honoring our senior population, most of whom attended one-room schools. For those who did, it was a formative experience, significantly different from today’s more centralized school system.

The Green River School, circa 1909

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A Student’s Conversation with a Ninth Generation Vermont Farmer


An interview by Eric Heikkila, 8th grade student. This was originally published in The Guilford Gazette, a long running student produced community newspaper in rural Vermont. We are republishing it now as an excellent example of an oral history project. Learn more about student projects like this.

The first look you get at Bob Gaines you know he has worked hard all his life. I recently interviewed him and found out a lot about him and his work on the Gaines farm today. He believes he has seen a lot of change, in the way we live, in farming, and in the school system. He went to Slate Rock School in Guilford on Route 5 (before it was paved!), where there were about 25 students in his class — although he said the number varied throughout the year. During the fall and spring there weren’t many in attendance because they were at home helping with chores. In the winter many children came because there was nothing else to do. At the time there were about 9 or 10 schools in Guilford all from grades 1 through 8. In the morning the teacher would work with grades 1, 2, and 3 until 10:00, then they were allowed to go outside, while the teacher worked with the older grades. The smaller kids came in at noon and had lessons until 2:00 when they went home. The older kids stayed longer and received more help after 2:00.

Just like now the kids enjoyed an excuse to get out of class. He said they always looked forward to getting the pail of drinking water for the class or getting the Christmas tree in the winter, which took all day. When he graduated, there were 14 others in his class but only one was from his school so he knew no one else.

After graduation he went to high school in Brattleboro. Fewer students were able to attend back then because it cost $100 tuition. The Town of Guilford paid $50 and the parents paid $50. He said he was lucky because his father had a car that he let him use to get to school because there were no buses. After high school, besides working on the farm, he has fought in a war, worked for the electric company and was Master of the Broad Brook Grange. He was president of the Windham County Farm Bureau, served 20 years on the Agriculture Conservation Board for Windham County and six years on the school board (on the planning committee for the school), was an auditor in Guilford and many, many other things I am sure. He served in the U.S. Army for five years, three of which were spent overseas in the Pacific. He feels the service gave him great opportunity to see different parts of the country and the world. He even lived in New Zealand for three months, which he thinks is a beautiful country.

The land for the farm was bought by David Gaines in 1780, when Vermont was not yet a state. The price was paid in British pounds because the United States did not have its own currency. Some of the farm was on “Glebe” land. This was land that was set aside by the King to support the Church of England. The farm paid rent once a year for the right to use the land. The house that now stands on the farm was built by Joel Gaines in 1860. In 1900, Joel also built what was a modern three-story barn at the time. Seven years later in 1907, the barn burned to the ground. The farm has always been passed down through the family. Bob is the seventh generation and his grandsons, Kyle, Bradley, and Joel are the ninth generation.

Bob says farming has changed a lot in his lifetime. For example, everything used to be done with horses and now it’s done with tractors. It has become a lot more “high tech” with all the modern machinery. they didn’t even have electricity until 1946, after World War II. The company that had the contract didn’t have enough workers, so they supplied the materials and the Gaines family and their neighbors had to put up the lines themselves. When he first started out, they milked by hand and now they use milking machines. Corn and hay used to be cut by hand and now there are machines to do that too. It is easier now, he admits, since there’s less hand work but it’s hard to stay in business because the machines cost so much and it’s also hard just to keep the farm up to date. “This is the only industry that buys retail and sells wholesale,” he commented dryly. Another change I found interesting was they used to sell just the cream from the milk and kept the skim to feed the animals and when they started to sell the skim milk the “old timers” thought it was like selling the farm.

Major change came for him and the entire state of Vermont with the construction of Interstate 91. It went right through the Gaines farm and the state had to buy some of their land. He says that the interstate brought people in to ski and vacation. Land which before was very tough to sell even at a low price became very expensive. The whole economy of the state changed.

He likes most all his work on the farm but admitted that milking was his favorite because it brings in the most money. He believes he would have worked for the electric company if he hadn’t been able to farm because that was what he did for a while after WWII, when he got out of the service. The busiest time of the year for him is the spring, trying to beat the clock and get everything done in time so it will be ready for winter.

Bob Gaines is happy with what he’s doing and says

“These are changes that could be made, but I sleep well at night.”

©Guilford Gazette, All Rights Reserved The Guilford Gazette is a long running student run community newspaper in rural Vermont. learn more

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An Intercultural Student Project as a Path for Advocating for Immigrants


Chatterton (2008) advocates a collaborative process that: 1) gives voice to the dreams and desires of real people struggling for justice and equality; 2) provokes productive discussion by bringing our community work into the classroom, into our scholarship, and into the public: and 3) that brings our students out to engage in the world(s) we study. In the Spring of 2008 two professors at Georgia Southern University (GSU) stepped up to Chatterton’s call by planning and executing a collaborative service learning opportunity with students in Intercultural Communication and Advanced Video Production courses, and the Southeast Georgia Communities Project (SECGP). SEGCP is a non-profit organization serving needy families and migrant/seasonal farm workers in the area. Students produced a ten minute video documenting their service-learning experience with SEGCP and their conversations with Mexican migrant workers. The video is used as an educational and fund raising tool by SEGCP and GSU faculty. The entire project became a step toward a sustainable working relationship between the university and Latino/a community in the region. In this essay, the authors discuss how they came to be involved in the project, their preparation for the field trip, and their field/service experience. They conclude with a discussion of outcomes, including other community-based learning opportunities that the project set in motion.

Documenting an Amazing Encounter: Fostering Sustainable Intercultural Exchange

Chatterton (2008) encourages scholars to spend as much time as possible working outside of the university with/in communities in need of support. The author also extols universities as “amazing places of encounter, conflict, diversity and debate (not to mention resources), and it is crucial that we find ways to defend and expand these and open them up to others” (p.421). To bring these worlds together Chatterton (2008) advocates a collaborative process that 1) gives voice to the dreams and desires of real people struggling for justice and equality, 2) provokes productive discussion by bringing our community work into the classroom, into our scholarship, and into the public, and 3) that brings our students out to engage in the world(s) we study. In his conclusion, he exhorts us to “[p]ush the boundaries, kick up a fuss, organize with friends” (2008, p.426). The authors of this essay stepped up to Chatterton’s call not only in terms of the project in which they participated, but in the writing of this essay as well. Continue reading

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Family History Writing: A Prototype for Local Service-Learning Projects


Suzanne is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW), where she teaches technical writing, multimedia, and family history writing.

In a spring 2009 course on family history writing and service learning, students wrote portions of their own family history and then worked to help write an historical book for the Cottage Lake History Project. Data collected from student-participants and members of the organization revealed themes of collaboration, reflection, and reciprocity. These themes articulate the correlation between service learning and family history writing as well as shed light on what family history is and how service learning can be used in other historical, family based, and localized research projects. This article argues that a prototype course with small, seemingly insignificant, local efforts, such as working with our own families or working with two members of a little-known historical project, have immense value for long-term sustainability.


During the spring semester, I taught a senior/graduate level writing course on writing family history that incorporated a service learning component. During the first half of the 16-week semester, students researched and wrote on their own family histories, using various qualitative research methods and fieldwork guidelines for archival research at the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center (ACPL)[1]. In the second half of the semester, the course shifted to helping a local organization called the Cottage Lake[2] History Project (CLHP). Cottage Lake is about an hour from our campus. The previous fall, two members contacted me for consulting advice on how to proceed with their large collection of interviews, images, and folklore from the lake’s inhabitants. They wanted to create a text of the lake’s history from the late 19th century through the 1960s. Students constructed research binders and narratives based on the data that CLHP members gave them. They organized and expanded the existing archive in order for future writers to more easily write the text. Continue reading

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The Art of Making Cider: Sometimes the Learning Stays Home


Ode to Autumn

David Sobel is a regular essayist and contributing editor of Community Works Journal and is a Senior Faculty in the Education Department at Antioch University New England. He also coordinates Antioch’s new Nature-based Early Childhood program. Through his writing, speaking, and teaching, David plays a major role in what has become a national movement promoting place-based education.

Five apple trees create a protected bower in our back yard. Six if you count the scraggly one that’s never borne any fruit but I can’t quite cut down. My son Eli has always referred to it as the front yard, and I’ve often corrected him. “The front yard is the side that faces the road. The back yard is where the apple trees and the garden are.”

But as he persisted, I came to see the underlying truth. Nothing much ever happened on the road side of the house. No games, no craft, no family time, just walking out to get the mail and the newspaper. Conversely, life happened under the apple trees. We played kickball and soccer, we napped in the hammock, we jumped in piles of leaves, Eli learned to use a chainsaw cutting down ash and maple just on the other side of the western stone wall. Wendy revived the perennial flower beds here. Jeff our rambunctious neighbor, launched his clandestine nighttime firework attacks out there. And it’s where we always made cider. If front connotes significance, like in “front and center” and back connotes neglected, like in “put it out back,” then indeed the yard with the apple trees was more front than back. Continue reading

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A Shared Mission for Every Student and Every Teacher


Jonny is the Director of Service-Learning at Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles and is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning and Sustainability.

Wow. What a week! I’m not sure how to fully reflect on such a rich experience in summary form, but maybe a loose, informal reflection will still be helpful. I came into my week at CWI’s Summer Institute knowing very little about service-learning or education for sustainability. The only real experience I had was in place-based learning through outdoor education, so I was very familiar with learning about nature while in natural settings.

Before the Summer Institute I would have categorized “outdoor education” experience as essentially and intrinsically different from service-learning. Now I can’t help but think that the complete learning experience almost has to include service-learning, education for sustainability, and be place-based. I look back on my experience in so many different schools growing up and realize now that all the most impactful and memorable learning experiences I had included those three elements. I now realize that to treat community, place, and the greater goal of a sustainable relationship with our planet and all its inhabitants as separate from academic pursuits is to do one’s students, and one’s community, a great disservice. I also see that all complete education integrates the story of the individual learner, the story of their community, the environment, the greater story of the Earth, humanity at large, and the universe itself. This allows for a deeper understanding on the part of the learner as to where they fit in the big picture, and perhaps even what their purpose in the greater story might be. Continue reading

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Mapping the Neighborhood: Experiential Learning as a Survival Skill


I’ve been teaching in the MacArthur Park/Westlake district of Los Angeles for ten years and have worked with a host of immigrant families. Most of them are from Mexico, and some of them have migrated from other cities and states in the U.S. 90% of the population at MacArthur Park Elementary School is Latino and the rest are a mix of White, African American, and Filipino. All of the families who attend the school are living below the poverty line.

MacArthur Park/Westlake district of Los Angeles considered by some to be a rough neighborhood. But I don’t see it that way. I can’t afford to. I began my career in LAUSD ten years ago when the school was MacArthur Park Primary Center. I was desperate for a job after leaving a charter school that was about to lose their charter So I taught English to a class of Spanish speakers whose parents opted for English immersion, not dual language.

The next year with the teacher layoff cycle, I was bumped across the street to Charles White Elementary School, previously home to Otis Art and Design. I taught 4th and 5th grade for five years and was handed the most challenging students because of low seniority. During those years I became the teacher I am today because experiential learning was my survival skill. I couldn’t teach without building on the interests of my students. One boy had a fascination with snakes, so we got a terrarium with two corn snakes. The classroom became a mini-zoo where students would bring their pets to class for a week, and we conducted research and generated investigations based on their inquiry. Charles White is also an arts-based school. One of the most interesting projects we did came out of a LACMA partnership. Marissa Dowling, a visiting photographer from London sent the students around MacArthur Park with cameras to take photos of things they found interesting. The photographs were a blend of artifacts and human interest stories. We had a gala with the Mayor in the LACMA annex museum on our campus. Continue reading

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Using Art and Service-Learning for Social Change in Los Angeles


Aida is a teaching artist in Los Angeles, and an alumnus of CWI’s Summer WEST Institute, and a member of CommonLore’s teacher cohort. Aida’s goals include encouraging her students to get directly involved, beginning with establishing communication with law makers and people in charge of the LA River revitalization effort. She is working with her students to make positive change by going through the process required to propose and ultimately design and install public art.

I feel super excited to call myself an alum of an Institute with such important work. The ideas that were expanded on in this week of exploration will have to be constantly refined and understood in my practice as a teaching artist. I will have to continuously expand on them experientially throughout my artistic community practice now. Being a part of CWI’s Institute made me proud of the work I do and has inspired me to continue my work in community engagement through the arts. Service-learning, sustainability and place-based learning are all in the utopic vision for arts education. Taking CWI’s Institute was a reminder of the importance these factors have on deep learning experiences beyond what the classroom has to offer.

CWI’s Institute connected me with many tools, resources and models to strengthen these roles in my planning and in building in more moments for student lead, service based opportunities in lessons and projects and modeling and teaching sustainable habits for healthy communities. Continue reading

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Finding the Whole Child in Education Reform


Big challenges lie ahead — fixing the economy so that it more equitably serves everyone, not just those with the wealth and power; rebuilding democracy so that it is no longer hijacked by lobbyists and corporations; and redirecting cultural life away from decadent diversions and violence but toward higher purpose. Addressing these and other challenges like global warming will demand more than competent workers and participating citizens. It will demand people with a broader vision and a higher and evolving humanity.

An excellent article not long ago in Community Works Journal by Hector Vila addresses this demand from the point of view of teachers and their responsibilities within the broader culture. In what follows I use a different perspective that I believe complements what Dr. Vila had to say.

Think about those, now children, who will be called upon one day to supply solutions in these three spheres. The problems are daunting and will take decades to resolve, but don’t we owe it to those who are now young and in our charge to equip them to handle the world we leave in their care? We can begin immediately to instill the qualities needed to create a new vision and a vibrant society.

How can this be accomplished? Continue reading

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