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 world environment.
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 have a door directly to the outside. Students are in and out of doors throughout the day. A writer's workshop can take place under the cherry tree as easily as it can inside. Science classes find students 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, stream, field or copse of woods. 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 holes or build brush houses as to start up a game of soccer or wiffle ball.
Students of all ages engage in daily science classes at Red Cedar. 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.
Students regularly share their learnng with each other and the school community, and contribute their findings to organizations that collect citizen scientist field data.
Little Patch Gardens is a living laboratory for scientific observation and inquiry, and an opportunity for students to experience sustainable agriculture as a local way of life. Students help to till, plant, weed and harvest the school's garlic, gourds, sunflowers, beans, tomatoes and apples. Students have formed a garden company to learn about the decision-making processes involved in running a financial business. They have sold garlic and garlic oil to families and friends over the past few years. The school has developed a farm-school relationship with a local organic farm and students visit the farm and communicate with the farmer about their plans and experiences.
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.
Each year students work to improve and maintain an outdoor classroom space on the school's land. Students helped to build a yurt from recycled and locally grown materials. The interior is heated with a clay stove built by the students, and the space is used for classes, workshops, and projects such as woodworking at recess. The school community built a cob oven a few years ago that we use for baking projects, including flatbread pizza for community dinners. Last year we built a new post and beam open shed with shingled roof to cover the oven. We are currently building a small post and beam barn. 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.
The school has a tradition of retreating to the woods to grow as a community through overnight camping trips, canoe excursions, and 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. Students at the upper elementary and middle school levels go on multiday wilderness trips a few times a year. Past trips have included backpacking in the Green Mountains, White Mountains and Adirondacks, and canoeing in the Adirondacks.
Environmental art workshops allow students of all ages to find quiet places to rearrange earth materials into personal expression, as well as initiate experiments with the architecture and design potential of natural objects. Lessons from fairy houses, stone sculptures and debris huts find ready applications in other workshops on yurt and tipi construction, and our cob oven project.
Outdoor adventure activities give students the opportunity to develop a lifestyle of playing hard in nature and staying fit through outdoor exercise. In addition to the wilderness trips, outdoor adventure workshops such as mountain biking, orienteering and hiking are offered. In the winter, the entire school skis (choice of alpine, Nordic or snowboarding) every Thursday afternoon. Travel study trips taken by older students include experiences such as white-water rafting, hiking and bicycling, to get students out into the landscape.