A Passion for Partnerships
Friday, April 6, 2018
By Upper School Science Teachers Emilie Cushing and Jen Mallette
“Look! Look! Over there! Up in that tree!” stage-whispers a 7th grader, who has just discovered a red-tailed hawk.
“Words like these are music to a science teacher’s ears,” Emilie Cushing confides, “and we upper school science teachers at GUS get to be part of these types of conversations every day. Being at a school that encourages exploration and stepping outside of comfort zones motivates us to be just as curious as our students. It has been exciting to form partnerships with organizations and individuals who share our passion for bringing the real world into our classrooms and our students out into the real world.”
Cushing is referring to the partnerships that GUS has been forging with local organizations that provide stewardship to local land, share its bounty with those in need, and mentor others to care for, understand, and enjoy the beautiful region that is the North Shore. Head of School David Liebman explains the inspiration behind these partnerships. “When I arrived at GUS in the summer of 2016, I was immediately struck by the incredible and untapped resource that existed in the greenhouse. No school I know of boasts such a unique classroom. I envisioned a green, vibrant, living space where students were active in the growing process—an edible schoolyard program like Alice Waters started years ago on the west coast. As I got to know The Food Project and Backyard Growers, both of whom rent growing space from us, I realized they had expertise in gardening that our teachers welcomed, so it was an easy next step to discuss a partnership that would connect to the people and resources in the community around us—a very GUS way of solving a problem.”
Last week, students in 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th grade kicked off the Backyard Growers’ Salad Days program by filling four raised beds in the greenhouse with soil. Soon, several varieties of lettuce will be planted and the students will water the beds daily. Seventh graders will determine what factors are affecting the growth and health of the lettuce and will engineer solutions to any problems they find. All students, faculty, and staff will have access to healthy, fresh salad every day. Students will also devise a plan to distribute any extra lettuce we harvest to people in our community who don’t have access to fresh vegetables.
As 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, GUS students embark on service-related work that supports The Food Project. The 7th graders’ work with The Food Project connects to what they’ve learned about photosynthesis, plant biology, and nutrition, and is a kick-off point for learning about food security. Not only do students prepare the fields so that food can be grown for people who need it, they learn from Food Project staff that not all people in our community can easily obtain healthy food. Stemming from our connection with The Food Project, the 7th grade team plans to pilot an interdisciplinary unit on food security. In addition to our study of nutrition and its impact on body systems and well-being in science and life skills classes, students will learn how to make a realistic budget using real data, and will explore how limited access to healthy food affects families.
Our partnership with Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology has 7th graders collecting real data on how forests are changing over time. This data is used by Harvard scientists and by the 7th graders themselves to see what impact development has on the amount of forested land right around our school.
Educators from Salem Sound Coastwatch and Ipswich River Watershed Association came to GUS this past fall to run their Greenscapes program, which features interactive stations that teach about local water issues. GUS 6th graders, having studied about the water cycle and watersheds in science class, applied their knowledge to many real-life water issues. A large watershed model was used to demonstrate the impact of pollution on waterways. A groundwater model helped students to see the effects of pollution on water we can’t even see. Samples of water from a water treatment plant as well as a demonstration of the process allowed students to consider where water goes once it flows down the drain. Other stations prompted students to think about their own local watershed and consider solutions to major water issues, such as low flows in the Ipswich River and marine debris in the oceans.
The Gulf of Maine Institute (GOMI) works with teachers, local organizations, and scientific researchers to build stewardship and civic engagement in the Gulf of Maine region. We have been invited to partner with Salem Sound Coastwatch and GOMI beginning this spring. During a day-long workshop this May, we will work alongside Salem Sound Ocean Literacy Educator Emily Flaherty to learn more about local issues impacting the Gulf of Maine and identify an authentic action research project that GUS students can undertake during the 2018–2019 school year.
Throughout this school year we have enjoyed working with Liz Duff, an accomplished educator with the Massachusetts Audubon and the Museum Institute for Teaching Science, an organization that provides professional development for teachers, utilizing their partnerships with museums, nature centers, and other education organizations. Together, we are planning a week-long professional development program for the summer that will explore human impacts on local ecosystems. We are looking forward to sharing our multitude of natural resources here on the GUS campus this July!