“Well, they could just ride their bikes to work,” Fletcher Elementary School kindergartener Matthew Ryan suggested with enthusiasm, wagging his left index finger in the air while holding a microphone in his right.
In front of the entire school, Ryan was responding to a question by author-adventurer Jan Reynolds, who visited Fletcher Monday to engage students in a conversation she calls Cycle of Rice and Celebrate, one of the several themed presentations she delivers at schools throughout the year. The presentation focuses on environmental sustainability and the similarities and differences between human cultures. Ryan was responding to a call by Reynolds for suggestions about how adults could help preserve the environment.
Reynolds calls her visits lectures, but not in the traditional sense. She engages students in critical conversation that gets them thinking about the impact of their decision-making on the environment. Through the lens of environmental stewardship, Reynolds speaks with children about food, housing, transportation, and clothing. In addition, through music and Reynolds’s own vibrant photographs from around the globe, the author of 14 books for both children and adults takes her audiences through a cultural voyage that provides a glimpse at the similarities between celebrations worldwide.
“I learned a lot about sustainability today,” sixth-grader Chase Murray said. “It means not polluting the air or causing other damage to the environment. I learned that our choices matter and that we can make a difference, one day at a time.”
Reynolds is a writer, photographer, athlete, and adventurer who has traveled the globe exploring extreme environments and spending time learning from the locals. She has participated in expeditions to China, Tibet, Nepal, New Zealand, Australia, Lapland, the Amazon Basin, Canadian Arctic, Mongolia and the Sahara. She was sponsored by National Geographic when she set the women’s high altitude ski record. Her countless radio and television appearances have featured these expeditions, as well her mountaineering experiences.
“She’s an inspiration,” sixth-grader Maggie Nadeau said. “She teaches you to follow your dreams and make good choices for everyone along the way. That includes the people and the earth.”
Reynolds’s has also worked as a writer and photographer for National Geographic, Vogue, Esquire, the New York Times, various ski magazines and her photographs have been exhibited at the United Nations. In 1985, Reynolds participated in the Beyond the Summit Expedition, flying a hot air balloon over Mount Everest and reaching 28,000 feet, setting an altitude record and creating the award-winning film, Flight of the Wind Horse. She was a member of the US Biathlon Team in 1983 and 1984. Reynolds graduated from UVM in 1978.
In her presentation, Reynolds used the example of Indonesian rice farmers as an exemplar for sustainability. She showed students photographs depicting the cycle of life and how the culture is self-sustaining. She also drew attention to the many ways, such as the use of fire, that various cultures celebrate. She implored students to recognize the differences in various celebration, yet honor the “oneness” of the human race.
“Opportunities like this are essential for our students in understanding that their decisions not only impact themselves but other people and our environment,” sixth-grade teacher Jasmine Tremblay said. “The world is bigger and more diverse than most of our students realize. Conversations and photographs like those that Jan provides help to build students’ understanding that they are part of a much bigger picture. For students, understanding other people and places is the first step in respecting them and valuing diversity.”
Reynolds’s presentation at Fletcher on Monday was the first in her 2017-18 school tour.