As part of a year-long project-based learning unit, students have been exploring issues that impact our town and region. Working independently and in groups, they were able to meet, virtually, with a group of local partners to learn more about how these organizations support our community and work to address critical issues such as food insecurity, water quality, renewable energy, and livable wages. 

Our 5th-8th graders explored a topic of their choice and have been tasked with creating a project that will have a positive impact on our local community. Through their original research and interviews, students established connections with local businesses and area leaders to support their efforts. In learning more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they were able to examine global solutions to some of the most pressing challenges and questions facing our society today, and how those issues also play a role in Georgia and northwestern Vermont.

Through our participation in the Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability program, a partnership with Shelburne Farms has also been established. Each month, a group of students who serve on our leadership team meet with their staff educator, Jen Cirillo. Jen has been an important partner in our sustainability work this year, supporting both teachers and students. Anna, a GEMS 7th grader, noted how Jen has supported this group with their work this school year. “She gives us a topic to think about that will help us in the long term. Also, she helps us come up with ideas and helps us figure out how to get our project done.” 

We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the following organizations who spent time supporting our middle school students:

  • Shelburne Farms
  • Franklin/Grand Isle Community Action
  • Northwest Family Foods
  • Vermont Works for Women
  • Franklin County Chamber of Commerce
  • Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation 
  • Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
  • Northwest Solid Waste District
  • SunCommon 
  • Lake Champlain Basin Program
  • Missisquoi  Basin Association
  • Vermont Cooperative for Practice Improvement & Innovation

Two important events will be happening this spring to showcase and celebrate our students’ hard work. Stay tuned for more information about our first annual GEMS Community Service Day as well as the GEMS Sustainability Fair in June!


Karen Lehning is the GEMS Director of Teaching and Learning and a new contributor to the FWSU Story. You can follow her on Twitter at @klehning02.

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