Many of CCV’s course offerings have a field component, taking students out of the classroom and into the Vermont landscape. This summer, students and faculty from Forest Ecology, Landscape in Art, and Natural History of Vermont reflect on the value of bringing education outside.
Day one of Forest Ecology is all about trees. On Monday afternoon, students visit sites in the northern Green Mountains, including a park in downtown Waterbury, a floodplain forest along the Winooski River, and a mixed hardwood forest at Moss Glen Falls in Stowe. Instructor Ed O’Leary is intent on introducing students to the many species of trees inhabiting these areas. The class stops to identify cottonwood, maples, ash, and dogwood; aspen, elm, pine, and fir. And throughout the afternoon, O’Leary expands the conversation to not only what lives in our woods, but why, and how?
This week-long accelerated course out of the Morrisville academic center is just getting started. The class meets from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. for five consecutive days, so students are immersed in learning—and in the Vermont woods.
Student Laurie Marnell has been waiting to take this class since starting out at CCV. Though she graduated in June, she’s taking the course this summer to prepare for her bachelor’s program in environmental science at Johnson State College. Hiking through the forest at Moss Glen Falls, she talks about the importance of tactile learning. “I enjoy it,” she says. “I think hands-on is so much more interesting, and I think it’s a better way of obtaining information, and retaining it, because you’re doing it and seeing it versus reading it.”
One of Marnell’s classmates holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy, but is taking Forest Ecology to explore the subject. “I might want to go back to school and I was thinking about getting my master’s in forest science,” says Becca Harris, who grew up in New York and currently works for the city government in Montpelier.
O’Leary has been teaching Forest Ecology for 15 years. He says for the material he covers, the classroom simply doesn’t compare to spending time outside. “Students constantly tell me how much easier it is to understand what we are learning by seeing first-hand examples of what we have talked about in class, or what they have read about, by getting into the forest and seeing these things for themselves.”
Landscape in Art
In Newport, ten students gather each Monday evening throughout the summer for Landscape in Art. Whenever the weather allows, students are outside: to paint, to sketch, and to gain inspiration from Lake Memphremagog, whose shore meets Vermont just beyond CCV’s doors. This evening, stubborn rain clouds are finally making way for the sun, so instructor Lynn Rublee and her students head out to practice working with watercolor.
Student Penny Thomas sets up to paint at a table at the water’s edge. A relatively new resident of Newport, Thomas is retired from a career in education. This is the third art class she’s taken at CCV’s northernmost center. “I’m just uncovering the energy and desire to express what I see,” says Thomas. “And it also helps me see things differently,” she says of this class. “I see clouds differently now, I see water differently…and I also put my work up on my walls all over my house.”
More Courses in the Field
Many other CCV classes throughout the state are also heading into the field in Summer 2017! Most of these are offered in multiple locations year-round. Visit our course catalog to learn more.
Freshwater Ecology, Montpelier, St. Johnsbury, Winooski, Brattleboro
The Civil War, St. Albans
Introduction to Environmental Science, St. Albans, Winooski
Dimensions of Work, Bennington
She says coming outside to work is essential. “It’s real. It’s not a photograph, it’s not somebody else’s work; it’s dynamic and alive and actual. It helps to paint from life.” She takes a break from her painting to take in the sunset, the way light bounces off the water. “This is exquisite. Look at the sparkle,” she says. “I don’t know if I can capture that.”
Lynn Rublee believes the outdoor component of the class encourages students to develop an awareness of their surroundings. “I think connecting with the landscape and with nature, and understanding its impact upon us and our relationship to it, is just vitally important, and just taking that time to kind of be nurtured by it, recognizing that it’s really what sustains us…especially in a place like Vermont,” she says.
Rublee notes that for many professional artists, the Green Mountain landscape is integral to their work. “The majority of artists in Vermont have some relationship with the landscape because it’s part of what feeds us, part of what we’re surrounded by, part of what is a daily visual stimulation.”
Natural History of Vermont
On a muggy July morning at Shelburne Bay Park, sixteen students cluster around a picnic table for a quiz on rock types. This is the third day of Natural History of Vermont, and this particular section is offered as a week-long intensive out of the Winooski academic center.
Field trips are a major part of this course. Throughout the week, students are visiting a wide range of sites, from Lamoille Cave in Milton, to Centennial Woods in Burlington, to the LaPlatte River and Shelburne Bay. Instructor Teage O’Connor says that having eight-hour classes is a luxury, as it enables him to maximize the amount of time spent at each field site.
For O’Connor, Natural History is about content, but it’s also about becoming a more engaged learner. “Students come out of the class with different eyes, so as they walk in the woods they walk slower, they see more, they know that there are deeper questions that they could ask,” he says. One of the main goals is that students begin “learning how to look at the world, and learning what questions you could ask to understand why a landscape is the way that it is,” says O’Connor.
Student Cindy Growney says she’s surprised by how much she’s learning. “I’ve been outside and doing things outside my whole life so I kind of thought, ‘I know so much about Vermont,’ and then initially [O’Connor] gave us this test, he called it the Tourist Test, and you had to just answer honestly without researching, and I did so badly! I knew so little.” Yet she’s smiling as she says this, at once embarrassed and excited. (The Tourist Test? O’Connor’s 12-page survey of natural history, adapted from the Kamana Naturalist Training program, designed to get students thinking about the place they call home. Questions range from ‘What was the indigenous culture of your area?’ to ‘What are the symptoms of rabies in a wild animal?’)
Growney is studying toward a degree in business and accounting, and says she’s looking forward to working in the field of bookkeeping. But another big passion is being outside. “I would love to be a field naturalist,” she says. “I just love it,” she adds about the class. “I love any little bit of information I can get about our surroundings.”
One of Growney’s classmates, Zach Loiter, is a student at Champlain Valley Union High School who is taking Natural History to get a jump start on college. Loiter says he’s becoming more familiar with a landscape he’s known for a long time. As he walks beside Lake Champlain, gesturing toward the water, his words echo those of his instructor—and those of the many other students who are learning from the landscape this summer. “I’ve been on this path many times,” Loiter says of the trail along the shore of Shelburne Bay, “and when we saw [that smooth glacial rock]…I had no idea that was there. You see things that you wouldn’t normally see.”
Check out more photos from Forest Ecology, Landscape in Art, and Natural History of Vermont!