Adapting PBE in the Time of COVID-19

Jessica Wilmot is a fourth-grade teacher at the Weathersfield School in Ascutney, Vermont.

Like many things right now, place-based education doesn't look exactly the same as it did two years ago. But a defining aspect of PBE is that it’s adaptable. The same can be said for educator Jessica Wilmot; she has found ways to roll with the punches to provide students with what they need, beyond what's convenient. 

Wilmot is a fourth-grade teacher at the Weathersfield School in Ascutney, Vermont. Like all of us, she’s had to adjust to the “new normal” to protect health and safety. Field trips have become voices played on CDs, and visitors drop in via phone and Google Meet sessions. Safety guidelines aren’t the only dimension Wilmot has to consider; like many educators, sourcing funding, finding time availability in tight schedules, and accounting for liabilities and transportation costs have been hurdles long before the pandemic.  

Challenges aside, Wilmot embraces PBE wholeheartedly. She sees the connections firsthand and believes PBE makes for better learning, especially when topics and places are revisited, with each new discussion adding a level to an already strong foundation. Wilmot sees a trip to a local orchard for kindergartens as a gateway to more complex ideas down the road. She can take those students back to the same orchard in fourth grade and, already armed with an understanding of apple variations, can delve into the science of propagation and pollination — all while students munch on Honeycrisps. 

The Weathersfield School’s history unit and literature picks are fueled by PBE and Wilmot’s insight. Students are learning about their community in those spaces, directly from community members. Says Wilmot, they start to see themselves as community members, too. Books like “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien assist in narrowing broad concepts like sustainability and equity. “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George gives trips into the forest a new lens; combining science and reading provides a sense of place and a call to adventure at the same time.
 
Through assignments like creating environmentally-friendly cleaning products, Wilmot sees her kids realizing that their choices make a difference and have a direct impact on the world around them, be it Ascutney or a much broader view. As her students know, everything’s connected.
 

Project City Ascutney
Project State Vermont
Project School Weathersfield School
Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
  • agricultural/ food education
  • education for sustainability
Subject Area
  • agriculture, plant and soil science, food systems
Participant Area
  • student
Age Area
  • elementary (6-11 years old)