Electing to Be All-In: Reinvigorating a 65-year-old Elective Program with PBE

Janis Boulbol, a 2021 Rowland Fellow, is the agricultural innovation teacher at Woodstock Union Middle High School in Vermont.

Janis Boulbol is the agricultural innovation teacher at Woodstock Union High School and Middle School. A 2021 Rowland Fellow, Boulbol took over the 65-year-old elective program in 2020. She’s been refocusing the program, pivoting it to integrate PBE, foster deeper connections, and promote stewardship of place. 

Her classes, with students in grades 7-12, investigate plant and soil science with an emphasis on native plants and those that can be cultivated, as well as agriculture and forestry. Working in hoop houses, plus herb and native pollinator gardens, students produce nourishing food that supports their cafeteria and community. Students grow, care for, and sell veggies, herbs, and houseplants, among other offerings. Every spring, the school’s agriculture department organizes a huge plant sale, and ends the year with a holiday sale in December. 

It’s in these projects that Boulbol sees the most motivation and enthusiasm from her kids, fueled by a desire to be involved and self-sustaining. Projects have taken many forms, from the students who independently created a hydroponic system to grow strawberries, to the student who redesigned the garden sale’s webpage. Boulbol sees that dedication and commitment as real markers of success.

There’s a strong sense of student ownership within the program, bolstered by community connections. Boulbol integrates a strong support system into her work, partnering with local organizations like Woodstock’s King Farm and the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. She’s taken her students to visit Vermont saffron farm Calabash Gardens, a Black, women, and worker-owned business where lessons go beyond regenerative agricultural practices. Boulbol and her students are also supported by Shelburne Farms, the Upper Valley Teaching Place Collaborative, and their school’s administration. 

Thanks to Boulbol’s work with the Rowland Foundation and her fellowship partner Kathleen Robbins, they’ll soon launch a new credential for student transcripts, with the beginning stages of implementation planned for 2022. The credential, called Climate Resilience by engaging in Agricultural, Forestry, and Technological innovation, or CRAFT, will be yet another way for students to find fulfillment and recognition from universities and other institutions. The pathway to earning the CRAFT credential won’t be limited to agriculture, as the math and history departments will also integrate the thread of climate resiliency in their content. 
 
Speaking with Boulbol, it’s hard not to be excited and hopeful about the future. Her kids show up to their elective enthusiastically, electing to be all-in. There’s always something truly inspirational when students dedicate themselves to their passions, says Boulbol, especially when the world and community benefit from that passion and hard work. 

Project City Woodstock
Project State Vermont
Project School Woodstock Union High School and Middle School
Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
  • agricultural/ food education
Subject Area
  • science, math, engineering, technology (STEM)
  • reading, writing, English as a second language
  • cultural history, folklore, racial studies, community studies
Delivery Area
  • school based
Outcome Area
  • academic performance
  • environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
  • stewardship behavior
  • career awareness
  • school change
Participant Area
  • student
Age Area
  • middle school (12-14 years old)
  • high school (14-18 years old)