Measuring PBE Success, One Tree Planting At A Time

Dan Hamilton is a teacher at Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond, Vermont.

When asked how he measures the success of place-based education, Dan Hamilton explains, “One of the great things about PBE is that success is not measured on a national standardized test. Students see change, talk about what they learned, and take more pride in and responsibility for their local community. We measure success one tree planting at a time.”

Former students report that those feelings of pride and responsibility are still ingrained, and just as personal, even twenty years later. Hamilton, an educator at Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond, Vermont, has been told by graduates that they still find themselves visiting “their trees,” trees they helped plant, and protecting native plants during hometown hikes by removing invasive honeysuckle or mustard seed. Hamilton sees fostering this sense of commitment, as well as proper resources and education, as vital climate change mitigation techniques. “I always have hope [that] change and progress are within reach.”

“I always have hope [that] change and progress are within reach.”

Hamilton’s approach to PBE has taken many forms over the years, but land-based work and institutional partnerships are key pieces of fostering deep community connections and lasting feelings of ownership for students. The University of Vermont and the State of Vermont are both examples of such partners, collaborating on projects like gathering landscape change data, stream quality reporting, and tree planting. Hamilton’s class even brought their tree planting skills to their school campus, where they created an orchard of apple, peach, pear, and cherry trees. It’s an outdoor classroom space that all Camels Hump students can enjoy.

An ongoing student project is the preservation of silver maple and ostrich fern along the nearby Winooski River. Hamilton describes how that project helps explain the three E’s of sustainability — environment, equity, and economy — to his students. While some ideas are complex for younger students to grasp, Hamilton’s approach is anchored in real-world evidence. “Environmental impact is easiest to see with enhanced water quality, pollution and runoff prevention, limiting bank erosion. And the removal of invasives allows native plants and animals to thrive. Economic impacts can be harder to directly see, but we talk with students about safeguarding biodiversity, reducing losses from forestry and agriculture, and improving ecosystem health.” Explaining the crucial concept of equity comes into play during discussions on land use for all, equal access to local resources, and the importance of biodiversity in native species. 

The PBE benefits that stand out most to Hamilton? Awareness and appreciation. When his students view themselves as valued and influential community members, they don’t take their place for granted. “Students feel like they belong to the land and community every time they visit Richmond Green during farmer’s markets, during baseball and soccer games or while walking the dog, or just hanging out with friends.”

Project City Richmond
Project State Vermont
Project School Camels Hump Middle School
Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
  • outdoor education, experiential education
Subject Area
  • environmental science, environmental studies, ecological restoration
  • agriculture, plant and soil science, food systems
Outcome Area
  • environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
  • stewardship behavior
  • environmental change
Participant Area
  • student
Demographic Area
  • rural
Age Area
  • middle school (12-14 years old)