Skip. Touch. Climb. Splash. Breathe.
The Schoolhouse exists within the homeland of the Abenaki Nation: Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk, Koasek traditional band of the Koos, Elnu Tribe, and Missisquoi. This acknowledgement is made in the context of repeated violations of sovereignty, territory, water, and sacred sites here and across Turtle Island. We extend our respect and gratitude to the indigenous people and their ancestors who have lived in this area for over five hundred generations. We also would like to pay our respects to Elders, past and present of the Abenaki Nation, and extend that respect to other indigenous people who are present here. We recognize their strength and resilience in protecting this land in the face of colonialism and other systematic oppression. We aspire to better uphold our responsibilities to support vibrant local indigenous communities with rich histories that have thrived here for millennia.
– Annette Urbschat, Schoolhouse Abenaki Language Community Liaison and Language Instructor
A Free Range Education
When visitors approach The Schoolhouse, the first thing they notice is our playground and the wide expanse of protected wetlands and open fields, including three separate ponds – each named after one of our founding teachers. Outdoor play and exploration are important parts of The Schoolhouse day. Our diverse natural setting and outdoor play areas give children a wealth of opportunities.
The front playground equipment, purchased in part through fundraising efforts of the Schoolhouse community and a grant from the Ronald McDonald House, features a climbing web, eight swings, a wooden play structure, monkey bars, and a tire swing. We also have a tree fort built by students at the Center for Technology, Essex. Adjacent to the playground is a dedicated Abenaki-inspired Three Sisters Garden. Members of both the Elnu and Nulhegan bands of the Vermont Abenaki tribe honored The Schoolhouse with a gift of heirloom seeds; every year our students plant the seeds, tend the garden, and return harvested seeds back to the tribe in the fall.
Also to the north are fruit trees, paid for with penny drives and planted by our students. We have apples, pears, a peach tree and a cherry tree. At times we have also had blueberry bushes and grape vines.
On the south side of the school overlooking the wetlands, our Story Time preschool has its own fenced outdoor play space. The varied and rolling landscape includes swings, a climbing structure, a sandbox and a large garden area. Several native willow trees offer shade on hot sunny days. Sometimes, mother turtles lay their eggs nearby, and throughout the summer children observe and protect the nesting area. In the fall preschoolers watch the babies hatch and flipper their way back to the ponds.
In the wetlands around the ponds, our middle schoolers maintain boardwalks to provide better access for study and exploration. The boardwalks also help protect the natural areas from human impact damage. Elsewhere on the property, students have named special gathering places including Skunk Hollow, the Bouncy Tree, and the Secret Forest.
Outside all of our classrooms and the kitchen are planting beds, where students plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. The gardens were developed over the years by students and teachers, and integrated into our Farm Food Forest programming. Through our partnership with Bread and Butter Farm, students in all of our programs also spend meaningful time learning at the farm and in the surrounding forestland ecosystem.
The Schoolhouse building is a renovated dairy barn. The Ramsey Barn and surrounding property were donated to us, with the promise that we would always include wetlands education in our curriculum. Given our dedication to environmental science and stewardship, and the obvious connections between environmentalism and social justice, it’s an easy promise to keep.
In addition to spacious classrooms, the building has a large community room and library, a full-sized gymnasium, offices and tutoring spaces, and an Afterschool program room. We also have a kitchen, where our chef offers a hot and nutritious lunch five days a week.
The Schoolhouse has state-of-the-art constant ventilation through an air-to-air heat exchanger, radiant heating to ensure warm floors, and plenty of efficient, natural lighting. Looking to the future, our goal is to move toward energy independence and install solar panels on our south-facing roofs.
Student Land Acknowledgement
We offer this land acknowledgement as a recognition of the wrongs perpetrated and as a first step in healing. We offer these words with actions to follow.
We are here together in Ndakina, the traditional land of the Abenaki people: Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk, Kiasek traditional band of the Koos, Elnu Tribe, and Missisquoi. This statement is made remembering broken promises and agreements concerning land use, water use, and sacred places. This land acknowledgement is acknowledging the people who came before us and that we must care for the world as they did and still do. We need to understand who we are in this world and our responsibility for it. We hope to support the Abenaki and other Indigenous communities that still live here. We respect the Indigenous people that were here before us in this land, who are still here and may be with us today, and who are still to come. Indigenous people have been taking care of this land for five hundred generations. Settlers and white people have only been here for a small fraction of that. The Indigenous people lost parts of their culture because settlers and white people stole their land. They had to change the way they dressed, the way they hunted, and many more of their traditions. The Indigenous people were and still are strong, powerful, and united despite repeated discrimination and injustice. Like Indigenous people, we should treat the land as a living person and a community. We are supposed to be taking care of this land and instead of doing that, we have polluted and destroyed our environment, and with that comes climate change. We need to see this earth as a way of peace and not as a way of war. We also need to fix the damage we have caused. This land acknowledgement is the first step in repairing the destruction we have caused to the land and the Indigenous community. We pledge to do better and to honor the land and all its inhabitants, past, present, and future. We must treat them well.
– As written by the Sophos class students in 2021, as part of their commitment to making the world a better place and working toward making our lives more just