School Visits — Easy Magic Happens

Yesterday I joined three colleagues on a visit to The Lawrenceville School. I was joined by Beth Pellegrino, Westtown’s Director of Food Services, Tim Mountz, our Farm Manager, and Sustainable Food Educator, and Wade Tomlinson, our Director of Sustainability. We were graciously hosted by Sam Kosoff, Director of Sustainability. We began our day talking with Gary Giberson, who toured us through the back end of the food services department. The back end always means the loading dock and trash. We compared notes on how we were handling food, paper, and plastic waste. Conversations ranged from what was happening currently, to recent changes in outside providers. Interestingly, a change in an outside service provider can have an impact on the front end operation as well. Our visit also included a tour of the vermiculture system, the large wood and leaf composting systems, the solar array (all 30 acres of it) and the schools’ five acre farm dedicated to student-produced food for the dining room. We finished our day meeting with Jake Morrow, Classics Master and Farm Manager.

Each of us came away from the trip with new contacts for future conversation. Each of us also had an “I wonder how we might”. . . question. For instance, how might we add vermiculture to our composting program? What would it be like for Westtown to incorporate hogs into our farm program? Beth was impressed with the signage throughout the dining room and noted how this further enhances the space as a “passive classroom.”  Among other things, I learned about what becomes possible when you move the servery out of the eating area. I also learned that the sustainable farm community is very well-connected and one of its “hubs” is Eliot Coleman, author of The New Organic Grower, Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook. We were all reminded of the power of our own student Work Program and what it does for our students in understanding waste, service, and systems.

What we saw, and remarked upon together and with our hosts, was the parallel tracks we are pursuing as we shift from schools that teach sustainability in a boutique, adjunct, for-the-interested-few manner, to schools that have their students thinking about systems, their relation to the natural world, and what it means to live in a sustainable manner in all areas of their lives.

Throughout the day, I was reminded of the mantra I preach: that there is power and magic in traveling and learning together. I learned about and from my colleagues. I have greater appreciation for who they are, the work that they do, and the strengths they bring to our efforts to educate our students.  In my work, I often focus on the last sentence of our mission, but yesterday I felt immersed in the first part of Westtown’s mission to seek out and honor that of God in each of us, and to learn in a diverse community.

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