Cornwall kids map the future

BINGHAM MEMORIAL ELEMENTARY School students Morgan Jenne, left, Jackson Jacobs, Shawn Woodhouse, Lachlan Sears, Aven Frankovic and Ronan Young work together last Thursday to identify valuable assets on a map of Cornwall for a community mapping project at the school last week. Below right, Jens Hilke, a conservation biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, checks in with Cornwall School students. Independent photos/Trent Campbell

CORNWALL — Being a kid is great, but it can also be a bummer.
Grown-ups are always telling you what to do.
“Do your homework.”
“Eat your Brussels sprouts.”
But children at the Bingham Memorial Elementary School in Cornwall this past Thursday got a chance to tell adults what to do — specifically as it relates to the future development of their town. The students participated in a state-sanctioned “community values mapping project” — the first school in Vermont to do so — that will give them input into how Cornwall identifies, protects and nurtures its most valued resources, ranging from fishing holes to recreational fields.
Cornwall adults will get their own turn at mapping their community priorities at a Wednesday, Oct. 12, forum to be held at 7 p.m., also at Bingham Memorial
“I just feel like it’s important that if we’re going to talk about what our community values, that we’re getting all segments of the community — and the students are an important segment,” Bingham Memorial Principal Jen Kravitz said.
“I think kids look at the town differently than adults,” she added. “I don’t know how many adults are out in the woods building forts and playing. But I think that’s an important part of  being a kid.”
The purpose of the Community Values Mapping project is to offer Cornwall residents an opportunity to discuss a wide variety of issues affecting their town. Its goal is to help clarify the positive aspects of the town and assess community support for ongoing projects. The information gathered from participants will help guide future town planning.
The Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife is coordinating Cornwall’s community mapping project, and offers the same service to the other 250 municipalities in the state. It was the Cornwall Conservation Commission that embraced the idea of such a project earlier this year as a way to inform future town decisions on how the community could grow while protecting what residents collectively consider to be the most important local assets.
Mindy Harvey, a 4th-grade teacher at the Cornwall school, got wind of the mapping project through some of her friends on the conservation commission. She thought it would be a great if local students could become involved.
Fortunately, commission members felt the same way.
“As a commission, in our work, we really try to value the school whenever we can,” commission member Mary Dodge said. “The idea of values mapping is to bring a community-wide perspective into the town’s thinking. I’m interested to see what (the students) come up with, in terms of their world and understanding, and what we come up with a week later.”
Bingham Memorial’s gym was a beehive of activity last Thursday as the children broke up into eight teams to brainstorm their community priorities.
Jens Hilke, a conservation planning biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, passed out large-scale maps of Cornwall to each group. The groups were charged with listing important priorities — such as “recreation,” “farming,” “forestland” and “family” — and then circle on the map where they can find those things.
Predictably, some of the students’ community values were influenced by youthful insouciance. Some of the tinier tots confessed they’d like to see their town plan reflect more space for tree forts, creemee stands and maybe a future Six Flags. But most of the students — particularly the older ones — know the importance of farm fields, forests and boat launches, and they marked up their maps accordingly.
“Kindergarteners are thinking a lot more about themselves and their families, and sixth-graders are starting to think about farming and agriculture and other things,” Harvey said. “I’m fascinated to see, from a cultural and anthropological perspective, what the kids come up with and what the town comes up with.”
Hilke will now review the students’ maps and determine the locations of common interest. For example, if six of the eight maps identify a desire to protect scenic vistas off South Bingham Street, that will become a major takeaway from the exercise and certainly a priority that will be conveyed to local planners. But Hilke stressed that the maps should not be construed as blueprints for local development or conservation. They simply convey opinions and principles that Cornwall officials and residents will apply as they see fit.
The same process will play out for the “adult” forum this Wednesday.
All of the information gathered at the two forums will be compiled into a summary map and shared with the town.
It was an empowering exercise for the children, Harvey believes.
“I’ve done projects in the past where kids were kind of able to influence the world around them, and I think it becomes a lot more meaningful for them,” Harvey said. “We have been thinking a lot about ‘who we are’ as our school theme, so we’re trying to get students to open up ‘who we are’ in a greater community sense.”
Carter Lee, a Bingham School sixth-grader, circled a spot on the Otter Creek where he likes to go canoeing, and a pond off South Bingham Street.
“It’s pretty fun,” he said of the mapping project. “I never really knew how many places people liked in Cornwall.”
Jacob Kent, a fifth-grader, circled his own house off Route 30. He also highlighted a field off Route 30 where he likes to ride his dirt bike.
“There are a lot of places that I never knew people liked to go to so much,” he said.
Kellan Bartlett, also in fifth grade, circled his aunt and uncle’s place, because it offers great views of the Lemon Fair River. He also circled his own home off Route 30.
“I think it’s pretty cool to see where people like to go and what they like to do in Cornwall,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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