It’s summer school… No, it’s camp: MUMS blends recycling and fun

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS) is giving students a chance to connect with their community through an environmental education program that flips the idea of traditional “summer school” on its head.
Part summer camp, part summer-school course (but with less stuffy classroom time), part middle school waste-management internship, the Wild SCide program — the “SC” stands for “science” — is a free, four-week crash course in environmental sustainability for MUMS students run by English teacher Martha Santa Maria and science teacher Katie Moquin.
And the program is helping more than just its students: Wild SCide places kids in six-person “audit teams” that have been stopping by local organizations and businesses, both to learn how they aim for environmental sustainability and to give them audits on how to do better in those efforts.
“It’s a hands-on, small-group environment that provides for the best teaching and learning environment,” Santa Maria said. “Kids metaphorically get their hands dirty. Every single student has a role and a responsibility, and part of the curriculum is the idea that we learn when we talk and we learn when we do and when we really collaborate together.”
Santa Maria and Moquin were inspired to start Wild SCide after an entrepreneurial summer program they ran for the past couple summers, which they called Shark Tank, was met with praise from students and parents. Shark Tank was also focused on hands-on learning and getting kids outside of the classroom. The two teachers thought that structure would apply well to a camp centered around educating kids about some of the most pressing environmental issues facing their own community.
“This isn’t worksheets, it’s not babysitting time, it’s built on the premise of being an educational camp where you come to learn skills in the real world,” Santa Maria said.
The Wild SCide groups started their audits during the first week of July and will present a final “plan of action” for their site to the mock Wild SCide board — which will include Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Middlebury College Professor of  Environmental Studies Rebecca Gould, Addison County Solid Waste Management District Business Manager Patti Johnson and Middlebury College Waste Management Supervisor Kimberly Bickham — this Friday, July 27, at MUMS.
Every morning, the students meet in a classroom at MUMS and begin their day the same way: with a dance and a song that Santa Maria says they will perform before giving their big final presentation in order to calm some of the nerves that can hamper public speaking.
After brief classroom time spent learning about waste management and other environmental issues, the students head out on field trips, either to their audit sites or at other locations like the Middlebury College Recycling Center that share how they approach waste disposal.
The audit groups have been visiting three local establishments: Middlebury Union High School, focusing on the summer programs in session there; Citizens Bank; and the residence of Chris and Julie Altemose in Middlebury. Rising eighth-grader Jeremiah Tinker, 13, is part of the group working at MUHS, where he and his group sort waste and give feedback to the school’s summer programs about their sorting habits.
“What happens is we have three different tasks,” Tinker said. “We separate into three different rotations. One of them we go outside and sort all of the trash, recycling and compost into different groups and then we weigh them and count how much there is, and the next day we go back to the school and explain to them what they need to do to sort their waste better and how to do that better.”
Before they could begin doing their own audits, though, the students had to conduct a self-evaluation that asked them to take a look at their own habits with waste disposal.
“In the beginning of the program, in the first four days, the kids conducted an audit on themselves,” Moquin said. “And it’s been really cool to see the changes they make. Our composting has gone from being a couple of orange peels to being full buckets every day because kids are aware.”
Throughout the process the students have received mentorship from ACSWMD Program Outreach Coordinator Annina Seiler and AmeriCorps Intern Sarah Lundquist. Seiler and Lundquist met with the students once during the camp’s first week to lead a discussion of the audit teams’ early data and ideas, and again during the second week to run through the presentations.
“The progress that the students made from the first session to the second was extraordinary and we’re really looking forward to hearing the final presentations at the end of the week,” Seiler wrote in an email. “They have clearly done a lot of hard work and have some great insights into the recycling industry and waste management in Vermont.”
The students feel like they’ve learned a lot, too.
“I’ve learned so much about how we’ve polluted the earth and how we can try and save the earth from all the destruction we’ve done to it,” Tinker said. “I was kind of aware before but not as aware as I am now.”
While some people might be quick to question middle schoolers’ ability to make real changes to the ways their community approaches environmental issues, Santa Maria, Moquin and Seiler have no doubt that the Wild SCide kids are well on their way to making their voices heard.
“They’re wonderfully effective communicators,” Seiler wrote. “Not only are they helping us do our job by spreading information and modeling good practice, but they have some incredibly creative solutions and recommendations that the audit clients can implement to reduce waste … Physically going into a school, business, and residence and interacting directly with the community, as well as making recommendations to them, is an amazing opportunity not just for the kids, but for those community members as well.”

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