Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: ANWSD should preserve Walden

Addison Northwest Supervisory Union was extremely short-sighted in taking an axe to the VUHS Walden Program in their too-quick budget revision after the first one was rejected.

The traditional indoor classroom model does not work for some students. For those kids, the Walden Program is critical. For twenty years the Walden Program offered a highly successful, alternative, outdoor-based education that helped those students become successful adults.

“This program was absolutely essential for my development as a student, an artist, and human being in general, as has been the case for so many of the teens who have passed through the woods of the Willowell Foundation,” said a graduate writer, filmmaker and artist Julia Walsh, in a March 18, 2015, Opinion published in this paper, at another time when Walden was threatened. “It is a beacon of hope not only for many students … as they move through high school, but … for current and future educators, environmentalists, social activists, farmers, and artists…” (Julia Walsh, “Opinion: Alum Praises VUHS Walden Program,” Addison Independent, 18 March 2015).

Research has shown that education in the outdoors and the wild positively affects health, social interaction, well-being, creativity, and prevention of depression. (See Dr. Sarah-Anne Muñoz, “Children in the Outdoors: A Literature Review,” https://ltl.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/children-in-the-outdoors.pdf). “Green schoolyards” lead to higher outcomes in language arts, math, and science. (See Children & Nature Network, “Green Schoolyards Can Improve Academic Outcomes;” www.childrenandnature.org). With two-thirds of U.S. 8th graders performing below standards in science and math, this is not a time to ignore such studies. And with social media leading to depression and other negative outcomes in teens, it’s not the time to quit on nature-based learning.

What are the students, for whom the regular classroom doesn’t work and who may be at risk in various ways, supposed to do, now that this program is gone? How will they receive their rightful high school education?

Not only has ANWSD chopped this program; it did so with only 2.5 weeks between the budget’s Town Meeting Day rejection and March 26th’s re-vote on the new, cut-back budget. The newspaper article came out in the Thursday, March 21 Independent, giving only three days for the community to find out about it and no time for any reaction or questions before the next vote. It’s as though they were trying to slip it by without anyone noticing. By holding another vote so fast, were they trying to prevent feedback or questioning of the budget cuts?

Yes, money is tight. But why did the district not take the time to thoroughly evaluate ALL programs and possibilities for budget revision, including requesting community input? Why not make a heroic effort to “sell” the budget to the community, by presenting detailed information about this and ALL programs, before taking another vote?

All teens deserve an education that works for them. Not just those who can get by in the traditional classroom.

Ann Watson

New Haven

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