The Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) is an organization dedicated to bringing relevance and rigor to high school education in Central Vermont. CSS uses the food system as the vehicle to deliver purposeful, experiential lessons, across a variety of academic disciplines, and sustainability as a cross-cutting theme enabling deeper curricular integration through the lens of social, ecological, and economic need.
Service learning-based projects, developed by certified teachers in their respective disciplines, are carried out at school-based gardens in and around Montpelier, Vermont. Professional Development is provided through courses and workshops and on-going support is available during project implementation. Summer programming offering academic credit and stipends is the only one of its kind in the region. The food produced through the CSS is served in school cafeterias, sold through student-run businesses, and provided to community organizations serving those in need.
Everyone eats. The relevance is apparent. The food system impacts environmental issues such as climate change; water, air, and soil pollution; resource depletion; and energy consumption; in addition to human health and nutrition. It provides access points and context to study history, psychology, economics, and sociology; and a framework to apply math and foreign language. The food system dramatically illuminates the importance of, and frequent conflict between the social, ecological, and economic needs of society.
Why Integrated Service Learning?
Purposeful, experiential lessons increase student engagement. By integrating the curriculum around a common theme, connections between disciplines will be highlighted, enhancing understanding. Real world, authentic learning experiences will provide opportunities for students to develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary for success in a changing world. Direct connections with the community foster a sense of belonging, compassion, and responsibility, each a pre-requisite of active citizenship.