The Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes

Vermont Leads the Way in preK-5 Education for Sustainability


In August of 2008, the Burlington School Board voted to create the state’s first two magnet schools and to make one of those schools, Lawrence Barnes Elementary, into the nation’s first K-5 magnet school with a sustainability theme.  The Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes, which opened in September of 2009, is the result of a five-year collaboration between Shelburne Farms’ Sustainable Schools Project and the Burlington School District.

Started in 2011, the pre-kindergarten at the Sustainability Academy is a partnership between the Burlington School District, Head Start, and Shelburne Farms.  Young learners discover the world around them through a hands-on, play-based approach that utilizes the campus and community as the classroom.  Cultivating Joy and Wonder:  Educating for Sustainability in Early Childhood Through Nature, Food, and Community was inspired by educators like those at the Sustainability Academy and serves as a guide as they continue their excellent work toward creating healthy and just communities with the youngest learners.  

 The Sustainable Schools Project works with schools to use sustainability as a whole school theme, connecting their curriculum, campus practices, and community engagement.  Lawrence Barnes Elementary became SSP’s second pilot school in 2004 and has since become an incubator of exciting work that engages students in learning from and doing service for their surrounding natural and cultural communities.

Magnet schools such as the Sustainability Academy are public schools that offer a unique program and are available as a choice to families from across a district and beyond.  Enrollment for the Sustainability Academy opened in February 2009 and quickly led to waiting lists for third, fourth, and fifth grades, prompting the Superintendent to place an additional 4th/5th grade teacher at the Academy to meet the demand from families.

As the first state in the nation to incorporate a Sustainability standard in the state framework of standards, it’s fitting that Vermont would lead the way in redefining a public school education around the needs of 21st century stewardship and citizenship.  The Sustainability Academy defines sustainability as “the shared responsibility for improving quality of life for all—economically, socially, and environmentally—now and for future generations.”  At its simplest, the sustainability theme helps teachers and students explore the connections between our community, our economy, and our environment. 

For more information on the Sustainability Academy, see the publications below:  

Sustainable Schools Project: How to Become the Cool School, in the Center for Ecoliteracy's book Smart by Nature

The Atlantic's October 2013 article  Vermont Report: Shaping the Soul of a School 

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