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Berkshire Trail Elementary School forges partnerships and fortifies environmental education

Expeditionary Learning is an Amherst-based organization that provides school leaders and teachers with professional development, curriculum planning resources, and new school structures designed to boost student engagement, character, and achievement.

“Expeditionary Learning will come to our school to work with our students and teachers, and they will provide us with material much like traditional teaching units. The difference is that it puts a lot of the learning back in the hands of the kids,” Liantonio said.

Liantonio said that the program’s in-depth teaching units encourage students to take active roles in the classroom, to participate in group projects and fieldwork, to do original research, and to create presentations and deliver them before an audience.

The program emphasizes connecting schools to community issues through learning and service.

The Expeditionary Learning model blends well with two of the other new activities at the school this year, she noted, which are the study of the Westfield River and a school composting program.

With the river running behind Berkshire Trail Elementary, students have access to an excellent environmental learning experience; Liantonio said the school has already been involved in raising and releasing salmon into the river, but there is much more to learn.

“This year we will be working with the people from the Wild & Scenic Westfield River Committee,” Liantonio said. “We will be studying things like flora and fauna, water composition, water flow, and a variety of aquatic organisms.”

As for composting, Liantonio noted that the environment is an important part of the school curriculum and, to that end, the school does some major composting of kitchen waste produced there.

After the PTO got a $500 grant for the program, a huge composter was purchased. “It has been the first grade that has really taken that project by the horns,” she said.

Liantonio said she is eager to see the school year begin.

“Overall, I think that we are lucky to have a very creative staff here and we are all really looking forward to all these exciting new things,” she said.

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