“It’s easier to understand the rest of the world if you really know where you are,” says Sophie Leggett. Although I moved here just a year and a half ago, I have a sense of this place beyond that time and even beyond this place itself.”

Sophie is a senior at Woodstock Union High School. She reflects on the value she’s gotten from her deep engagement in place-based ecology education through her AP Environmental Science course and her work with Kat Robbins, Partnership Coordinator between Woodstock Union High School and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

Informed Decision-making
Among other projects, Sophie is developing a forest management plan for the outdoor classroom space at her school. This work involves background research, data collection, monitoring, assessment of stakeholder values, and implementation of an informed plan. And although Sophie wants to study planning or environmental studies, she believes these informed decision-making skills will be valuable regardless of her career path.

“This kind of whole-process type of project will help me in making any sort of decision, or even just understanding how other people do so. I’m learning a lot about the overlap between environmental management and economics too. Everything is about costs and benefits, and every time you evaluate costs and benefits you have to evaluate your values and the values of other stakeholders.”

Another important lesson Sophie has learned as a result of this work is, “how necessary it is that people work together on managing and protecting the environment; no one group can conserve an area alone. It takes monitoring, data collection, scientific research, social and economic viewpoints, and ultimately buy-in from the people making and enforcing decisions.”

The Value of Experience
Sophie says, “There’s a lot of value in background research, studying, reading, etc., but that can only go so far until you’ve been able to experience it. I love getting to know a place by being on the ground, in it, experiencing things.” This is what her PBEE experience has allowed her to do.

Recognizing the Whole Person

And as we reflect on how much value Sophie has gotten out of her PBEE studies, it’s important to recognize the commitment she has put into her learning. “I value this work so much, and I also know that high schoolers are really busy and really tired. I think teachers and administrators need to recognize this. You’re dealing with whole people, no matter how much both of you may care about grades and scores.”

“Ideas like the “flipped” classroom, or an extensive group project, or anything that involves a lot of time outside the class, they’re good in theory, but in practice end up stressing students out beyond reason. Intentions are usually wonderful, but it ends up being one more thing on our plates. I really hope that teachers will consider incorporating some “play” time in their classes, even just every once in a while, without worrying too much about rigor or assessment.”

“There’s so much value for every age in getting outside and having time and space to have fun. This is maybe the most important lesson of all.”