School Notes: Rivendell Students Plant Chestnut Trees

  • Rivendell math teacher Laszlo Bardos, left, packs down dirt around a newly-planted chestnut tree while ninth-graders Alex Gritsavage, center, and Morgan Goodrich take a break from planting trees at the Fairlee Town Forest in Fairlee, Vt. on May 4, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)

  • Roxanne Matthews, a volunteer with the Fairlee Forest committee, labels young chestnut trees before the trees are planted in the Fairlee Town Forest in Fairlee, Vt. on May 4, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Valley News — Sarah Priestap

  • Rivendell ninth-graders Teddy Wilkin, left, Scott Powell, and Charlie Bradley carefully remove the mesh barrier from their American Chestnut tree before planting it in a section of the Fairlee Town Forest in Fairlee, Vt. on May 4, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Valley News — Sarah Priestap

  • Rivendell ninth-graders and local volunteers dig holes to plant chestnut trees in the Fairlee Town Forest in Fairlee, Vt. on May 4, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2016 10:00:42 PM
Modified: 5/9/2016 10:00:45 PM

Teddy Wilkin lugged the pail of water up a steep slope in the Fairlee Town Forest last Wednesday morning, weaving among stumps, slash, snags, weeds and about 20 fellow freshmen from Rivendell Academy.

A little less than halfway up the clear-cut on the east face of Bald Top Mountain, Wilkin stopped where classmates Charlie Bradley and Scott Powell surrounded American chestnut sapling D3 17 73, #001.

“Should I water it now?” Wilkin asked.

“Yeah,” Powell said. “But go easy.”

After pouring just enough water to dampen the fresh earth around the sapling’s new home, Wilkin straightened, flexing his dirty fingers while the late-morning sprinkle accelerated into a shower. All around him, teams of classmates were finishing their own first sets of plantings or churning their way up the slope to the next planting site.

After lunch, they would dig more holes, plant the new trees and surround each with a casing of corrugated plastic and then chicken wire, before adding mulching mats to keep out weeds, and finally a bigger circle of wire fence to deter deer.

“I think this is the best time I’ve had in school in a while,” Wilkin said.

Rivendell science teachers would like to see that enthusiasm continue next year. And both the Fairlee Forest Board and the American Chestnut Foundation are counting on this set of young foresters, and their successors at Rivendell, to continue to learn about the forest while cultivating the 20 trees they just planted. It’s a model for growth all around.

“I love this type of project, because it gives the students a real picture of how interconnected our environment is and also gives them experience doing something about it,” Rivendell physics teacher Kerry (Doc) Browne said. “I’d like to get them out to do more things like this. These guys might carry it through till they’re seniors.”

Forester Markus Bradley, a partner in and consultant for the Corinth-based Redstart Natural Resource Management (and Charlie Bradley’s father), suggested the project to Browne earlier this school year, with the blessing of the Fairlee Forest Board and the help of the chestnut foundation’s Vermont/New Hampshire chapter.

“Everything just clicked,” forest board member Terry Lewis said while the students prepped the first set of plantings. “I wish they’d had stuff like this for us to do when I was in school.

“The fruits of this, we’re not going to see, my generation. We’ll be gone. But it’s cool for the next generation.”

The day before the planting, Markus Bradley had told the students how the once-plentiful American chestnut once provided chestnuts and sturdy wood products in much of North America for millennia before the first European settlers arrived.

Then in the early 1900s, Chinese chestnut trees were introduced from Asia, bringing with them a blight fungus that nearly wiped out the American species by the 1940s.

Over the ensuing decades, first the federal Soil Conservation Service and then plant geneticists cross-bred American chestnuts with Chinese chestnuts in hopes of creating resistance to the blight. In the last 30 years, the chestnut foundation back-crossed successive generations of the hybrid to bolster the American chestnut characteristics, keeping the specimens most resistant to the fungus.

This first set of saplings for Fairlee, which sits at the northern fringe of the American chestnut’s range, came from seedlings that the chestnut foundation planted in Virginia in 2013 and 2014.

“This is unique in the history of the American chestnut,” said Yurij Bihun, of Jericho, Vt., president of the chestnut foundation’s Vermont/New Hampshire chapter. “This generation isn’t completely resistant. We need to learn how the chestnut behaves in this forest. Nothing’s been tried, on this scale, to reintroduce a species that’s basically extinct. … We’re taking a chance, planting it here. But there’s also the chance that southern trees can survive further north because of changing climate conditions.”

However this project evolves, it should grow teachable moments at Rivendell for some time to come.

“I talked with Rachel Sanders, the biology teacher, and we decided that it would be better to have the ninth-graders get started with this project and carry on the monitoring next year,” Browne had said the day before, after Bradley’s in-class presentation. “In the future, this project will probably continue on with the 10th-grade biology class.”

One of those students, current freshman Allison Collins, expects to be able to find the saplings long after other plants grow up around them. Last week, Redstart forester Andrea Urbano showed her how to lock in their global-positioning coordinates with an iPad.

“D6,” Urbano read to Collins from the ID tag on a tree about 20 yards from Wilkin’s and Scott’s. “2865. Number 001.”

“I thought I wanted to be a botanist, but didn’t really know what went into it before,” Collins said before moving on to the next planting site. “This is really cool. This is more interesting than sitting around the classroom.”

That’s music to the ears of Markus Bradley.

“There’s so much you can learn about your environment this way,” the forester said. “This is a good thing.”

To learn more about regional and national efforts to restore the American chestnut tree, visit

Educator Excellence

The United States-Japan Foundation has chosen Robert Clavelle of South Royalton, an instructor in building trades at the Hartford Area Career and Technical Center, for one of its Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Awards. The foundation is recognizing Clavelle for his efforts over the last 15 years to provide Vermont, Upper Valley and Japanese students in technical fields with opportunities for work, internships and language-learning in each other’s countries. In addition to a cash award of $2,500, Clavelle will receive $5,000 for an exchange program with Onojo City in the Fukuoka prefecture at the southwest tip of Japan.

Clavelle will receive the award next week, during a ceremony at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm. For more information about foundation programs, visit

Collegiate Recognition

New York University last month conferred one of its 24 awards for student-athlete academic achievement on senior Robin Smith of Hanover. Smith, a graduate of Hanover High School, maintained a grade-point average of at least 3.5 out of a possible 4.0 during his years at NYU. While excelling in the classroom during the fall 2015 semester, Smith started all 18 soccer games as a defender for the NYU varsity men. Three times during his athletic career, he was named to the fall honor roll of the Intercollegiate Athletics Advisory Committee and to the fall sports all-academic team of the University Athletic Association.

The Write Stuff

Norris Cotton Cancer Center is inviting cancer survivors to a monthly class in memoir writing that will meet May through August. Marv Klassen-Landis will lead the Saturday-afternoon sessions, which will run from 1 to 3 on May 21, June 18, July 23 and Aug. 20. The group offers the opportunity to write about memories, values and day-to-day experiences, to learn narrative techniques and to listen to and respond to new writing. For more information or to sign up:

Summer Learning

With grants from the Vermont Humanities Council, the Windsor Schools, Waits River Valley School in East Corinth and Riverside Middle School in Springfield will host humanities camps for students ages 11 to 14. The weeklong summer day camps will focus on reading, discussions and activities aimed at making learning fun.

The themes of the camps include “Be a Leader” — retracing the Antarctic expedition from which British explorer Ernest Shackleton led his crew to survival after a shipwreck during the early years of World War I — and “Ancient Greece and the Olympiad” — providing perspective on the upcoming Summer Games in Brazil.

Each school will use its grant to pay two teachers and buy supplies, and is eligible to apply for grants to pay for field trips.

For more information on the individual schools’ camps, call Windsor at 802-674-2144; Waits River at 802-439-5534; and Riverside Middle School at 802-885-8490.

High School Honors

Thetford Academy recently named junior Reshman Rampersaud its student of the month for April, with her teachers describing her as “a natural leader” and citing “her enthusiasm for learning, her commitment to the TA school community and her awareness of the power of each person to make the world a better place.”

Continuing Education

Monday is the deadline to make reservations for next week’s annual meeting of the Adventures in Learning program for adults in the Lake Sunapee-Kearsage region. The meeting, scheduled for May 19 at 4 p.m. at Colby-Sawyer College’s Ware Student Center in New London, will open with a photo retrospective of the Adventures program by Maureen Rosen. The gathering, free and open to the public, will end with junior interns from the New London Barn Playhouse performing songs from musicals that the company put on during the 2015 season.

To reserve a seat and learn more, call Shaina Driscoll at 603-526-3690 or email For more information about Adventures in Learning, visit The catalog of courses for the summer of 2016 will be viewable online after Monday at

Writer-editor Frank Gado lectures at Quechee Library on Friday afternoon about the development of the short story genre in the United States during the 1800s. Gado is editor of William Cullen Bryant: The Complete Stories, and is author of an essay about Bryant in The Cambridge History of American Poetry. Admission is free to the talk, which starts at 4:30 in the library’s downstairs.

Foreign Exchanges

The Vistas in Education program is looking for Upper Valley families with teenagers to host five students from France for three weeks this coming July 6-27. Each host family receives a handbook, and a chaperone from France will be available throughout the exchange period to help. For more information, call Merideth Jackson, an area teacher of French, at 603-443-0480, email or visit


Rochester (Vt.) School last week announced the hiring of Daniella Stamm of Georgia as its new principal, from among 20 applicants for the position, which incumbent Cathy Knight is leaving at the end of the current academic year.

Stamm comes to the new White River Valley Supervisory Union from Georgia’s Henry County school system, where she served as an assistant principal and athletic director and as a specialist in personalized learning. She earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in education from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304. Education-related news also can be sent to

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