Wild Treasures History

They barely stopped to eat, pulling snacks out of backpacks for a few bites as we hiked along in the woods–too curious about what challenge lie ahead to stop. Changed by our work at the “Challenge Trail” a special magic returned to the classroom with us. Karen DiIorio-Bowen, Grade 6 Teacher at Oak Grove School, Brattleboro, VT

The Early Years

For seven years “Wild Treasures: Sustainability, Naturally” was directed by a graduate student in the Science Teacher Certification program in the Department of Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England. Each participating class could earn up to $1,500 toward the purchasing of environmental monitoring and conservation equipment and services that helped students’ research their school’s sustainable practices or transform their school board approved proposal into action.

Challenge Trail

Classes would begin their Wild Treasures experience at the Challenge Trail located at the Keene Municipal Recovery Center and Transfer Station. There, among the deafening sounds and constant activities of our waste stream, small groups of 5th-8th graders meandered along a trail where they tried to solve a variety of surprising problems designed to introduce them to the principles of sustainability. When they solved all the problems, they left with their first of three $500 awards!

Wild Treasures is a meticulously crafted adventure that works through an adroit blending of doing and thinking, discovery and instruction, collaborative work and competition against the clock, the devastatingly serious and the playful. The three-hour adventure is fun, but the greatest pleasure is intrinsic, as the children discover the big ideas and made them their own. Heidi Watts, Professor Emerita at Antioch University New England


Students then returned to their schools and designed their own research investigating their school’s sustainable practices; they had to show evidence that their research was informed by the principles of sustainability that they were introduced to along the Challenge Trail. Research reports were submitted to the director of Wild Treasures who then evaluated the reports based on a shared assessment rubric. The director determined how much the class earned of their next $500 award.


For many, if not all of your students, this experience will become one of the defining moments in their lives. (Principal Larry Alper to his Wild Treasures’ teacher after observing the 5th/6th graders at his school presenting their proposal to the school board.)

Students then transformed their research report into a persuasive proposal and presentation to their school board, again always having to show evidence that their proposal for how to improve their school’s sustainable practices were informed by the principles of sustainability that they were introduced to along the Challenge Trail, as well as additional concepts that were introduced by the director along the way. Proposals were submitted to the director of Wild Treasures who then evaluated the reports based on a shared assessment rubric and determined how much the class earned of their next $500 award.

Most impressive to me, however, was the understanding they gained of how the local political process works and how they can work within that process to bring about change. By developing proposals that they first brought to their building principal and then to the local school board, these students learned how those in positions of power evaluate and respond to proposals. This experience led them to ask themselves and develop comprehensive answers to the questions and concerns of policy makers. That they were able to do so successfully is testimony not only to the leadership of their classroom teacher, but also to the structure of the program, which builds in important incentives for the students to work effectively within the political process. Lisa Cox, School Board Chair & Vermont State Board of Education member


Classes then used their award money to transform their school board approved proposals into demonstrable action They proved their actions to the Wild Treasures’ director and to local and state dignitaries. Those classes that proved that they took significant action since their school board decision earned a Governor’s Sustainability Award from either the state of Vermont or New Hampshire.

We met this morning with the director of food service for our school district and he was FABULOUS: 1) we can participate in selecting vendors in the fall season and pay only the difference between the conventional and organic products. 2) he is impressed by all the work we’ve put into this and will attend the dinner Tuesday 3) he will put our facts on the backs of all the menus next fall 4) if we increase the number of students buying breakfast and lunch on the organic days, we will have to pay less for the food and he will begin providing organic days at other schools in the district. Theresa Majoy, 5th grade teacher, Emerson School

Classes submitted their proposed budgets to support their research or action plans to the director. The director purchased all approved budget orders and had materials sent directly to the school.

Wild Treasures made it possible for students to leave behind a bit of magic and inspiration – the magic and inspiration I notice in my new students this year as they carry on community services created to enhance the sustainability of our school – the magic and inspiration I notice when students are engaged in real and meaningful work. Karen DiIorio-Bowen, 5/6 teacher, Oak Grove School

Change Highlights

The original Wild Treasures program begins at a capped landfill, offers significant money to participating classes, leads to an award recognized by the Governors of two neighboring states, and requires the facilitation and support of Science Teacher Certification students from the Department of Environmental Studies.
Challenge TrailThe new Local Program will also begin at a capped landfill, will not offer award money, will lead to an award recognized by the Governors of VT and NH, and will be supported by graduate students from the Science Teacher Certification Program in the Department of Environmental Studies.

The Do It Yourself curriculum, however, can be implemented by teachers and students, and without field trips, financial awards, or recognition from public dignitaries. In addition, Do it Yourself participants can choose to take only those curricular pieces that they find appealing.

Unlike the original program, both the Local Program and Do it Yourself participants need to request funding from their school board to support those components of their proposal that require financial support.

Both Local Program and Do it Yourself participants can implement the full-year curriculum without sacrificing other science teaching goals.

We hope all the participating classes will send us electronic copies of their research reports and proposals, as well as pictures of the actions taken to improve their school’s sustainability profile.

Unlike the original Wild Treasures that was designed for 5th-8th graders, Wild Treasures’ Do it Yourself is designed for middle general science and life science classes, as well as high school environmental science classes, including AP Environmental Science.

I want you to know how highly I think of Wild Treasures. My students and I have learned a lot through this process. It is very rewarding to make positive change in our easy-to-be-an-environmental- pessimistic world while at the same time enlightening and empowering children. Cory Stark, 5th grade teacher