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John Zaber - Coyote Kids Vermont

Project Summary

Coyote Kids Vermont Project

This project has resulted in the establishment of a nature based exploration program (Coyote Kids Vermont) for area children ranging in age from 5 - 11. Coyote Kids Vermont was created as a joint collaboration between former public school educator, Anna Crytzer and Sterling College. Ms. Crytzer, a certified elementary public school teacher with 15 years of classroom experience, served as lead teacher and program supervisor from the program’s inception until Spring 2017. The instructors (known as Mentors) consist of Sterling College students as part of the Sterling College Work Program. Each year,the program hires one student as the Student Coordinator and 4-6 Mentors. In the seminal book, Last Child in The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv explains the harmful impacts on children raised in the absence of nature. He further chronicles the ability for children to rapidly identify cartoon characters and fast-food merchandise - but remain unable to explain the world of their backyard or nearby park.

Coyote Kids Vermont actively engages young children in the natural world with a model of education based on the foundational work of Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown (Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature). Youth actively engage with the natural world through activities such as tracking, fire building, and tree identification. Community and interpersonal skill development are developed through games and songs. Cultural identity and sensitivity is enhanced through storytelling and the development of an ethos of respect for the land and each other. The program model consists of of mentor orientation, which focuses on technical skill development, group dynamics, adolescent development theory, and curriculum development - based on the design elements detailed in Coyote's Guide. Following the orientation, Coyote Kids Vermont classes meet one afternoon a week consisting of one 3 hour session for approximately 10 - 15 children. Each session has a basic theme and structure, while allowing opportunities for children to branch out into a particular area of interest supervised by a Sterling Mentor. All sessions are conducted on the Sterling College property following Sterling's Risk Management protocol and functioning in collaboration with the Office of the President, Dean of Academics, Business Office, and Dean of Community and Work.

Project Outcome(s)

Coyote Kids has become a fixture in the Sterling College Work program and in the local community. This program is an example of opportunities for students to directly complement their studies, and their community, through the Work Colleges program. Following the initial success of the Coyote Kids program, Sterling began offering a Nature Mentoring course as part of its Outdoor Education program offerings. In the Fall of 2017 Anna Crytzer stepped back from her role as Director of the program and the Coyote Kids program continues to offer high quality programing to area youth through the partnership of Sterling College and Earthwalk Vermont. It is worth noting that the course instructor for Nature Mentoring and the Work Program Supervisor for Coyote Kids are both Sterling College Alumni now employed by Earthwalk Vermont.

Bio: John Zaber

I arrived at Sterling College in the autumn of 1983 as a student. I returned in the fall of 1994 as an admissions counselor – since then I have held the following titles – Director of Admissions (six years) Dean of Students (six years) Faculty in Outdoor Education (current). My personal philosophy about teaching at Sterling College hinges on the following: There is no hiding at Sterling College. Our small size makes it imperative that I commit 100% to my teaching responsibilities. I must be upfront and transparent with my goals and direction. I also find that Sterling students are not content with merely discussing a theory—we must find applications to put the theory to work and that includes time to process and find meaning for our experience. This means that Sterling’s motto—Working Hands, Working Minds— determines that learning is not limited to the classroom, and in order for education to be meaningful, we must find real world experiences to enhance our intellectual growth. My personal motto has become Keep It Real. I am always seeking out real world experiences to enhance the classroom experience. Some of these experiences include service work on the hiking trails in Vermont’s Green Mountains, visits to Vermont State Prisons, discussions with migrant farm workers, designing curriculum for educational and non-profit organizations, or touring the back roads of northern Vermont by bicycle.

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John Zaber, Sterling College - Coyote Kids Vermont



There are currently ten federally recognized Work Colleges, and nine are members of the Work Colleges Consortium. These institutions are small, private, liberal arts colleges with modest enrollments that range from about 150 to approximately 1,600 students. Each school is unique and operates the work program in a slightly different fashion. However, “work-learning-service” is a central component of each Work College. Student work, coupled with robust academics and a spirit of service, is the common denominator shared by all the Work Colleges.

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