As the poet and farmer Wendell Berry once wrote, “There are no sacred and unsacred places; there are only sacred and desecrated places.” If we want people to care for places and their inhabitants, we need to build “sense of place”—the combination of knowledge, wonder, and connection that makes you cherish a particular locale.
Vital Communities is glad to announce that we’re strengthening our emphasis on sense of place with the addition of a new program, the Upper Valley Teaching Place Collaborative (UVTPC), and additional staff member to run that and a related program.
Founded in 2017 as the Wellborn Hub, UVTPC is a network of education professional development providers and practitioners who work together to advance high-quality place-based and ecological education (PBEE) in all Upper Valley Schools. They envision an Upper Valley where all students are deeply engaged in education that fosters ecological understanding and connection to place. After several years of fiscal sponsorship by Vital Communities, UVTPC became a Vital Communities program in July 2021. UVTPC is funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Wellborn Ecology Fund, which also funds Vital Communities’s Farm to School program.
Gabrielle Ratté Smith has joined Vital Communities to run UVTPC and Valley Quest, a longstanding program also focused on sense of place. Valley Quests are self-guided clue-by-clue explorations of more than 160 places around the Upper Valley, created by people who know and love those places. The Valley Quest program also runs Guided Quests, led by people with special knowledge, and the annual Super Quest of explorations linked by theme.
Adding UVTPC to the Vital Communities family of programs was a natural process, said Beth Roy, Vital Communities’s Director of Place-Based Programming. “Vital Communities has been a key player in the creation of the UVTPC. We have been involved in the creation of this network as it started as a loose group of place-based education professional development providers sharing best practices and just trying to support each other’s work, to what it is today: a network of educators and practitioners across the Upper Valley connecting and elevating the amazing place-based education that is occurring across our region. Given Vital Communities’s reputation as a community convener and deliverer of place-based education through our Farm to School and Valley Quest programs, the steering committee of the UVTPC felt Vital Communities was the right home for the network and one that will give our region’s great place-based education greater visibility.”
A community- and collaboration-driven professional with 30 years’ experience, Smith said she’s excited about her dual responsibilities.“What drew me to this job is the opportunity to focus on programs that engage educators, families, students, non-profits, and schools in places, nature, and experiences that deepen learning and connection. My passion is for people to have a deep connection to the places they call home and to be engaged in making it stronger and more vibrant. Exploring and understanding the places, history, ecology, businesses, and organizations in the places that surround us are what moves us to action, to caring, to learning, and to contributing to our community and to our places.
As for UVTPC, Smith said, “I am excited to bring my skills and experience to support UVTPC in creating collective impact on place-based education in the region. We have an incredible community of educators, schools, and program and curricula providers that want to work together to advance PBE and get even more students connected to the place in which they live, play, explore, and learn. Valley Quest is a great partner program to UVTPC, connecting people of all ages to quests that are designed, curated, and cared for to get folks exploring new places in new ways in the UV. I am looking forward to taking a lot of quests myself to get to know the places and spaces of the Upper Valley!”