ESBR explores Vermont history

ESBR explores local history. Photo provided

LUDLOW, Vt. – As part of the Expeditionary School at Black River’s (ESBR) commitment to integrating place-based historical connections into their expeditionary learning experience, students, teachers, parents, and grandparents visited the von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt. on Monday, Oct. 24.

The trip was made possible by support from the VELA Education Fund Micro Grants program, who recently accepted ESBR’s proposal, “Expeditionary Schools: an atlas of place-based community connections.” During the 2022-23 school year, ESBR will use this grant to travel to a variety of historical locations across Vermont.

Our first expedition was to the Trapp Family Lodge because one of our students is visiting from his home country of Germany. We set out on an official expedition to learn about the Second World War and the importance of building community from the perspective of the family who inspired the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein production, “The Sound of Music.”

Following the path, the family took on their first tour of the former dairy farm, ESBR’s Trailblazers lived up to their nickname as they hiked up a steep hill to the chapel of Our Lady of Peace, carrying fresh apples from the orchard to the flock of sheep grazing on the other side of the hill. We discovered that the chapel, Our Lady of Peace, was built by Werner von Trapp, who served in the 10th Mountain Division during WWII. When he returned home to Stowe, he decided to build the chapel and carried every stone by hand up the same path ESBR’s trailblazer hiked that day. Werner and his brother Rupert, after their father refused to work for the Nazi regime, arrived in Vermont to then be drafted into the U.S. Army. Hearing about their role in helping bring an end to a World War they initially escaped was an engaging way to participate in history class. From the beauty of the property, we were reminded that during terrible times connection with the natural environment provides a way forward.

In addition to learning about the von Trapp family and how they became part of their new community in Vermont, students learned about the nature around them as they hiked, studying ecological primary succession and learning about the history of the Abenaki peoples as they walked through stands of birch and tamarack. After lunch the trailblazers walked to the site’s sugar shack and learned how to identify the now-leafless sugar maples along the way. To finish the day, we reviewed the process of maple sugaring and sampled some of the maple syrup made onsite.

In our third year of operation, ESBR continues to be funded primarily by charitable donations such as the one that made this field trip possible. For additional information regarding the school’s efforts to be approved to accept public funds from school choice communities such as Mt. Holly and Ludlow, please contact the Head of School, Kendra Rickerby at She wrote the grant mentioned above and is proud to be co-authoring this article with Lorien Strange, who is on track to be a member of ESBR’s graduating Class of 2025.


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