Hazen Union Students Seek to Raise Awareness with Art Installation

by Doug McClure
photo by Doug McClure | Many of the Hazen Union students who created the Environmental Walking Tour installed signs on Monday (front, left to right): Rowan Book, Carrick Wright, Bradon Tardiff, Matthew Langdell, Chase Benway, Justine Lopez, Greg Patoine, Jasper Regan, Jenna Thomas, Emma Rowell, Baylie Christensen, Madeline Kaiser, Rebecca Fulford, and teacher Greg Hennemuth. Back Row: Marissa Langmaid, Shelby Thompson

HARDWICK – On a bright spring morning this Monday, a group of mostly eighth-graders from Hazen Union, with a few ninth graders sprinkled in, trooped down from the school to the village center to install a series of wooden signs. The signs sought to tell a story that would educate passersby on environmental concerns.

As if to emphasize a reason for their concerns, tractor-trailers rumbled down South Main as middle-school science teacher Greg Hennemuth, special educator Josh Fox, para-educator Evaristo Gutierreztreminio, and global studies teacher Alison Paradee passed out the signs to the students.

Hazen Union students Emma Rowell, Jenna Thomas, and Charlie Kehler affix their signs to the fence in the village park at the Environmental Walking Tour installation.

Hennemuth said the students had been working on the project for over a year. “The seventh-grade educator team of Kelly Robinson, Emily Willems, Michelle Fox, and I spent one week in Montpelier with the Creative Schools Initiative to collaborate on environmental issues and student creativity.”

The “Environmental Walking Tour” expresses its central question as “The Earth is calling, how do we respond?” Hennemuth said that the project had drawn interest from some students a grade higher and their participation was welcomed.

The central plaque describes never-before-seen events in nature such as “orcas preying on narwhal whales in iceless Arctic waters.” It also references previous years’ student-led Long Walk to Water, where Hazen Union students walked ten miles up to Caspian Lake “to gain empathy about the drinking water struggles of the South Sudanese people.” That initiative was also an outgrowth of work with the Creative Schools Initiative, Hennemuth said.

Chase Benway (left) and Justine Lopez (right) at the Environmental Walking Tour installation on Monday.

The installation is just the latest in a series of student-led environment-related actions in recent years that have included walk-outs over climate change in solidarity with students around the world. 

Each sign represents an issue. The signs describe those issues in more depth with artistic depictions and have a QR code on them. People can scan the QR code with their mobile device to access a website set up by the students. Students hope that people will hear their concerns and pledge to take action. Some issues are Vermont-specific and have been high-profile in recent public discussions, such as the aging Coventry landfill and the plight of pollinators. 

The artwork on the signs was drawn by students, then scanned into a laser engraving machine that the school’s Makerspace just deployed after its use was delayed by COVID. Each sign took 45 minutes to engrave, Hennemuth said.

Hazen Union students Emma Rowell, Jenna Thomas, and Jasper Regan install signs at the Environmental Walking Tour on Monday

The pandemic-induced delay also meant that some of the students who started the project either moved to remote learning or left Hazen Union.

Hazen Union is one of many area organizations taking notice of environmental awareness. Hardwick’s Select Board Chair Eric Remick said “I think it’s great that Hazen eighth-graders are engaging with the question ‘The Earth is calling, how do we respond.’ I’m excited to go check out their walking tour.” He added, “As for how the select board responds [to that question], I think we continue to work with HED to get an even more renewable power portfolio (it’s already pretty good), we work with the state program to encourage EV charging, we work to improve job opportunities here in town so people don’t have to commute so far, and we continue to look for other ways that the town can be part of the solution for climate change.”

Hennemuth said the students’ installation will be up for a “couple of weeks” and the kids hope that people will take the time to browse the signs and pledge their support.