Little Big Forest Listening Sessions

Little Big Forest Listening Sessions
Students Brainstorming for Big Little Forest Uses

Students at James Faulkner Elementary School gathered in two listening sessions on September 22 to brainstorm how they hope to use the town’s new Little Big Forest for learning. The Little Big Forest comprises 40 acres of ecologically significant, underdeveloped land with 4,000 feet of shoreline on Highland Lake. It is intended for use as an ecological reserve and as an education center for the benefit of Stoddard residents. The purchase of the Little Big Forest became official in July 2023, made possible after two years of fundraising efforts by the town’s Conservation Commission. The Commission’s success in securing the $1.3 million purchase was thanks to a US Forest Service grant, an LCHIP grant, and private donations.

Maggie  Forrestall, a 5th-grade teacher at JFES and a member of The Little Big Forest Stewardship Committee, stated, “Since a part of The Little Big Forest mission is to enrich local educational opportunities, we thought it would be appropriate to solicit student input directly, rather than just relying on surveys and input from parents and other adult stakeholders. Students deserve the opportunity to share their ideas and help shape educational programming as land use policies are being decided at this formative stage of the project.” 

The students at JFES, spanning from kindergarten through 5th grade, were divided into two groups:  the lower elementary (grades K-2) and upper elementary (grades 3-5). In each session, Mrs. Forrestall presented an overview of the project and sought student ideas for recreational opportunities. She also asked for specific ideas related to educational activities aligned with each grade level’s science and social studies learning objectives. For example, 5th graders were prompted to consider how the forest could be used to study the distance of stars and their brightness, leading to the idea of a nighttime stargazing gathering at The Little Big Forest to directly observe stars and collect data.

Other ideas generated by younger students included observing animals and looking for tracks, investigating wildlife and landscape, and looking for wildlife to help (for example, rescuing a snapping turtle in the lake with a rope on its neck).

“Having our students make deep connections with our community is part of our mission at JFES, and being a part of The Little Big Forest is a prime example,” said Principal Jill Pinard. “As the forest project progresses and Stoddard’s 250th celebration coming in 2024, we hope to make additional connections. We can envision possibilities like having our students create maps and signs for the forest; this is a great way for students to contribute to Stoddard’s history,” continued Principal Pinard.

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