Earth Day Every Day


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    By Kim Siebert MacPhail ’73, P’07, T’92-09


Learning about the natural world—and not incidentally falling in love with it—is unavoidable at Gould. It’s not just a one-off, Earth Day thing. In a broad sense, and in almost too many ways to list, developing a deep connection with the environment is an irreducible component of Gould Academy.

The relationship begins immediately, in the first moments of the first day, with orientation backpacking trips for all new students. It continues on Mountain Day—a jubilant, once-a-year, all- school celebration of the outdoors and the White Mountains of Western Maine.

It’s evident in the student sustainability group, Gould Goes Green; in the Outing Club; in fly fishing excursions. It underlies enthusiasm for activities like surfing, hiking, canoeing, skiing, ski patrol, snowboarding, mountain biking, wilderness first aid, and the Farm and Forest program.

It’s the motivation behind Polar Bear swims in ice-covered Songo Pond. It’s an undeniable result of the Junior Four Point winter camping trip, a graduation requirement.

“I don’t think you can have a Gould education without expanding your knowledge of the natural world,” says Spanish teacher Tracey Wilkerson P’25, a veteran faculty member who for many years advised Gould’s Farm and Forest program. Wilkerson also provides regular support for Earth Day programming and for Gould Goes Green; she and her family live on a working farm in Bethel.

“[The natural world] is central to who we are and central to how we operate. A lot of that is our location, but it’s also how we choose to live in that location,” Wilkerson explained.

Sara Shifrin ’88, P’19, P’23 Director of Innovation and the IDEAS Center.

Learning by doing is the most effective way to engage students so that they become critical thinkers and ponder deeper questions.

Tracey Wlkerson P’25,

“I don’t think you can have a Gould education without expanding your knowledge of the natural world,”


Love for the environment is also a fundamental element throughout the curriculum in courses such as Environmental Science; Geology; Food Justice; Ecology of the Androscoggin; Underwater Robotics; and Electric Vehicle Engineering. It goes hand-in-hand with the Arts; it’s in writing across the curriculum.

“Earth Day constantly drops into the stream that is Gould,” says Sara Shifrin ’88, P’19, P’23 Director of Innovation and the IDEAS Center. As the designated resource for pedagogy and curriculum design, Shifrin is in a unique position to illustrate how environmentalism is woven into the fabric of both academic and co-curricular programs.

Shifrin further believes strongly in the value of experiential learning—a hallmark of the Gould experience. She says the combination of hands-on learning and the school’s “asset-rich” natural location leads to a better understanding of how systems— both natural and man-made—are interconnected. “We’ve learned that we live in a world of systems,” Shifrin reasoned.

Learning by doing is the most effective way to engage students so that they become critical thinkers and ponder deeper questions, something Shifrin thinks of as central to this generation of students. “Experiential learning gives direct feedback and involves constant problem solving,” she said.
Tracey Wilkerson echoes Shifrin’s sentiments, saying that this type of approach is “important for kids as citizens” because it helps them “understand what’s happening around them and the short-term and long-term impacts.”

In the course of their careers, Shifrin and Wilkerson have seen how this powerful combination bears life-long fruit. “We graduate environmental stewards—people who go on to careers that focus on the environment,” Shifrin said.


Given what happens throughout the rest of the year, setting aside one day—Earth Day—for environmental exploration might seem superfluous.

However, Wilkerson points out that Earth Day is an opportunity to stop, reflect, and commit to taking action. It provides a time to ask urgent questions that require a response, she said, such as: “Where are we? What are our roles and responsibilities?”

“Earth Day programs—and our community reflections at the end of the day—are opportunities for growth and change,” Wilkerson added. “I’m always impressed with the ways Gould students are able to synthesize a wide variety of experiences and share their thoughts.”

Previous Earth Day themes were “Protect Our Winters” and “Local Foods and Food Sources.” Earth Day 2022 focused on “Climate Justice” and included programming coordinated by Shifrin, Wilkerson, and Rose Goldberg ’15, a math and science teacher in Gould’s 8th grade program, who also supports the Gould Goes Green group.

The three organizers noted that, due to COVID, Earth Day this year was atypical. Before the pandemic, the Environmental Science class assumed responsibility to plan workshops, including a locally-sourced all-school meal. That tradition was supported by former science teacher Tom Whittington, who was instrumental to Gould’s Earth Day during his tenure.

To adapt to COVID limitations, Rose Goldberg, who grew up in Bethel, leveraged her local and familial connections. Goldberg arranged to have students tour the local wastewater treatment facility and also asked her sister Rachael ’15 to speak about climate justice and direct action [see companion article: “Finding Joy and Community in Direct Action for Climate Justice.”]
Other local field trips included setting up solar panels on the Admissions rooftop; visiting the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum to examine rocks from the Moon and Mars; studying the Sunday River watershed to learn about the water source used for snowmaking; traveling to local farms, community gardens, and the Bryant Pond 4-H center; touring the Spruce Mountain Wind Turbine installation; repotting plants that will one day feed refugee populations in Maine; and helping Inland Woods + Trails plant trees in partnership with worldwide organization One Tree Planted.

Jerry Bernier, Director of Buildings and Grounds, made a presentation about Gould’s energy consumption. Maine youth Luke Sekara-Flanders
spoke about local water rights and commercial water extraction.

One important way that Earth Day 2022 remained true to form, however, was the presentation of the Bonnie Pooley Award, named for a beloved former English teacher and Gould’s long-time climate action role model. Wilkerson noted that three students were recognized this year: Hannah Macmillan ’22; Hannah Pierce ’22; and Caleb Grammas ’22. Recipients received a small stipend to donate to a climate-related organization of their choosing.

“Bonnie Pooley is the origin of Earth Day on campus,” Shifrin noted with admiration. “She is relentless, a lioness for environmentalism.” Shifrin says the criteria used to determine award recipients are, in short, “someone who rolls up their sleeves, slides on the work hat, and consistently seeks to make the world a greener place.”

Sara Shifrin ’88, P’19, P’23

Bonnie Pooley is the origin of Earth Day on campus. She is relentless, a lioness for environmentalism.”


When asked what qualities recipients of her namesake award should possess, Bonnie Pooley P’81 had five words: “Passion for saving the planet.” Pooley reflected that not a single Earth Day has gone by since 1970 that she hasn’t done something “to honor the Earth and celebrate our relationship to it.” Pooley came to Gould from Delaware in 1973, inspired by Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of “Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World.” The Nearings are considered exemplars of living intentionally and sustainably. Pooley tells a story about taking her “Utopia” class on a field trip in 1974 to the Nearing’s Forest Farm property on Cape Rosier in mid-coast Maine. “After our day of working on the land, the Nearings repaid us with the opportunity to interview them,” Pooley recalled. “I had Scott’s dream of becoming self-sufficient and I asked him how to get started.” “Be a teacher,” Nearing, then aged 90, counseled Pooley. “Stay in teaching as long as you can.” Since retiring in 2008, Pooley has turned her considerable attention to environmental and conservation matters. She is a certified Maine Guide; a Master Gardener; and the longest serving board member of the Mahoosuc Land Trust, a non-profit organization that Pooley said started with talks around her kitchen table. Pooley points to Sara Shifrin and Tracey Wilkerson as the people who now carry forward Gould’s Earth Day mantle. She is also very encouraged to see young people stepping up and becoming activists. “They are making a difference,” Pooley said. Speaking about her own motivations, Shifrin reported that equity, justice, and future sustainability drive her as a teacher. “I live this stuff,” she said. It is clear that Wilkerson lives it as well. Before coming to Gould, she worked for Outward Bound as an outdoor educator. Wilkerson’s vision for future Earth Days is that they again become student-led and even more deeply embedded into the curriculum and activities. “I want to make sure we provide leadership roles for the kids, that we improve how we coax them and how we scaffold their efforts through coaching and general support,” she explained. Rose Goldberg noted that commitment to this work underlies her daily life as well. It was as a Gould student, she said, that she first found like-minded people. “They had that same passion. They cared. Growing up in Bethel gave me an immense love of the land. I feel lucky. You have to love it to want to protect it.”


In her 35 years at Gould, 33 years as a volunteer and founding board member of the Mahoosuc Land Trust, and a lifetime of connecting with the environment, former faculty member Bonnie Pooley P’81 has worked passionately and purposefully to protect the natural world. She has actively encouraged the students in the Gould community to join her in the important work of conservation. The Bonnie Pooley Earth Day award honors the students who most embody Ms. Pooley’s passion and activism for advancing the work of preservation and sustainability of our environmental and natural resources. The recipients of the award may choose the conservation or environmental organization to which a donation will be made in their name.
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