One great thing about teaching in an independent school is having the independence and flexibility to take an inspiring conversation or chance meeting and turn it into a powerful learning opportunity for your students. Dean of Academic Program and Environmental Studies teacher Brent Powell took advantage of just such an encounter for his class this fall. Derryfield parent Erik Drake struck up a conversation with Brent when their sons were visiting Derryfield for a buddy day. The conversation turned to Brent’s Environmental Studies class and the issue of food sustainability when Mr. Drake mentioned that he works for Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs.
Pete and Gerry’s is a family-run organic egg producing business dedicated to producing the “freshest free range eggs on real, small family farms and are committed to the humane treatment of animals. All of their organic and free range egg products are Certified Humane, USDA Organic, and B-Corporation Certified.” As owner Jesse LaFlamme learned, in today’s world of global corporations, staying true to this type of endeavor is not easy. Jesse came back to his family’s farm the day after he graduated from college and took over the business started by his grandfather.
That chance encounter in the admission office turned into a three-week-long classroom project tackling the problem of how the company can best increase the sales while staying true to their mission. Mr. Powell wanted the students in his Environmental Studies class to focus on building the skill of problem-solving and change-making in the world to help address Pete and Gerry’s dilema of staying true to their local roots while growing nationally. Four groups of five students worked together to assess the challenges and develop proposals for possible solutions.
All in all, it was a great learning experience for everyone involved. Both Mr. LaFlamme and Mr. Drake were able to attend the presentations, and were impressed with the execution and poised maturity of the groups. The students came up with some insights that they found useful and that the company might consider using. Erik says he was excited about the prospect of helping Derryfield students learn about sustainability and better food choices, adding that he loves working at a place he is proud to tell his family about.
Parents were invited to attend the presentation, and were impressed with the depth of presentations. One shared, “I liked that there were so many aspects of learning with this project; research, planning, environmental and business info, visuals and the dynamics of a group project. The students were well-spoken, even off the cuff. I liked that they were able to defend their ideas.” Another contended, “giving a real-world problem, empowering them to believe that their ideas actually mattered, allowing school time, and delivering an end result exactly like ‘grown ups’ have to do - brilliant!”
The kids enjoyed the experience, as well. Sophomore Julia Tilton liked that they had a lot of freedom to explore different strategies and scenarios for marketing. In addition, she found the project “engaging because it had a real life aspect, which made it more interesting than a typical school project, which may not have had the same real world connections.” The fact that the students presented directly to the owners of the company and then received their feedback made a big impression on Julia, as well. According to Mr. Powell, time and again the students mentioned the family aspect of the company and noted how much they liked that it was held together by relatives. It was especially meaningful that students were able to work closely with a company that so deeply values family, one of Derryfield’s core values.