CRAFTSBURY COMMON — Sterling College is embracing the attributes that make it unique — small enrollment, rural location, field programs, and professional studies opportunities — and welcoming students back to campus for the fall semester under a creative, multifaceted plan that values both the health and welfare of its students and the integrity and quality of the Sterling experience.

Sterling has always offered housing in small residences where students share responsibility and establish their own community norms and cultures. Starting with a summer intensive in mid-August, the college will house students in Living & Learning Pods, creating intentional communities of 7-18 students who are passionate about ecological thinking and action. The fall term will begin in late August. Students will eat, sleep, dine, learn and work as self-contained units in their areas of study with small teams of dedicated faculty and staff, allowing a “deep dive” into their studies in a low-risk environment.

“The pandemic requires that we adapt, but never compromise on the rigorously experiential nature of our curriculum,” said President Matthew Derr.

With a long-history of running short and semester-long field-based courses around the world in agriculture, food systems, ecology, environmental humanities, and outdoor education, Sterling is also offering a five-week course in the Nulhegan Basin of Vermont for those students who would prefer to safely take their studies on the road. All campus and field-based programs will follow health and safety best practices as outlined by state and federal authorities and will fully comply with the campus restart policies as required by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

The intensive study of two or more courses for a short period of time — block scheduling — has been used by Sterling for decades. This year the college will offer two, five-week blocks per semester. Each block will include two or three interrelated courses specific to a particular Living & Learning Pod. Such scheduling provides opportunity for intensive study and mentorship in a focused curriculum, and will position the college to nimbly respond to the unknowable trajectory of the COVID-19 virus in the months to come. The plan also meets the needs of a wider universe of students — traditional undergraduate, gap year, professional, remote, and continuing education.

“By creating a flexible schedule of highly complementary course blocks and introducing more field trips, longer hands-on projects, and learning integration among the different pods we can reinforce learning and greatly enhance the student and faculty experience,” says Laura Spence, Dean of Academics.

In order to enhance the learning experience for all students, each Living & Learning Pod will be equipped with the technology for remote instruction. This approach provides students a robust curriculum and connections across all Living & Learning Pods. It will also help to ensure that learning can continue uninterrupted in the unlikely event that individuals or entire pods need to be isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure or infection.

Community resilience and work have been key components of a Sterling education since the college’s inception in 1958. As one of only nine federally-funded Work Colleges in the United States, Sterling requires all residential students to participate in its Work Program in exchange for tuition cost credits. This fall, many students will play a key role in expanding the food production on the campus farm, allowing Sterling to not only feed its students with wholesome food, as it always has, but also to contribute to increased food security for local residents.

“With such measures in place, Sterling is trying to achieve an ‘all-weather’ program that reinforces its commitment to ecological thinking and action education,” said Derr. “We are confident that many of the innovations prompted by the pandemic will prove to complement Sterling’s mission, and anticipate integrating them into operations well beyond the end of the COVID-19 era.”

As Sterling finalizes its fall plans, the Admission Office is upholding the college’s commitment to affordable, deeply experiential, ecologically focused education, as well as to the continued health and well-being of the Sterling community and the community beyond.

More specific information can be found at www.sterlingcollege.edu. Additional information will be available as the summer progresses.

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