Students in the Documenting New Haven course designed this exhibit, focused on the landscape history of West Rock. This is one of more than 20 exhibits developed by students for Common Ground’s site.

Thanks to the hard work of our students and our partners at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Common Ground’s site has been transformed into an outdoor museum, featuring more than 20 interpretive exhibits and wayfinding signs. Each exhibit shares “lessons from the land” — about our site’s human and natural history, environmental practices and sustainability, environmental and physical science, farming and local food. This project represents exactly the kind of learning for which Common Ground strives: active and authentic, rooted in the local community and environment, producing a real product for public audiences.

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How did these exhibits come to be?

Grants from the American Honda Foundation and the Toshiba America Foundation provided the funding to produce permanent, high-quality, interactive exhibits. Additional funding from the Watershed Fund and the State Farm Youth Advisory Board provided funding for exhibits focused on watershed protection and student-led campus sustainability efforts.

The draft text and design for every exhibit was developed by young people. Most were created as class projects; instead of writing term papers or presentations to share with their teachers, students were challenged to create a lasting product for a real public audience. A handful of the exhibits were created by Lessons from the Land Summer Student Curators, who were paid a small stipend to spend a portion of their summer working on additional exhibits. One was written and designed by middle school students in Common Ground’s West Rock Rangers after-school program.

To create their exhibits, students identified exhibit topics, took on in-depth research, wrote rough text, and developed draft designs. Based on feedback from peers, teachers, staff from the Peabody Museum, outside experts, and Common Ground’s environmental education staff, students refined their work and pushed to create final exhibits. Common Ground teachers Tricia Johnson, Karen Climis, Jeremy Stone, Dave Edgeworth, Joel Tolman, and Rebecca Holcombe taught the courses in which Lessons from the Land exhibits were developed.

Common Ground staff worked closely with our partners at the Yale Peabody Museum to turn students’ work into final exhibits, ready for fabrication. David Heiser, Head of Education at the Peabody, helped to steer the entire process and contributed an enormous amount of time and expertise to ensure that all exhibit content was accurate and clear. Sally Pallato, Exhibits Designer at the Peabody, took students’ visions and turned them into beautiful, professionally designed exhibits. We could not have taken on this project without their expertise, commitment, and good spirit.

Common Ground and Peabody staff contracted with Century Signs, a local company, to fabricate all of our Lessons from the Land exhibits. Often, students’ designs for interactive features pushed our fabrication partners to problem-solve and push beyond what they had done before. Century Signs staff worked with Common Ground students to install the exhibits on our site.

Many generous volunteers and experts also contributed to the development of Lessons from the Land exhibits. In particular, a number of skilled photographers and generous organizations contributed their images, free of charge, to our exhibits: Mel Morales, Rebecca Holcombe, Vladimir Jankovic, Sharah Slagle, Stihlfehler, Perry Garner, R Levese, Betsy Marie, Keith Kridler, Kenneth Fink, Huhu Uet, Richard Bartz, Karen Climis, Tricia Johnson, Tim McCormick, Matthew Jackanapes, Robin Matterfis, Saralynn Tauras Craig, Jennifer Barnard, Donna Lorello, Butterflynature.com, farmsanctuary.org, CitySeed, the Connecticut State Department of Agriculture, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Duncraft, USDA, and the Texas Cooperative Extension.

Interested in learning more? Contact Joel Tolman or Rebecca Holcombe, the Common Ground staff members who managed the Lessons from the Land project.