Nurturing a new, sustainable education program

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Taylor Wilmot is the Facilities and Grounds Coordinator for the Whitefish School District's new Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

In a way, the Whitefish Schools Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship is Taylor Wilmot’s new home.

Wilmot, in her role as the CSE’s Facilities and Grounds Coordinator, acts as groundskeeper, custodian, farmer and community and student engagement manager for the new multi-million dollar building.

“It’s a wide range of responsibilities,” she says.

Wilmot has been on the job since mid-March, helping to get the CSE up and running and prepare it for its first round of events, which included the Community Day of Action earlier this month, the vertical garden design workshop for first and fifth grade students last week, and the Earth Day celebrations that took place on Saturday.

It’s been a hectic but fun first month, she says, and she’s ready to get the program going.

“It’s been really exciting and I’ve been itching to start planting and growing and get the students and teachers out here to experience it, because everyone’s been waiting for years for this project to get started,” she said.

Originally from New Jersey, Wilmot attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she received a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. After graduation, she moved to New Mexico and worked on food access and public health projects for three years before moving to the Flathead.

She’s worked for Purple Frog Gardens and EarthStar Farms and served on the board of Farmhands: Nourish the Flathead.

For Wilmot, the facilities coordinator position with the district was a no-brainer.

“My background in college is really sustainability-based, so I just thought it was a good way to connect young people back to agriculture and just sustainability in general,” she said. “I love working with youth anyway, so to be able to be in a teaching and learning facility with agriculture is sort of an ideal situation for me. Just sharing that passion with others makes it worthwhile.”

Over the last two years, the sustainability center has evolved from plans for a simple greenhouse into a two-story outdoor learning center, with private funding of $2.35 million secured through the Whitefish Community Foundation. Early designs featured a greenhouse attached to a small classroom. Since then, teachers and designers have increased the size, expanded it into a K-12 project, and incorporated outdoor learning areas. The building is also designed to be net-zero in its energy use, the first in the state of Montana, according to the school district.

Wilmot said while the hope was for the center to be up and running for students and staff with a little more time left in the school year, the lingering snow in Whitefish has impacted those plans.

However, she stressed there are opportunities for students and community members to get started using the facility in the summer before it’s fully integrated into the curriculum next fall.

The center isn’t only for Whitefish students, she said, and community members have a big role to play in the center’s success.

“This is really, in a lot of ways, still a blank slate and there’s still a lot of opportunity for contribution of ideas and vision to really see what this becomes,” she said. “I think it will only reach its full potential if there’s a lot of community involvement.”

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