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Problems in Our Backyard

Originally appears in the Summer 2016 issue

(Note: While co-written, this article purposefully uses Jennifer’s singular voice since she was the driving force behind this place-based education adventure.)

“Mrs. Cody!!! Did you hear the news?!?!” Abby burst into our fifth grade classroom full of excitement on the morning of November 10, 2015. “There was a meeting last night! They voted against the development!”

Abby was referring to a local and controversial planned residential development that our class had been studying, and her excitement was contagious. She caught me off guard, though, as I was not aware that an important meeting had been scheduled.

“Are you sure?” I asked, knowing the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors was scheduled to meet the following week and take a final vote on the development. “Yes!” Abby responded, “My mom told me. She saw it on the news last night then it was on the radio this morning.”

It turned out that Abby was talking about how the Ferguson Township Planning Commission had voted not to endorse the proposed development. This was an advisory vote and not the final word, but it still felt like an important victory.

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Jennifer Cody is a fifth grade teacher at Park Forest Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania, where she works to develop place-based curriculum and help students to develop and use their voices to facilitate change in the world. John Katunich is a doctoral candidate in the Language, Culture, and Society program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State University. His teaching and research interests include sustainability literacy, intercultural competency, and place-based learning. Mark Kissling is an assistant professor of education at Penn State University, where he teaches, collaborates, researches, and writes about place-based education and ecological citizenship. Jennifer, John and Mark can be reached at,, and respectively.

1. We the people: The citizen & the Constitution, Center for Civic Education of
Calabasas, CA, 2011.