Emma Willard – The 1st FT High School in the USA!

Courtney Lang December 22, 2010

We are thrilled to celebrate the accomplishment that the students and faculty at the Emma Willard School have achieved. Fair Trade Towns is proud to part of the group that established the criteria for both Fair Trade Schools and Universities. Below is a post from one of the student-leaders who brought this vision to fruition. Their initiative and motivation is a wonderful example that anyone, of any age, can make a difference through Fair Trade.

By Guest Blogger Natalia Choi

Students at Emma Willard School Campaign for Fair Trade

After learning that slavery had not ended in history, but continued to haunt the lives of 27 million people in the world, I decided to become an abolitionist and an active global citizen. I had never anticipated that Emma Willard would become the first Fair Trade High school in the US when we first created the club SlaveryNoMore in the spring of 2009. The role of leading the new club was exciting and at the same time challenging because of the overwhelming prevalence of slavery. The enthusiastic members of SlaveryNoMore had a myriad of ideas, but it was hard to decide where to start because there was so much to be done. However, when our club became aware of the role of Fair Trade in ensuring a fair wage for laborers, we saw a practical way in which we could affect the daily choices of consumers and the lives of farmers and artisans.

When we learned more about the “dark side” of the chocolate so many of us love, our club began examining the choices we were given in our own dining hall. We were pleased to discover that the dining hall already offered Fair Trade coffee and rice, but we wanted to expand the presence of Fair Trade items on campus. As we continued to work on bringing more Fair Trade options in the dining hall and school store, we became aware of the Fair Trade University movement and decided to work on Fair Trade status for our high school.

We began our educational campaign through a steady stream of awareness-raising announcements, power-points, signs, blog posts, Facebook posts and video presentations to the entire school. We met early on with our dining service manager and the school’s chief financial officer, as well as with the school principal. We also became more educated ourselves by researching Fair Trade and hosting guest speakers, including Fair Trade advocates and producers.

The next step was to draft a Fair Trade resolution to present to the decision-making bodies in our school. This required more research about Fair Trade, Fair Trade universities and about our school’s unique history and values. It took some time to come to a final draft and the process was a collaborative one, involving students, faculty, administration and others.

Once we felt we had a critical mass of support, we circulated a petition supporting the Fair Trade resolution, which the majority of students signed. The student government passed the resolution unanimously, as did the faculty. In May, we presented our Fair Trade resolution to the Board of Trustees. We prepared carefully, collaborating in advance with members of the faculty and administration. The Board had questions and concerns which required us to do more research. Finally the Board approved the resolution this October and we were able to apply for Fair Trade status.

Knowing that Emma Willard School was a pioneering institution in America for providing girls the same educational opportunities as boys, it seems fitting that our school has become the first Fair Trade high school in the United States.

The recognition as a Fair Trade school does not mark the end to the Fair Trade campaign, but establishes a platform for upholding our Fair Trade status by sustaining and expanding the fulfillment of the five criteria in the future. The Fair Trade Steering committee, which will be comprised of students, faculty, and administration members, will be responsible for overseeing the implementation and growth of Fair Trade in our school.

Not only have Fair Trade farmers and artisans been empowered, but our school community has been empowered as well with a sense of social responsibility. Throughout the Fair Trade campaign, students have learned that their actions matter and can make a difference in the world. As the first Fair Trade high school in the United States, we hope to inspire other schools to take action.

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Courtney Lang, National Organizer | Fair Trade Campaigns

Courtney Lang brings over 5 years of community organizing to Fair Trade Towns USA, building both the Local Food and Fair Trade networks in Vermont. As Local Food Coordinator with City Market/Onion River Cooperative, Courtney worked with local producers, institutions and consumers to grow the local food system and organize a strategic model for community engagement through farm tours, workshops, and local food challenges. Like many in the Fair Trade industry, Courtney was inspired to take action in Fair Trade when she witnessed child-labor first hand in Costa Rica. As a founding member of Fair Trade Burlington, she has worked with economic development organizations, businesses, and consumers to build awareness of Fair Trade among Vermonters. She also worked with a Fair Trade USA licensee, Vermont Coffee Company, as Friend Ambassador where she united the story of Fair Trade to every purchase of coffee.