Feeding a passion for education and the great outdoors

Growing up in rural Vermont, Grace Miller discovered a love for the natural world. At Yale, helping peers grasp macroeconomics revealed another passion.
Grace Miller

Grace Miller (Photo by David Liebowitz)

As a sophomore in Yale College, Grace Miller began working as a student tutor in the Department of Economics. Helping her peers grasp the principles and intricacies of macroeconomics made her realize she that has a passion for education. 

The seeds of that passion were planted in her teens while working at Sisken Coutts, an outdoor education center near her hometown of Newport in rural Vermont, where Miller helped deliver educational programming.

I was the strange lady who showed up to your school with snakes,” said Miller, who is part of Timothy Dwight College.

In her junior year, Miller working as a public-school intern three days a week at Common Ground High School, a public charter located within West Rock State Park in New Haven, serving as an aide in an outdoor leadership class and freshman algebra, chaperoning overnight camping trips, and running “Wonder in the Woods,” an afterschool program that aims to instill an appreciation of nature and the outdoors.

Every Tuesday we’d get outside and go on hikes, play hide and seek in the woods, cook over fires, search for salamanders, make tea with herbs from the school’s garden,” she said. “It was a lot of fun.”

On her last day at the high school, her students baked her a cake.

I’ve really enjoyed watching the students grow over these past two years,” she said. “I’ve seen them embrace hiking, eat food cooked over a campfire for the first time, and learn some algebra. It’s been very rewarding.”

Miller, who majored in economics and completed the Education Studies Scholars Intensive Certificate, wrote a senior thesis analyzing the effects of public school district mergers in Vermont. A recently retired state administrator provided her with every accounting book and fiscal-calculation spreadsheet concerning the state’s public schools from 2009 to 2024. The project combined data analysis with interviews and surveys of principals and superintendents from merged districts across the state.

A women with a chainsaw and a cut down tree
In 2023, Miller worked on an all-women chainsaw crew in Colorado, which performed wildfire mitigation, removed invasive species, and carried out other conservation work.

She found that the mergers, which were initiated as a cost-saving measure, did not cause widespread closure of schools, as one might expect, and didn’t have significant effects on per pupil spending or tax rates. Her analysis showed that transportation costs rose and that some spending was redirected from administrative costs to education-related expenditures, including teachers’ salaries.

Through the interviews and surveys, she learned that many administrators questioned whether the state’s merger process was grounded in an educational ethos or strategic plan. Some reported struggling to work efficiently with expanded school boards.

It’s clear the state is not really defining what it means by equitable student outcomes,” Miller said. “And without that definition, then no one is on the same page concerning policy or budgetary decisions.”

Miller’s enthusiasm for education is matched by a passion for the outdoors. Last summer, she worked on an all-women chainsaw crew in Colorado, sleeping 74 consecutive nights in a tent while performing wildfire mitigation, removing invasive species, and doing other conservation work.

Next year, she will serve as a teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee’s public school system through Teach for America.

I think education is one of the most pivotal issues right now, and so many people know so little about it,” she said.  “It’s really easy to think that you know a lot about education because everyone goes to school, right? But the issue is much more complex than meets the eye.”

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