On December 15, 2021

Community rallies, helps OVUHS teacher

By Angelo Lynn

Otter Valley Union High School and the greater Brandon community are coming to the aid of a beloved teacher and founder of the unique and highly popular Moosalamoo Education Program who suffered a stroke just before Thanksgiving.

This week they launched a gofundme campaign for Joshua Hardt and his family. Hardt, only 41 years old, suffered a medical crisis stemming from high blood pressure, which doctors think caused Hardt to suffer the stroke. Hardt and his wife, Melinda, have three school-age boys.

Family members said doctors have provided preliminary prognosis of a strong recovery, pending weeks or months of physical and speech therapy.

In a Facebook post, Melinda Hardt wrote that she was “absolutely humbled by the outpouring of love and support we have received in this difficult time. So much love to all of you. Looking forward to the day I can follow Joshua Hardt through the woods again.”

In a follow-up email on Tuesday, she noted, “Josh is slowly making little improvements and we are thankful that he has a good outlook for recovery. He lost function of his right hand and arm and has some pretty significant speech issues, but the doctors think that with time and therapy he will gain back much of what he lost.”

Moosalamoo Center

At OVUHS, Hardt founded the outdoor wilderness program, sometimes called the Moosalamoo Center, in 2005. The program combines Vermont’s statewide academic standards with technical outdoor and backcountry skills.

“It’s a hugely popular program and very unique to Otter Valley Union High School,” says OV Principal James Avery. “It’s incredibly unique. Educators from all over the state have come in for the past decade or more to learn what Josh is doing and try to replicate his hands-on of teaching in their schools. We’ve been very fortunate to have Josh here all these years growing and evolving this coursework into the program it has become.

“Josh has been the passion that has driven the Moosalamoo Education Program… and the kids, and community, all love him.”

According to the school’s Course of Studies handbook, students in the program “explore topics ranging from philosophy to physics. Through this broad spectrum they gain a solid background in ecology, literature and wilderness resource management.”

There are two levels to the program, the first starting in the 9th grade (called the “lower house”) and the second for juniors and seniors (“the upper house”). The lower house course “spends intensive amounts of time examining how our natural landscape has shaped a culture and how these historical lessons can be used to make effective decisions in the future,” says the school’s handbook. “Students build real-life connections between Otter Valley’s backyard (Hawk Hill) and the larger global picture. Students enrolled in Moosalamoo 9 will also receive a Geophysics and Algebra 1 credit that is tangibly linked to environmental education themes. Examples of study are Vermont oral histories, maple sugaring, ecological survey, wildlife tracking, land use history, environmental literature, sense of place and anthropocentric landscape interpretation. In addition, skills such as academic organization, goal setting, public speaking, confidence building and teamwork are emphasized.”

The Upper House course work at the Moosalamoo Center is a unique outdoor opportunity for OV students. “The course takes students into the natural world and allows for academic exploration in the most authentic of settings. The curriculum is derived from the natural landscape and the adventures within. The educational process is rigorous and in many cases college level. A student who joins Moosalamoo receives an experience that allows for field-based study in conjunction with traditional classroom work. Moreover, the active learner gains skills in teamwork, leadership, confidence, goal setting and positive risk taking.”

Principal Avery noted that students typically take five overnight wilderness expeditions a year in the course and that there was an opportunity for dual enrollment at Castleton University, where Hardt also taught classes.

‘Heart and soul’

Avery credited Hardt as “the founder and heart and soul of the program since its start. He’s been the passion that has driven the program… and the kids, and community, all love him.”

In a recent section of the coursework called “paddle and portage,” the classwork culminated in a three-day canoe trip down the Connecticut River, studying the ecology of the river and environmental concerns as well as the river’s impact on the history and culture of the area. And during a winter section, students ascended some of the steep cliffs and snow gullies (including technical ice climbing) of Tuckerman’s Ravine in Laconia Notch, New Hampshire.

“These have always been experiences and courses that become the highlight of a student’s high school experience,” Avery said. “Josh has always been that kind of teacher. He weaves all of the academic components of the coursework — the history, ecology, culture, science, math, language, public speaking, writing, and outdoor adventure — all of it, into a seamless program.

“He’s been the driving force of the program, and honestly, I’m at a loss of how to keep it together without him, but we have teachers stepping up… I’m just planning on him getting healthy and hope we can get him back into the program as soon as he’s able. He’s an integral part of the school and we send best wishes to him and his family for a speedy recovery.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the gofundme campaign had raised nearly $30,000, exceeding its $25,000 goal. See more about the campaign online at tinyurl.com/HelpJoshHardt.

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