After a year filled with learning about the interactions between matter, living organisms and the impact of humans on the planet, Polk Central Elementary School fifth graders explored an essential question: How can we develop communities that are environmentally and socially sustainable?  

Their teacher, Andrea Walter, designed the lessons following a three-week internship at Biltmore Farms last summer as part of her Kenan fellowship. Walter was one of two 2020-21 Polk County educators supported by Facebook to intern at local industries in order to develop a deeper understanding of local industries, their workforce needs, and how they can make relevant connections for their students. 

“I was able to shadow executives in all areas of the company, seeing how corporate departments work together to help a company reach its goals,” said Walter. “I very much enjoyed all the tours of diverse sites such as the solar array on the rooftop of the Hilton Hotel, the stormwater management system of a gated residential community, and the 2020 Southern Living Idea House.”

Walter’s students studied the impact of George W. Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith, and the business ventures of their grandsons: the Biltmore Estate and the Biltmore Farms properties. In the 1980s, Biltmore Farms, LLC sold most of the dairy herd to PET corporation and became a sustainable community development corporation, building award-winning hotels, housing developments, and retail space including Biltmore Park Town Square, the largest and most diverse mixed-use urban village in Asheville. 

Through researching both the history of the Biltmore Estate and more recent Biltmore Farms development projects, students explored how Biltmore Farms addresses five tenets: Arts and Culture, Education, Healthcare, Economic Development, and Environment/Quality of Life.

Then it was the students turn to take on a development project. They learned about the components of a community (schools, businesses, residential areas, farmland, public areas, road systems, etc.) and the planning roles of architects, engineers, city planners, local government and community stakeholders. 

They discussed the infrastructure needs of a community, the value of historic preservation and types of building materials. Students talked about how a community can care for the environment. 

Finally, using the “Architecture: It’s Elementary!” curriculum, the students built a scale model of a community.  

“Thanks to my mentor, Carol Steen, and the staff at Biltmore Farms, I had an enjoyable and informative internship experience and I was excited about bringing what I learned to our school,” Walter said.

Facebook has supported two new fellows again this year. One of the 2021-22 Facebook Kenan Fellows, Jill Francis of Rutherford County Schools, is also completing her internship at Biltmore Farms.