Monthly archive

June 2020

Rolling Up Our Sleeves: An Anti-Racist Summer Book Group

in 2019-20 School Year/Community Engagement/Current Issue
Join the STAMPED summer book group!

Read and discuss this dynamic young adult book to learn ways we can identify racist ideas, stamp them out, and make changes to build a more antiracist school and community. Join book discussion Zooms on July 15 and August 12. (Time TBD.)

Open to students from U-32 (recent grads and rising 7th graders welcome!), their families, and staff.  

Our hope is that students will share this book with their families, caregivers and friends, and participate in our online discussions.  Library copies are limited, and students will be prioritized. Bear Pond Books is offering 15% off. 

Please email Meg Allison for details (mallison@u32.org) or to sign up.

Funded by a mini-grant from the Vermont NEA.

Bringing Schools and Communities Together, WCFE Relaunches Bus Stop Conversations

in 2019-20 School Year/Current Issue

by Erica Zimmerman

With this Spring 2020 issue, Washington Central Friends of Education relaunches this e-newsletter just in time to document a historic challenge to our communities and schools —  the period of remote learning during the Covid-19 Crisis. 

Back in 1992 Washington Central Friends of Education (WCFE) began Bus Stop Conversations to keep our entire community – not just parents – informed about the challenges our schools and students face. The first issue of Bus Stop Conversations was published on Nov. 17, 1992 to bring schools and communities together to support children and families.  (Read our history here.)

Now, nearly forty years later, our schools and communities have encountered unique challenges and needs for understanding and outreach. Schools were dismissed in March, but they were never closed! Teaching and learning had to shift on the fly to reach students throughout five towns. At the same time, our school governance has just changed, with one board now serving all six schools.  

How can all of us residents of Washington Central better understand how our schools have met this challenge? How did the teachers and staff continue to nurture our students and rural communities?  What needs and strengths have they uncovered?

Throughout this issue you will find examples of the ways our schools have connected with students and families across the channels of remote learning. By no means is this a full accounting; in fact, we welcome you to send us more stories about the successes as well as the needs and struggles that remain. While we may miss the paper copies of Bus Stop Conversations arriving in our roadside mailboxes, this digital format gives more space to share more voices.  Also, in coming weeks, we will publish celebrations of graduating classes, teacher retirements and our own transitions at WCFE.  We need photos, quotes and more! Please share them to wcfe@u32.org

Read on!

Reflections on Remote Learning

in 2019-20 School Year/Community Engagement/Innovative Teaching

Resilient, restructuring, resourceful — the 3 R’s of learning have certainly changed during the period of remote learning and made new skills the center of our teachers’ work. Perhaps everyone who has found themselves suddenly working in such new circumstances may be struck by the time warp of the StayHome period — tasks take longer, time goes by in strange ways. For teachers who were forced to change their intensely interpersonal work so dramatically, this transformation has been exhausting. The pace of teaching and learning may have slowed, but the pace of work increased. At the same time, while the changes in communication were daunting, many teachers have found that their relationships with some of their students have actually deepened in surprising ways. Here are four teachers’ perspectives on this experience. Bus Stop welcomes hearing more stories and reflections from students, teachers and parents alike. 


A day in the life…of Homebound High School Math Teacher: Cari Wilson

My daily schedule is grueling: I’m up at 4:30 working by 5:00. From 7 to 9:30 or 10: 30 (depending on the day), I work with my own children, and then I head upstairs. My desk is in my bedroom separated by a portable screen. I swing for the next 2-3 hours between teacher, parent and homeschooler.I then spend 3-4 hours in Zoom class, sessions , office hours or meetings. I get and try to process 75-100 emails a day. Then I plan, create videos , assessments, provide feedback, I am lucky if I am done by 6 or 7 PM….. Then possibly a walk, dinner, family time, bed, repeat. I also work 8+ hours on Sunday. And I am still “behind”. There is just not enough time to meet everyone’s needs. 

On parenting: In the afternoons my husband stops work and takes over helping out our kid… finishing up any school work and organizing outdoor time. The screen time is addictive for my children. The transition to “normal” home activities is difficult. They need so much more direction now where they did not before the dismissal. I assume this to be true for many families who previously had little screen time at home.

Cari Wilson in her home office, with her family.

My favorite times are:

  • Office hours where I can actually see the kids and work directly with students. 
  • The opening of our Zoom class sessions… where I spend 5+minutes of my 30 minutes per week just connecting. 
  • My 8th grade TA’s black screens and murmurs that they call discussions, but none complains about coming. I write random questions & challenges in their Google Attendance form… and smile at their answers.
  • I have two or three students whom I just zoom and work with just so they have company. 

A special highlight: There is one student that I met with every day for the first month to help her get organized and just moving… assigning a lunch hour, walking time, writing an email, reading one chapter…. Now she is rocking her work independently with a once or twice a week check-in! 


Kate Rob’s Calais-Goes-Covid Teaching Day

6:30 Coffee and respond to Gmail.

7:00 Work on creating a learning packet for teaching that will happen the week after next, or create a Flipgrid assignment to upload to Google Classroom, or work on designing Science STEAM projects and Global Citizenship CHAT projects, so they can be mostly self-guided and completed without a reliable internet connection and only common household items.

8:00 Post Morning Message on Infinite Campus or Gmail if Infinite Campus isn’t accepting the message.

8:10 Check Gmail, organize my to do list for the day, and check in with my two middle schoolers about the academics they have to do for the day.

8:15 Organize my 3rd grade daughter’s school work for the day into morning and evening tasks

8:30 Call a few of my students to help them set timers to remind them about meetings and answer questions about daily work.

8:45 Zoom Morning Meeting with most of my class.

9:30 Zoom math lesson with 6 – 8 students

10:00 Check-in on my daughter’s progress with her morning academics and remind her about Zoom meetings she has during the afternoon.

10:15 Zoom writing lesson with 6 – 8 students

10:45 Check-in with my both of my sons about the progress of their daily academics

11:00 Read Aloud

11:30 Zoom Reading Group 1 with 4-5 students

12:00 Zoom Reading Group 2 with 4-5 students

12:30 Read with an individual student

1:00 Office Hours: Work with individual students on math, reading, writing or STEAM projects.

2:00 Check-in with several families and students to see how their daily learning activities went.

2:30 Extended Office Hours: to meet with students that need help in an academic area.

3:00 Record videos for students that cannot make Zoom lessons and check email

4:30 Take a break and walk the dog.

6:30 Work with my 3rd grade daughter on evening academic tasks that require more encouragement for her to focus.

9:00 Check daily notes, Flipgrid, Hapara, iReady, and Xtramath to see who can be considered present for learning today. Log attendance in Infinite Campus.

Kate Rob working with her daughter.

Favorite parts of my day: 

  • Talking with my students about whatever is on their minds. 
  • Sharing our projects with each other on Zoom and watching our Flipgrid presentations.
  • Working with students one-on-one through an academic problem they are having.
  • Celebrating a birthday and trying to sing Happy Birthday in unison on Zoom. This is just a funny experience.
  • Playing morning meeting games like 4 corners, I spy, Coseeki and What did I change?

How do I feel at the end of the day?

At the end of a Covid school day, my mind won’t shut off. I need to get away from my computer and out for a walk to clear my head and organize my thoughts for the next day. Still, I’m always thinking about which student I didn’t get to see or connect with that day, how to help my families, and what I need to do to make sure my students come to the learning.

End of the year?

I’m tired and I’m hopeful that we will get back to a school day that looks close to what we had before Covid. Sure, distance learning works for a handful of students but not for all students. While the normal school system isn’t perfect, I think it is much easier to meet student needs and help them learn when they are in the classroom setting.

What do I miss?

I miss hanging out with my students each day, watching them interact with each other, hearing them laugh and get excited about projects, seeing them work with each other to figure out a problem, and those quiet times where we can just talk and share our lives with each other.

What would I do differently?

Not sure about this one. Still processing this.

What surprised me?

I was surprised how quickly most students adapted to the digital environment and how talking on a screen brought some students out of their shell.

If we had to do this all over again, what would I want to be different?

I would want every kid to have a person that could check-in throughout the day to make sure they are getting what they need, so they could learn. I would also want everyone to have a reliable internet connection. 


Kathy Christy Keeps Perspective

I’ve been an elementary educator for 38 years, 31 years have been spent within the walls of EMES.  Currently, I am a literacy teacher and instructional coach.  I wear a variety of educational hats as I split my time between teaching literacy, facilitating professional development, and coaching.  As we’ve moved to remote learning, I continue my work with professional development, curriculum, planning and instruction.  I serve on our WCSUU Instructional Task Force. I meet with teachers and help them brainstorm lessons, problem solve and find or create resources.  I meet with students each day in a variety of ways. I  check in on their well being, create video recorded lessons, teach live literacy lessons, and support students, families, and teachers in any way I can.

The experience of Covid-19 is heart wrenching.  There are days that I spend hours upon hours sitting in front of a screen, hoping kids will show up.  Many do, some do not.  Seeing their smiling faces and interacting with students is my highlight, my joy.  Worrying about those that don’t show is my heartache. I email, I call, I text, sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don’t.  I understand, this experience is so hard for families, I get it, yet I worry.

I try to plan lessons that are engaging, with materials I can’t actively share.  Finding and navigating online resources for students and teachers is overwhelming. My body aches from being so sedentary.  I wasn’t meant for a desk job. I want to be on the move, racing through the halls at EMES again.  I miss my students, I miss my colleagues, I miss my normalcy.  I miss my 4:30a.m. start to my day and my pull in the driveway by 6:00 p.m. schedule.  My days remain long, it’s just my schedule is more erratic and unpredictable. It’s harder to put a start and stop time on my day, I’m always at work now.   I’ll look at my plan book and realize I’ve completed 12-14 Zoom meetings on some days, my eyes, my neck, my back and my head hurt from screen time.

I’ve always been an optimist and that’s what’s  getting me through these days.  There are reasons to be grateful. I’m healthy, I’m strong. I have my office set up in our sunroom.  I’ve watched the seasons change and the world turn green through the walls of windows.  I’ve watched the birds arrive, and I marvel at a sweet hummingbird that visits daily.  Some days, I even have lunch with my husband, and hold classes or attend meetings on the front porch during warm afternoons.  I’m grateful and I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful for a future that is more of what we’ve planned, I’m hopeful Vermont will continue to be safe and smart. I’m hopeful that I’ll hug kids again one day soon. Most of all, I’m hopeful we’re continuing to make a difference for our students.

Kathy Christy’s sunroom office.

CBL goes Remote: George Cook

One of U-32’s hallmarks is its multiple channels for individualized mentor-base learning. How did Community-Based Learning (CBL) translate to remote learning? George Cook gave some perspective:

  • The 28 kids in my CBL class pivoted so nicely while at home. I am so super proud of them! CBL obviously looked very different, but they persevered in a really challenging situation.
  • The Zoom classes were awesome and filled with respectful conversations. The kids are not all in the same peer pod, but were all amazing with each other.
  • Our weekly individual phone calls were amazing. I felt like I got to know the kids on such a deeper level. It was so great to talk to them while they were at home.
  • I saw kids reaping the benefits of getting “training” in independent learning. Meaning, even after two months of class at U-32, these kids ran with their independence. Some were managing a lot of work, school, and family situations. However, their independence and levels of responsibility were sky high.
  • There are always a lot of balls in the air as each kid has a totally different project. It’s so super fun, but you have to be really organized on many levels.
  • Staying connected with the kids when you cannot see them in person is really critical. Every kid must know that they are important, and checking in with them regularly is very important.
  • Celebrate: We always give kudos to the kids when somebody does something great.
  • Remote learning has enhanced relationships.

A special highlight: After witnessing kids in both my “traditional” and “flexible pathway” programs, I can say this. The need for independent learning and teacher guidance is more important than it ever was. Now, more than ever, I believe our programs are critical and develop skills that our kids must possess in this craziness!

Quentin Mashkuri and Patrick Towne food-critique project.
Carmen Gallagher’s raised bed project.
Ireland Hayes visits her mentor.

Schools Take to the Roads

in 2019-20 School Year/Community Engagement

by Erica Zimmerman

When schools dismissed in March to allow all adults and children to follow the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” emergency orders, only the buildings closed. Teachers, parents and students all had to open their minds and toolboxes to find new ways to reach each other. For some, it was a daily struggle to maintain digital connectivity; for others it was hard to keep students organized and motivated for their daily responsibilities. Parents and teachers struggled to keep their work and family lives in balance. Faculty and administrators reached out with various approaches; in many cases their goals streamlined around the most important task of keeping students connected with their learning and with the adults who care about them.  Our schools call themselves “learning communities” — perhaps never before has this been true as all sorts of outreach developed to keep students and teachers learning together but apart… 

With doors closed, schools take to the roads of Washington County!

As we all know, schools and roads are both central to how our rural towns operate. While we might all have learned to Zoom during the past few months, our connections weren’t all virtual.  Schools took to the roads to deliver many of their services to children. Our school buses shifted to delivering daily meals to hundreds of households — coolers dotted the roadways, school staff of all stripes jumped onboard with food service and busdrivers to create a daily delivery service, and children looked forward to daily meals that fed both body and soul. 

Getting lunch by bus.

As our knowledge grew about virus safety, our school libraries developed protocols so they could resume their book loans. Soon hundreds of books flowed between schools and homes. How did they manage this?  In most cases, the books rode the buses with the lunches!  

In Worcester, where buses can’t travel all the way up the smallest roads and books couldn’t stand out in the weather alongside the lunch coolers, Doty Principal Gillian Fuqua drove books right to students’ homes.

Reading at home in a comfy spot.

And as spring progressed in all of our towns, the mud dried but the tears flowed as teachers took to the roads to parade past all their students’ homes.  Flags and balloons and honking let all the kids know how much they were missed! 

Librarians Link Schools and Students

in 2019-20 School Year/Community Engagement/Innovative Teaching

by Erica Zimmerman

We have all long known that libraries are the shared heart and hub for learning in schools. But even the librarians in our schools were surprised at the extent to which that role grew during the remote learning period this spring. 

I recently joined a staff meeting of Washington Central librarians — of course connected via Zoom — to hear how they fulfilled their work this spring. Alyson Mahoney of Rumney and Doty, Amy Young of Berlin, Stacey Rupp of Calais, Arlyn Bruccoli of East Montpelier and Meg Allison of U-32 all shared their reflections.

First, when it became clear that schools were going to be dismissed, the librarians rallied to send home as many books as possible with students. Out came the summer borrowing bags, and down went the normal limits on numbers of books. Then in came the school faculty, stocking up on books for their at-home work, music and movies for relaxing amid the uncertainty, and picture books and videos for entertaining their own children while they worked. Meg noted that U-32 faculty appreciated its all-ages collection. (Question: How to keep teachers as happy as possible when they can’t be with their students? Answer: Books!)

Then, the normal library traffic of children with questions and teachers with resource needs took a new turn: parents began emailing with inquiries of all sorts. Many of the questions concerned technology as parents helped their children navigate their learning from home. They all knew that librarians could help with tech problems and resources. Amy remembered a parent asking, “When you send my Chromebook back, could you also send a book?” But then lots of other topics followed. Stacey said, “It’s definitely the most parent communication I’ve ever had. I’ve really gotten to know more families.” 

Once safe protocols were established for loaning out books, the librarians were deluged with requests from students for all sorts of reading. Some children would simply email, “You know what I like.” Parents of young children requested books by topic, and students sought the subsequent books of their favorite series. 

 The librarians found themselves with hundreds of requests to get out the door and into the hands of students, but how? Books learned to ride the buses along with the lunch deliveries! Staff organized the book bags by bus route, delivering them to U-32 where a table stood ready for each bus. In Berlin, paraeducators carried them right out themselves. Indeed, many staff helped the librarians meet the increased need for collecting, sorting, stashing and cleaning the materials, as everything had to sit untouched for a week after it returned from homes to ensure safety.  Much work and patience led to Library Wednesdays becoming the favorite day of the week for many, reported Alyson.

Books ready to go out by bus.

How interesting that the separation of the StayHome period also created new channels for communication. As students learned to request books via email, librarians noticed that the quietest students were making more requests than usual. While these librarians are used to hearing lots of individual interests, discussing them privately and keeping them confidential, they began to hear from students who seemed to find email a more comfortable means of communication than face-to-face. One student in fact emailed interest in a gender identity book for the first time. That librarian was so reassured that the student had found a comfortable way to access new and sensitive information in this time. 

I always learn new things when I talk with a librarian. Imagine getting to talk with five all at once! That was one of the most interesting Zooms I’ve had during my StayHome time. But it ended with real excitement as Arlyn invited me to join East Montpelier’s AfterSchool Book Club end-of- year party! 25 kids and several faculty gathered on Zoom to play the emoji game — guessing titles of the DCF books from emoji rebuses. (I lost.)

Playing “Guess the DCF book” with emoji rebuses.

And the party went on long after I left… There were more and more books to discuss and summer reading adventures to plan!

EMES Keeps Community Connected

in 2019-20 School Year/Celebrations/Community Engagement

by Sarah Kinter

East Montpelier Elementary School has always played an important role as a connector for our community. The Coronavirus, which caused the closure of our schools in March, has not diminished this vital function. While much of the time and energy of our teachers and students has been absorbed by online instruction, there has also been a bountiful expression of love and community outside of school. 

One of the first activities for families was organized by community member Stephanie Minor, who organized and then with her family constructed 24 wooden “peeps,” named after the candy. Kindergarten teacher Jillian Zeilenga’s job was to place them all around our town. A scavenger hunt was born, and families hit the roads of East Montpelier to find them. Congratulations to the Cate family for being the first to find all 24, with Averie Brown and Rae Powers coming in a close second.

To keep track of all the new fun activities the PTNO posted new weekly themes and challenges for the EMES community on their Facebook page. Be sure to check it out! Thanks to teacher and parent Jillian Zeilenga and parent Julie Brown for maintaining the page, and of course, kudos to all the participants! 

Other activities have included Mudpuddle Mondays, Star Wars Trivia night, painting kindness rocks for distribution around town for neighbors to find, working on the school pollinator garden with the help of parent Matthew Greenberg, pizza nights, Talent Week and most recently an at-home Field Day! 5k runs and bike rides by students, families, and teachers have been a popular way to honor students, especially graduating sixth graders. What a great way to get outside and have fun and exercise!

By May, the teachers were missing their students so much that teacher Beth Parker organized a drive-by Teacher Parade. Students and their families congregated at the ends of their driveways and in their front yards as a long parade of teachers in their cars drove by honking and waving and greeting their students. It brought tears to many an eye!

As you can see, connections in our town are alive and well, and always looking for new connectors!

Kathy Topping’s Class Creates New Chemistry

in 2019-20 School Year/Current Issue/Innovative Teaching

I never imagined that I would end my career teaching my students from my home.  When I started this job we didn’t have computers and even calculators were not normally used.  We printed all the material we gave students using a mimeograph machine.  Now I spend my weeks making youtube videos to teach lessons and demonstrate labs.  I use zoom to make visual contact with my students as they work on chemistry problems.  They use their cell phones to take a photo of their answers and email them to me.  I open them, download them, take a picture and make corrections using software on my computer and email them back.  I have tried to make the process as similar to the system they used when we were together as possible, but everything for all of us takes longer.

I am so proud of my students.  They have shown themselves to be resilient.  They have found ways to stay organized.  At school everything was organized for them.  Now they do this for themselves with the help of their parents.  At school, I could help them stay motivated when they faced a setback.  Now they do this for themselves.  They reach out to get help from me when they need it.  They have found ways to cope with unreliable internet.  I have one student who made an office in the back of his car.  He drives to the local elementary school to connect to the wifi because it doesn’t work that well at home.  My students still help each other.  They haven’t given up on their learning – they are finding ways to cope.  I am so proud of this group and I hope the community is proud of them also.

How have you been able to stay organized?

Kilee Rolland – The biggest task I’ve put myself on is organization everyday. No matter what time it is I am going to make sure everything is organized when I wake up for the day and put back in its place before I go to bed! 

Carmen Gallagher – I use my phone alarm, to remind myself to get ready for each zoom call. Depending on the amount of zoom calls I have per day, I have come up with a schedule of when I will complete my assignments.  On days when I have 1-2 zoom calls, I get most of my homework done and then have more time for myself for the rest of the week.  I always make a list of my assignments and the due dates, to decide which I will start working on first. 

Madison Roberge – In terms of staying organized, I’ve been creating systems for myself and using a planner. An example of this is I’ve been paperclipping the things I’ve sent into you together, and then paper-cliping together the things I have left to do. 

How have you been able to stay motivated?

Kilee Rolland – Staying motivated has been a real struggle at points, but honestly I’m always ahead and I think that’s what keeps me pushing through this hard time and staying on a routine and task makes me work harder everyday.

Noah McLane – For me it is the goal of getting into a good college in the future and ensuring I have all my proficiency’s hit in each class. 

Delanee Hill –  I stay motivated to do work, by trying to get it all done as quickly as possible so I can have the rest of the week to do whatever I want.

Madison Roberge – My primary motivation is honestly graduation. As well as that I know the sooner I finish my work the sooner I get to summer, specifically in lab!

What have you done when you get confused?

Kilee Rolland – There have been confusing time’s because we aren’t face to face, but thank god for email, Kathy you’ve definitely been the most helpful teacher throughout this entire process and have been willing to work with all of us, so thank you for that.

Noah McLane –  I have been pretty good I feel at reaching out to my teachers and setting up meetings or a conference to go over what I need to do in order to get the best quality of work.

Madison Roberge – I’ll send you emails if I’m confused and at one point we had a zoom call together so you could explain things further. Of course, face to face communication and feedback is preferred but I’m very grateful our school already had the financial resources for each student to have a Chromebook during this time.

How have you been able to help each other?

Kilee Rolland – Us as classmates are also able to still make contact over social media if we need help which is very nice at points if we don’t want to go right to the teacher.

How are you feeling about how much you are learning?

Kilee Rolland –I think everything I’m learning is going to be helpful there are things that are of course boring but I find that I’m in a better mindset right now with my school work, like I want to learn.

What is the best thing about remote learning?

Kilee Rolland – The best thing about remote learning I would have to say would be, being able to get things done on our own time. So for me it’s been Mondays I can everything done I possibly can except for things that don’t get posted so I’m not stressed throughout the week.

Delanee Hill – The best thing about remote learning is that I get to sleep in.

What is the hardest thing about remote learning?

Kilee Rolland – The hardest thing is definitely not being able to see people and all of my friends. Junior year is something we shouldn’t take for granted because everyone is in their own schedule and routine before graduation. So right now it’s been tough to not go through this with others by our side.

Nathaniel Rice – Honestly, the hardest thing about online learning is that it lacks all the charm and social intricacies of school. Like yeah, you can “see’ your friends, but is is it really “seeing” your friends? I don’t think so.  

Andrew Rice – “The hardest thing about remote learning is that it stunts real connection between students and teachers. You used to be able to go into their rooms for extra help, and you’d have that face-to-face interaction which helped me personally quite a bit. Now, you have less time to go to a teacher’s office hours, and because of remote learning, you never know what might happen that makes you miss those times. You could sleep in too late, you could be preoccpied with a family thing – who knows?”

Carmen Gallagher– Just being out of the classroom, has been difficult. When needing help on the new material, it becomes more challenging to fully understand without having your teacher in the same room, to explain. Thankfully, my teachers have been very understanding and helpful when situations become difficult. 

Madison Roberge – The hardest thing about remote learning aside from being on the computer all day is that we’re missing the student-teacher connections. Of course, everyone is doing their best with zoom but it’s just not the same. 

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