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new-seahorse“Real School” for us at Burlington High School finishes up at the end of May.

For the last couple of weeks, we embark on journeys to expand our learning and to “stir the pot.” The idea is to build community within the school.

There are issues with this program. Equity is one issue. Some programs cost money. A lot of money. Like the trip to London, Scandinavian cities, and even the trip to Utah, where students are helping refurbish an animal sanctuary and then visit surrounding national parks. It’s a great gig if you can afford it. But most English Learners cannot. And I don’t know if they could even travel abroad because of visa restrictions, particularly in this political climate.

The classes come from teachers’ passions, and students then choose: coaching soccer, yard games, drumming, African dance, marathon running, farming, papier maché, to name a few.

I noticed a few years ago that students who came late to the game–usually English Learners–were placed in classes that had open spaces, regardless of whether the topic was accessible. I remember one of my students was placed in Fractals and Monsters. Another in The Simpsons. Fine classes if you have the cultural background and knowledge base to access it. Mysteries if you come from somewhere else or don’t have the mathematical skills to understand what you are supposed to be learning.

At the time, I was teaching Intro to Gaming. And I ended up with gamers in there who thought I and my class were pathetic. The students’ prior experiences were far advanced beyond my dalliances into coding, which pretty much extended only to Day of Coding and the month or so that I added HTML coding to space stories before the internet was cool. The free program our tech integration specialist was helping me and my students to access did not fit their idea of what Intro to Gaming should be.

Ah, well. It’s only for two weeks. But meanwhile, I was seeing these other students who were struggling with YES.

So I created a class called Welcome to Burlington, to introduce the Queen City to students who came after YES registration deadlines had already passed. It was originally designed to be a half-day program, because I’m a half-time teacher with other duties and responsibilities. Another colleague jumped on to make it full-time. Which also has up- and downsides, the downside being that I’m also expected to complete other duties, because, after all, I’m only required to do a half-day YES program. So that’s kind of awful. On the positive side (my husband says I don’t stress that side enough), we are able to make it to places we otherwise wouldn’t, because two cars fit more than one. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to travel by car than by bus, where people actually have to show up on time or be left behind.

I have a kind of love-hate relationship with this time of year. Students have difficulties understanding why we are doing this. It certainly doesn’t feel like school. And although people tell me that community partners are eager to become involved with what we do at school, I can’t seem to find anybody who is champing at the bit to help us out.

I have students who are primarily recently resettled refugees. They don’t have a lot of disposable income. Not even a few dollars to throw at ECHO. Most elementary schools take these students in as part of their class, asking more wealthy parents to throw a few extra dollars at the class (or asking the Parent-Teacher Organization) to help subsidize those who can’t pay.

But when one’s class is only the students who can’t pay, there’s not a whole lot of understanding and generosity. After all, non-profits we’d like to visit need to keep the lights on, too. Which, in theory, I get. But in practice, what difference does it make to have those eight students come in? After all, I have a family membership at the Y, but my family never goes. It’s only me. And maybe just once a week. I maintain a family membership at ECHO, and we go maybe twice a year.

We get just a little over $200 for the full 2 weeks. And that goes fast. There have been a few organizations that have helped us out, and I’m going to recognize them over the next days as I share our adventures.

The other part of my -hate relationship has to do with a boredom factor from the students’ perspective. This week, we went to a local farm. And one of the girls came dressed in heels. And she doesn’t like touching animals. So it was not a very productive or interesting day for her. And her friends stayed behind on the hike to keep her company. So it was a wasted day for the three of them.

The saving grace for me this year is that I have two students who, although fasting because of Ramadan, are completely and totally interested in everything we are doing. If one doesn’t enjoy what we are doing, the other one does. Positivity simply radiates from them, and it makes my life just a little easier.

So tomorrow, I’ll post day 1. We were scheduled to go to the beach, but instead, through the generosity of Vermont Teddy Bear factory, we went there instead. So I’ll sing their praises for a bit.

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