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YES Day 9: Time for a show

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On the last regular day of classes, we spent our morning at the Flynn Theater with Stacy Raphael, associate director of school programs. 

The Flynn has been kind to us over the years, and the outreach to my students in particular has been outstanding. We’ve benefited from grant programs, from Flynn artists in residence and from opportunities to attend theatrical events. And this year, Stacy outdid herself in catering to our particular needs. We went first to the gallery, where we spent a few minutes looking at Abenaki clothing on display. One piece she pointed out to us is jewelry made from the bark of trees, with patterns created by biting repeatedly.

We went to the dance classroom to talk about classes that are available at the Flynn. After that, we went on a tour of the main theater, spotting the fiddleheads in the artwork on the walls and in the woodwork. We also hunted for phoenixes in the light fixtures and patterns all around us. We went up to where the spotlights and stage lighting are controlled. She took us on the stage to take the opportunity to look out on the audience seats, as countless others have before. She took us downstairs to the makeup room and showed us the giant fan that runs the heating and cooling for the building.

Finally, students went on a treasure hunt, discovering how to decode where to find a seat: evens on one side, odds on the other, and high numbers down the middle. We were rewarded with chocolate and then went on our way, having had one final glimpse into what Burlington has to offer its residents.

Big, big thank yous go out to Stacy. It was more than I could have ever hoped.

After lunch, we put together our final projects. And later that evening, I put it all together into a video we showed to a small group of students who came to see what we had done. One student who will begin his fourth year with us in the fall lamented that he could not take Welcome to Burlington. “A field trip every day? That sounds like a lot of fun!”

Tune in tomorrow to see our final project.

#YES@BHS #SoGrateful.


YES Day 7: Spirit of Ethan Allen & ECHO

#SoGrateful #bhsyes2017

The Spirit of Ethan Allen is usually a highlight of our YES program. However, though it was sunny, the morning cruise was awfully cold. Nobody dressed for weather on the high seas…

Afterwards, we walked to the skateboard park to meet a community partner, but because of calendar snafus, we didn’t connect. The girls got hot and started walking toward ECHO, our next destination. The boys got someone to loan them a skateboard while I was on the phone with the community partner. I asked them to finish up, but they weren’t finished. And I was left with two students.

What do you do when you lose a class?

I needed to head back to feed the meter. And it was lunchtime. The girls said they didn’t want to eat, but then, when I circled back around, they did. So it was back to the car. And then I tried one more time to get the boys, who were on their way back when I found them. I asked the boys to move to the girls and have them meet us at ECHO (THANK YOU, ECHO, FOR THE DISCOUNTED TICKETS!!!), but the message didn’t get through…

After herding cats for what seemed like an eternity, we finally ended up at ECHO to see butterflies and fish and to play with sand. When the time came, most took off to find their own way home, but I ended up with four students in the Champlain Lake Basin library, on the second floor of ECHO. There, they encountered puzzles for the first time.

And then, I couldn’t get them to leave.

Lovely when learning takes over!


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My thanks to Erik Oliver from ECHO for making it possible for us to come. And to the woman whose card I’ve lost, who worked so hard to keep things interesting in the Lake Champlain Basin research room. Her name might be Laura. Thanks too, to the unknown skaters who made my students’ day. That was the first time they tried skateboarding. They just might be hooked! The day would not have been the same without you. I’m grateful! #SoGrateful #YES@BHS

YES Day 6: Shelburne Museum

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Shelburne Museum is such a cool place. But it’s really hit-or-miss with our students. They either really dig it, or they think that it’s the most boring thing ever.

And we had a little of both.

The museum, for those of you who’ve not been, is a spot where old buildings have been gathered together to show a bit of the past. There is a carousel that one can ride (now for a fee), a building featuring old-time circuses, an old jail house, a train station, a boat that used to cruise up and down Lake Champlain, a one-room schoolhouse, a sawmill, a collection of toys, a printer, a weaver, a blacksmith, lovely gardens…

It’s a pretty cool place to check out history.

But on a hot day where these things look like just more things, some of our students just wanted to chill under the shade of the trees. The whole Nepali-speaking contingency brought a picnic, as the turkey sandwiches just weren’t cutting it, dietary-wise. They need their hot peppers. Our food tastes like nothing.

But the watermelon I offered up was at least a bit of a bright spot.

After we left a bunch of the girls sitting on picnic tables, we continued to wander around, getting a glimpse of things from the past. For some, it was boring. Walk and look. Walk and look.  But for at least one of our students, it was so interesting. She didn’t want to leave. She was ready to volunteer and stay there the rest of the summer, if we’d let her.

The little rays of sunshine…

YES Day 3: Drop-in, Y tour and GOATS!

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On this day, we showed up to our scheduled tour of the Y half an hour late. It was my fault. I had 10:30 written on the schedule; we were supposed to be there at 10. But Jess Lucas, youth and family coordinator, was understanding.

Before we went to the Y we were doing productive things. We visited a class. One purpose of our course is to introduce students to what options may be open to them when they sign up for YES program next year. Most students who start at BHS are entered as 9th graders. Grade status sometimes changes for these students later as they request records from their home countries. So we just go on the assumption that they will be with us next year.

The rules for YES are that you have to attend (only one absence allowed), and you can’t take a class more than once. So this is the only opportunity anyone will get to take Welcome to Burlington. And if a student arrives during the first half of the year, s/he may not even get one chance. This class is a very exclusive group.

So we popped in on Smellable Art: An Introduction to Making Natural Fragrances, (something I missed most of because of other distractions) and papier maché, where the class was making lizards. We’re going back at the end to see finished projects. But for this first part, BHS art teacher John Mazuzan took a few minutes to chat up our group and talk to them about the projects.

And then I got a phone call asking where we were…

So we went to the Greater Burlington YMCA and got a tour of the facilities. The students were all pretty excited about the pool and the weight room. Some of them even got in some hoop-shooting practice. And we looked at swimming suits.

I have one student who told me when she first came, using all her English, that she really really really wanted to learn how to swim. But as soon as she saw the pool, she said no. And then her sister said no.

As I was trying to understand what was happening, I got an education about what it means to fast if one is Muslim. Fasting is from dawn to dusk. And dawn isn’t the same everywhere. It’s set at Mecca. So my students need to be finished eating at 2:15 a.m., and then they don’t get to eat again until 8:30 p.m. A devout fasting follower cannot consume anything, including water (which is different from the fasting I grew up with in the Catholic church… at least Mom let me have water) during the whole time. And that also means that water cannot enter your eyes or your mouth. And swimming would throw that whole thing off.

The day before, I was talking to these students and they said they could maybe make up a fasting day later when it fit better into their schedule. Their mother had said it would be OK. But my Somali student, who wanted to swim and was ready to fast a different day, said she couldn’t get into the pool if there were boys. So she sat out. But the other two practice differently. Boys in the pool didn’t matter. They were so excited to go.

Until they saw the water.

So I talked to each one separately. One said she didn’t know why. She just didn’t want to . The other said she was not swimming in solidarity with her sister. I said that she was her own person and could swim if she wanted to, and she said she’d think about it.

They were put off a bit by the Western swimsuits we offered. So were the Nepali girls, for that matter. Everybody wanted a birkini. The Y owns several that they loan out, so that was not a problem. And then finally, the student who originally was really excited about swimming–and then did not want to swim–finally said she would be OK with a birkini.

So it was on: Swimming next week.

Back to the school, and then onward to the afternoon.

A few years ago when I started my ExcEL (Excellence for English Learners) class, my partner teacher Suzy King and I were contacted after I wrote a blog post for the Partnership for Change class. The note came from Karen Freudenberger, who started Pine Island Community Farm:

Karen Freudenberger           October 10th, 2014

If you can think of a way to build Pine Island Farm into your program, we’d love to partner with you. I’m thinking, for example, about the possibility of building a basic math curriculum around farm tasks. Another way of tying academic skills to community. You gals rock!


I had no idea what the farm was. Suzy had heard about it, but she wasn’t so crazy about the idea of building a farm into our curriculum. But I always kept that in the back of my mind. Why would Karen think we should bring our students out there?

So, trying desperately this spring to fill our calendar with new, interesting activities that would not cost any money, I checked out the website and read this:

Betsy Ferries will now offer tours of the farm every week during the growing season! Tours will be about one hour and include a history of the farm, a bit about what it means to be a New American, time with Chuda (goat farmer) and Theogene (chicken farmer) to learn more about their process, and a review of the 7-acre community gardens. Bring a picnic, do some birdwatching, and enjoy your time here!

I was put in touch with Betsy and told her what our YES program was all about, how we wanted a tour to get to know the area and possibly to find out about ways students could get community service. She was more than happy to oblige.

We learned that the farm was started because New Americans were having trouble accessing food sources they needed. They collect male goats which used to be killed and thrown out upon birth to raise for a food source. They collect hops from breweries in the area that normally would be thrown out or composted as a food source for the goats, and they provide a place on site for people to slaughter their own goats according to their religious needs. The goat and chicken farming work together in a sort of symbiotic relationship: the goats eating the fields and the chickens going in afterwards to clean up any parasites that might be hanging out after the goats are done in a certain spot. There are gardens, too, that are provided through AALV. They are specifically provided for new immigrants to grow food that they used to eat in their home countries.

All in all, it was a really chilly and wet yet instructive tour. At the end, Betsy asked if we would be open to painting the tool sheds on the gardens with the help of Bonnie Aker, a community volunteer who does everything from tending the grounds of Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler Elementary School to raking and cleaning the curb ways around her Old North End neighborhood.

Of course, we said yes.

So maybe this, too, will blossom into an amazing relationship.

So thank you so much to the teachers who hosted our class, to Jess at the Pomerleau Family Y, and to Betsy at Pine Island Community Farm. Our lives are richer for the experience!

#BHS_YES #SoGrateful


YES Day 2: Focus on art and literature

The weather on day 2 of Year End Studies was really beautiful. So where were we?

Of course.


But I had been able to make contact last year with two amazing people who were really excited about helping my students learn about the area.

In the morning, we met at Burlington City Arts’ Firehouse Gallery to see the exhibit Ready. Fire! Aim. Melinda Johns, who last year took our group in with very little notice, met us this year for a gallery tour and artwork session.

It was so beautiful to see the students learning about art. I asked whether anyone had ever been to a museum, and I was told no. There aren’t many museums in refugee camps and war-torn regions. So it was a new experience. We looked at photography and sculpture, paintings, drawings and realia. We saw an exhibition of a hiding space that used a map and jugs of water, cans of food and beds.

Melinda had taken some time during spring break to walk through the exhibit with me and my younger daughter, so we could talk about what issues we might have bringing students with lower levels of English proficiency.

One of our students arrived at school late. And that can be catastrophic for one’s future free time. If you miss more than one day, you get up to 40 hours community service time added to the 40 hours high school students already must complete as a high school graduation requirement. And it can’t be banked time. It’s new time. So even if you have 140 hours of community service already reported, you would have more time added to your requirements.

So Lal Pradhan, one of our Multilingual Liaisons who works for the district, brought the students to the gallery and then stayed, which was kind of helpful. If you are able to work in your first language, it allows for deeper conversations. Linguistic barriers melt away so that questions can come to the surface.

Against our original plans to mix the group, we put all the Nepali speakers in one group with Lal and all of the others in another group, which consisted of two sets of siblings and the student who has been in the United States the longest. So it kind of worked out.

We had arrived late, hoping we’d pick up the last student and also dealing with room change confusions. Totally our fault. But Melinda took it in stride and we did what we still had time to do. The Nepali-speaking group sped through and got to see the whole museum; my group of mixed-language speakers have a few things to come back to see.

When we were finished looking, we went upstairs to the classroom and made our own art with pieces that were reminiscent of the artwork we had just seen. We had paper and paint, shells and string, magazine photographs and maps, markers and pencils. It was a chance to be creative and to just have some down time. Even though most of them (sadly) left their artwork at the gallery, I thought they made some amazing things. I also found out that a couple of my students know a lot about origami. One made a box and the other was making flowers akin to those cut radishes you find on your plate at really fancy restaurants.

So hats off to BTC’s Firehouse Gallery staff! We had an extraordinary time and most students said they would be back, maybe with a parent in tow.

From Melinda: What a wonderful visit we had yesterday with you, Sara, and your ELL students!  Thank you for including BCA’s gallery education program with your YES program!  We were all so impressed with the students and their language skills exceeded our expectations.  Your work with them is invaluable and your heart is so evident in the work.  What an inspiration they all are.  I look forward to doing more work with you in the future and hope that the students come back in other ways to visit BCA for exhibitions, camps, classes, etc. 

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We had a great time, too!


In the afternoon, we went to Fletcher Free Library to meet with Lisa Buckton. None of my students had been there before, and we got a chance to see the youth center and


learn about some pretty cool programs that are happening this summer, including teens riding bikes with bookshelves on the back to deliver them to areas of town where fewer residents make their way to the Fletcher Free.

We got a tour of the library to see where students could find different kinds of books and resources. And then students all got new library cards.

I feel as though we only got a taste of what Lisa and the library have to offer. I think this needs to be a different opportunity where students actually experience a community service effort in order to see that this is a place where they can find a home outside of home and a place to work on completing their community service hours.

There are so many opportunities for students to work on community service hours there. I hope students make it back over there, especially this summer when it’s hot and there’s nothing better to do. I just remember so many summers I spent at my local library and how that became my one escape…

Next year, I’m sure our time at the library will be better after Lisa and I have a chance to touch base and create something that really speaks to these students. We need something that brings a smile to their faces every time they think about going there.

Thank you Lisa and Fletcher Free Library! You make our community ROCK!

#BHS_YES #SoGrateful


YES Day 1: A bad day for the beach

You know it’s a bad day when almost everything you plan to do outside falls on a day that it’s supposed to rain.

Here’s what our forecast looked like as we were planning for YES, which runs this year from May 31 through June 13:

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 5.14.28 PM

Needless to say, when you want to get your kids outside, all those raindrops and possible thunderstorms are not good news.

So we hoped for good weather. However, the first day was cloudy and wet.

So we started by teaching what they would be doing at the end. Our final presentations will be Animoto video. I should give a shout-out to them, too, as they provide educators with a free account that can be used with students. Their job was to sign on using the logons I had created the night before, take selfies of everybody in the room, then use as many as possible to make a video. You can see the results from a few


of my students here and here and below.

At the end of this adventure, they will take pictures from every venue and make a longer video, focusing on what was most important to them. So to avoid the rain, we did that. And we hoped it would clear up in time for us to go to the beach, where we could have them play some soccer or play on the playground equipment, even though they are a bit old for that.

But it rained.

Because it was rainy, we decided we needed an indoor activity. We have a couple that we had kept on reserve, just for such an occasion. One is Lake Champlain Chocolates, which we did last year, and the other is Vermont Teddy Bear Factory.  Because three of our students are fasting, we thought the Chocolate Factory would just be mean to do. So we called up the teddy bear factory and they were able to offer us a free tour.

We saw how bears were put together. Some of the jokes went over their heads, but we were dry and learned a little about a business that is sort of close to where we live.

So hats off to VTB Factory! We thank you for your generosity!

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#VTTeddyBear #BHS_YES #SoGrateful

Getting into the community with YES

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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