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The community partner who we were unable to connect with on the day we went to the skatepark was Zack Engler, who works with Chill Burlington. This organization makes it possible for kids who normally don’t get exposure to board sports (skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, stand-up paddleboarding) an opportunity to get out and try. They provide the training and the equipment; all the students have to do is show up with a responsible adult.

This program is run through community partners, such as King Street Center. There has to be one adult for every five students who wish to participate, so volunteerism is extremely important. They also are the beneficiaries of several fundraisers, including the Color Run that takes place in the fall.

It’s not often that you see Nepalis or Somalis or Iraqis at the skatepark or on the slopes. Particularly if they are newly resettled refugees. So I wanted to give my students a chance to hear about it. And after my boys finagled their way into borrowing a skateboard the day that Zack and I misconnected, one of them kept asking about lessons and when they could take them.

Zack felt so bad about not making it the day we were at the waterfront that he wanted to come by the school and talk to students. And he brought presents. They all were recipients of t-shirts, and those who had the right sized feet got some skating shoes. He told us all about the program, and Zack and I made plans to reconnect in the fall. We have three students who really want to jump on a board. I bet anything there will be more. Thank you, Zack!

Then we went over to see the drumming class and got a quick lesson on beating on the drums after a short demonstration of students’ newfound percussion skills. These quick dips into other programs lets students know what was on the Year End Studies menu this year and what they might be interested in signing up for next year. So Matt Yu, a BHS math teacher, was up for helping us widen our students’ knowledge base!

Shortly thereafter, we went back to art teacher John Mazuzan‘s YES class, where students were just finishing up their papier mache lizards that we had visited early in the process. Most of his participants were out photographing their final products. But we did get to see a few students’ work.

We all piled in the car shortly after that and went to my partner teacher’s house in Jeffersonville. It’s about 45 minutes from the school, and students get to see quite a bit of the county where we live. It’s up in the mountains, on country roads that feel a bit like rollercoasters at some points.

We had lunch (most brought their own) and watermelon and jumped on the trampoline. After we finished, we headed down to a covered bridge on a river, where we waded, took selfies and threw rocks. Simple pleasures.

It’s days like these that make me think that the love part of the love/hate relationship with the YES program should win out. We’re nearly finished, the students are mostly having fun, and they’ve been exposed to things they didn’t know existed in this area. I get so conflicted because there is a whole lot of good that comes from this. And yet I still find myself dreading this time of year…

But I’d just like to give a huge shoutout again to Zack Engler, Matt Yu and John Mazuzan. You help make our days a little brighter!

#YES@BHS #SoGrateful

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#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

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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…

The day of reckoning had come.

How many students would swim? A few days before there had been drama, as emphatic yeses turned to absolute nos, and body image got the better of some.

Turns out, just about everybody! We had two students move over the weekend. One decided to stay home to prepare for her sister’s 10th birthday. But the sisters regained their nerve. And we only had one abstain because her faith does not allow her to swim with mixed genders.

We learned about water safety, things like not running at the pool, not diving, not holding your breath. We learned a few strokes, and we just hung out, getting used to being in the water.

The issue was raised about using swimming as a Physical Education credit. And we’re looking into that. It may be a lot more pleasant spending 90 hours swimming than landing directly from a sub-tropical climate and then learning how to cross-country ski or snowshoe. I can’t even imagine…

Each student got an awesome certificate and day pass for the Y. And we left with hopes of creating something new. Thank you Jess Lucas and everybody at the Pomerleau Y.

In the afternoon, we visited some classes, including knitting (which changed classrooms with us because they couldn’t stand the zombie slaughter movies next door), crafts, sewing, photography and African dance.

I hear tell that snapchat had video of me boogying down with these girls… I’d like to thank all the teachers who let us sneak in, and for the ones who let us play along.

And a special thanks to Jess. This was truly an amazing day.

#YES@BHS #SoGrateful


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So Monday was the one day where I had difficulties getting anything scheduled. So we were holding out again for good weather. Maybe today would be the day to play at the beach.

Um, no. No such luck…

So we decided that today we would again visit other classes to see what offerings might be on the menu for next year. And then try for outside later.

We walked down to the bike path to see one of the exercise stations. It was newly refurbished last winter. And now there’s new reasons to bike down to the waterfront. We got to talk about camping and point at the beach, but we didn’t get much farther than that. No sandy toes for me.

After that, we checked out the gardening group with Brian Williams. They are doing some work up at Rock Point. Mosquitos were thick! Brian took a few minutes to talk to us about the farm to school program and about working in different gardens around the community. They were working at putting in raised beds and had beautified the school’s gardens a few days earlier.

In the afternoon, we went to my neck of the woods, stopping in at Salmon Run, where we took the path down to the water, despite the sprinkles of rain. Then we walked across the river and saw Winooski’s nature path.

Because mosquitos were not our friends, we didn’t venture in too much. But we were there long enough to see a couple of places that might be nice for a picnic later in the season.

My thanks to Brian for letting us come see your class, and to Rock Point, for letting us use your restrooms and play on the swing.

#BHS_YES #SoGrateful

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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


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


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