Saturday, November 26, 2016

Youth Ambassadors in the Muslim World: The U-32 and YES Abroad Connection

Written by: Karen Liebermann

One student at at time, one year at a time, U32 has been cultivating youth ambassadors in countries with significant Muslim populations.  This is made possible by the Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad Program, an exchange program sponsored by the US Department of State.  YES was started in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, as an effort to increase dialogue and mutual understanding between people of the US and people of countries with significant Muslim populations. Initially, it was a way for students from abroad to live and study in the US, but in 2007, it was expanded to include US students.  Each year, 65 American students win this scholarship to study abroad in a country that has a significant Muslim population, and U32 students have a great record of being selected for this fully funded school year exchange program.  Students can spend their junior, senior or gap years immersed in another culture.  

In 2013-14, Quinn McVeigh (class of 2015) travelled to Oman, making lasting connections with her host family.  In 2014-15, Katie Ware spent her junior year in the  Philippines and Rachael Phillips (class of 2015) spent her senior year in Sarajevo,  Bosnia.  Last year, Kanwara “Pui” Limakara from Thailand, came to U32 on a YES exchange (the program that brings students from countries with significant Muslim populations here to the US).  

On exchange currently, in Dakar, Senegal, is Cricket Liebermann. Cricket has been in Senegal since September 1st and will return in June of 2017.  She’s in school at the Senegalese American Bilingual School in Dakar, and is getting involved in the community, playing softball on the school team and taking dance classes.  Of this experience so far, Cricket says

“Having the chance to study abroad in Senegal has made me grow in so many ways.  Just over two months ago, I arrived in Dakar and everyday since then I have been learning, exploring, meeting new people, immersing myself in the culture.  I can say for sure that exchange has changed the way I see and interpret so many things. It is truly a life changing experience.”

Cricket is blogging about her experience this year through and is happy to answer any questions about what its like to apply, and to be on exchange through this program.

Think you might be the next U32 ambassador?  Check out the YES Abroad website  ( for application information.  The deadline for applying for the 2017-18 year is December 1st, 2016.  This year’s students are abroad in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, the Philippines, Senegal, and Thailand.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Geology & Central Vermont Culture Ninth Grade Field Trip

Written by & photos by: Brian Albee & Alison Gauthier

How does the Geology of Central VT affect the people who live here?
In turn, how do the people affect the landscape and rock formations of this area?

On October 28, 2016, the Ninth Grade student body traveled around Central Vermont in search of our local Geology and Culture. Learners were on three buses that traveled to Rock of Ages (Graniteville), Hope Cemetery (Barre) and an Old Slate Quarry (Northfield).
  • The Earth Science objective for this trip was: I will be able to create a unique model about a geological product found in Central Vermont.
  • The Global Studies objective for this trip was: I will be able to discuss/understand the relationship between humans and the geological features of this area.

Due to the rainy and snowy weather, each bus had a unique experience at each of the locations. The following summaries reflect what most of the buses (and their learners) saw and were exposed to.

At Rock of Ages, learners saw the Smith quarry and received some information about how the granite arrived in that location (Geology) and how the rock is extracted. Then learners saw the fabricating shop where the employees were hard-at-work making gravestones and sculptures. Some of the learners went into the Rock of Ages information center to watch a video about the history of the granite industry in Central VT and how the granite was formed. Each left with a sample of granite from the fabricating shop. Here are some quotes about the Rock of Ages experience from the learners:

“This was the place where we were closest to the actual important implementation of granite in our industry. Very in the moment and real learning. Also looked really cool.”

“I liked seeing the workers make the headstones”

“Rock of ages has a lot of different information about the granite and we also got to go into the area of where they cut the granite and they shape it and they also put letters on the stone and a bunch of other things, we also got to keep a piece of granite that was probably broken off of the stone that they carved.”

“It was really cool to see the snow covered piles of rocks, and look down into the quarry.”

“I felt like everything was right in front of me, so I could visualise the rocks being formed. And with the surroundings of the quarry, I could put the pieces together, like if granite was an intrusive or extrusive igneous rock.”

At the Hope Cemetery, learners had a tour by a phenomenal volunteer from the Barre Historical Society. She explained the history of Barre granite and the people that worked here; their stories, trials and tribulations. She explained the impact of the Spanish Flu in Central VT and pointed out notable gravestones and mausoleums. Here are some things that the learners said regarding the Hope Cemetery:

“The guide was very entertaining and kept me engaged in what she was telling us”

“I liked learning things at Hope Cemetery because it was about social studies and the stories we learned were interesting.”

“It was a nice place to be! I liked seeing the different headstones, and it was just in general a calm and pretty place.”

“It was cool to learn about the different stories behind each stone.”

“I liked to learn there because it was interesting to learn about the stories of how the stones came to be and connecting it back to the pros and cons of being a worker in granite quarries.”

“I loved hearing about all the stories, that happened before I was born.”


In Northfield, learners visited the Old Slate Quarry. The tour at this location was led by the head of the Geology department at Norwich University. He explained the history of the slate/phyllite in Central VT and how it originally formed. He went into depth about the Geological processes that occurred to form the rock, and then how it came to be in Central VT (actual original rock was formed thousands of miles away). Here are some quotes from learners related to the Old Slate Quarry:

“I like it because It was partially hands on and there was the visual aspect of seeing the rock layers in the ground vertically was really helpful”

“We were able to see a quarry in person, and we were able to interact, and see and identify different rocks. We also got to see a lot of landscaping from where we were, and from when we were hiking up to it.”

“I learned about how the rocks in the Quarry were made from the pressure of the tectonic plates.”

“The college professor was very informative about the place and how it related to the unit we are doing.”

“It was interesting seeing the quarry and what type of rock was in there.”


Monday, November 14, 2016

MS Restorative Practice Training

One of the goals of the U-32 Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP) is:
Create a safe, caring learning community where all stakeholders are respected.

U-32 strives to create an organization where all stakeholders in the school, including students, staff and families are valued, communication is clear, decision-making is transparent and all members of the U-32 community are safe and respected.

One of the methods we've identified for building that community is using Restorative Practices. Over the past few years many of our staff have been trained in Restorative Practices through the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) out of Bethlehem, PA. School Counselors, Scott Harris and Ellen Cooke as well as Assistant Principal, Jody Emerson, have been trained to facilitate Restorative Practices training for IIRP. To date Scott, Ellen and Jody have trained over 40 staff members and last week, trained over 20 middle school TA representatives in empathy and proactive circles - with the goal of training students to help facilitate circles within their TA groups and to develop student voice. This training was the first of many student trainings.

Students learned about the connections they had with other middle school TA Reps and developed their capacity to collaborate through the tarp challenge (also known as the Magic Carpet).  With over 20 students on the tarp, they were able to flip it in less than 15 minutes with a number of interesting ideas, all of which were tested!

Students spent a day learning about empathy, affects and methods of facilitating proactive circles - sequential, non-sequential and fishbowl!

At the close of the training, students provided feedback to the facilitators - Scott Harris and Jody Emerson - regarding what went well...

 and what could be improved....

Monday, November 7, 2016

Middle School Bulletin Boards

How do you know you are in the middle school?  

There are always lots of great bulletin boards, be they inspirational or educational, like this one welcoming you to the middle school:

You know you are near the Spanish classroom when you arrive at this display:

You get a gist of what COREs and TAs talked with students about at the beginning of the school year from these boards:

You can see that the Visual Arts students have explored and experimented in numerous techniques in acrylic painting in order to create their own representation of how color exists in space.

You can learn about our students from their poems about themselves (not pictured here) or the books they are reading...

We even get a glimpse of what they might have learned in recent classes - science for instance:

And we know fundraising is going strong for the annual 8th grade trip to Washington, DC.

A walk through the U-32 Middle School can brighten the darkest day!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Proficiency Based Learning Triangle

As U-32 began the move toward Proficiency Based Learning - an expectation of the Vermont Agency of Education (VT AOE) - many of our educators took part in conferences put on by the League of Innovative Schools and the Great Schools Partnership to develop their understanding of this shift in education.  When we began discussing the components of proficiency based learning, we used a graphic provided by the Great Schools Partnership.  With the support of Bill Kimball, Superintendent, and Jennifer Miller-Arsenault, Director of Curriculum and Assessment, at the Washington Central Supervisory Union (WCSU), we have adapted that graphic in order to help bring clarity to some of the words that are being used daily within our own school community.

It's important to think of the overall structure.

At the very top, the WCSU Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) adopted by all of the boards throughout the district are what students will need to know and be able to do in order to graduate from U-32.

The SLOs have been supported by the development of content standards (by each department) and transferable skills (defined by a workgroup over the last two years).  That group included teachers, administrators, parents, students and a community member.  The group used the SLOs, along with the previously developed U-32 Core Values and Beliefs, samples provided by the VT AOE, AND feedback from the full faculty during the development process.

Performance indicators have been developed by district curriculum committees, departments and work groups over the past year and continue to be refined as teachers align their curriculum and assessments to ensure students are learning the expected content and demonstrating the skills identified as necessary for graduation.

In their day to day work, teachers support student learning by communicating clear learning targets and providing rubrics, or scales, that allow students to understand what, and why, they are learning.   Teachers also provide students with on-going feedback about their learning, and where they are in regards to demonstrating that they are meeting specific performance indicators.  Through this collaboration, teachers support students as they work toward meeting the required standards.

Much of this work represents a shift in education; school is no longer the factory model many of us remember and we are all at different levels of understanding and practice in this transition.  It is an exciting time to work in Vermont schools and only time will tell what additional changes this work will bring.