News & updates
News & updates
Boston Trip Turns RUHS Students Into U.S. Senators—for a Day
Courtesy of The Herald, April 4, 2019
by Sandy Vondrasek
A busload of Randolph Union High School students had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a U.S. senator for a day, last week, during Vermont Day at the The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston.
Along with peers from three other Vermont high schools, the students started the day with a video conference call with Sen. Bernie Sanders, broadcast in the institute’s full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chamber. Later in the day, students participated in the institute’s nationally recognized, Senate immersion module program, during which they debated the merits of amendments to the Agricultural Act of 2014, better known as the Farm Bill. Before heading back home, the students passed the legislation by a vote of 67-15.
According to a press release from the Kennedy Institute, Sen. Sanders stated that the institute “doesn’t just give students a better understanding about how the Senate works, it also helps them to think critically and debate really big issues in a respectful and civil manner.”
Tev Kelman, a U.S. history teacher at RUHS, and one of three teachers accompanying students on the day trip, said the institute delivered that understanding, by focusing on “learning by doing, not by hearing.”
RUHS junior Joseph Dingledine said the immersion module started with each student being assigned “a personality” and party affiliation. Dingledine was a Republican senator from Alabama, for example; senior Brandon Ryan was a Democratic senator from Minnesota. All “senators” were provided information on their respective states’ and parties’ priorities.
Emily Therrien, who teaches AP U.S. History at RUHS, explained that students were required to advocate for or against proposed amendments to the Farm Bill. They attended a series of meetings throughout the 2.5-hour simulation— first with their respective committees, then in party caucuses, and finally gathered on the floor, to vote on the bill.
“We had to write speeches for amendments that our party wanted to add to the bill,” noted Dingledine. “Sometime we were just writing a speech to bash the other party’s amendment, to make it seem as unimportant and useless as possible.”
The trickiest part, he added, was when the priorities of his state and party were at odds.
“I had to choose whether to support my party or my state.” he said. “In that situation, I was pressured into supporting the party, as opposed to what my constituents would want.”
Ryan, who is in Therrien’s AP class, said he found this “crisscrossing” between state and party priorities a useful exercise in exploring the “gray areas” in issues.
“I was surprised at how many compromises we had to make,” commented RUHS student John Blaisdell. “Because I was playing a Republican senator, a lot of our amendments proposed were totally opposite of what the Democratic senators were wanting,” he said.
Not all of the RUHS students on last week’s trip were U.S history students. Teacher and drama director Brian Rainville accompanied several students who had been part of a student production of a play about the Kennedy family last year.
RUHS Program Puts Focus on Racism
‘Black Lives Matter’ Flag Raised at H.S.
Courtesy of The Herald, Jan 24, 2019
By Zoe Newmarco
A group of Randolph Union High School students known as the Racial Justice Alliance proudly displayed the Black Lives Matter flag in front of the entire student body as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly. The alliance, which formed as part of a project based learning initiative at the high school, sent a proposal to administrators on January 4, asking to raise the flag. On January 10 Principal Elijah Hawkes and Associate Principal Caty Sutton approved the students’ proposal to fly the flag in front of the high school.
During the assembly Hawkes noted that he had twice before denied requests to hang the flag at the school, because he believed more communication with the full school community about the flag was necessary before making a decision.
In the written proposal, students in the racial justice alliance outlined the history of the Black Lives Matter movement, the name of which began as a hashtag on Twitter after the death of high school student Trayvon Martin, unarmed 17-year-old African- American who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watchman in 2012.
Noting that more than 95 percent of Randolph community members are classified as white, students wrote “as a school community we feel the need to speak up for the less than 5 percent who feel like they don’t have a voice, or like they aren’t represented in our school … in raising [the flag] we can show support for students of color.”
Making the Proposal
The idea of raising the Black Lives Matter flag at the high school was first brought up last year, when Booska mentioned the idea in front of the school community. At the time, Hawkes denied the proposal, asking for more students to be involved in the decision.
Booska said he had challenged administrators and students to raise the flag for the beginning of the school year.
“That didn’t happen, obviously,” said Booska, “but it did start the biggest conversation we’ve ever had about race issues in Randolph, I believe.”
Booska noted that Montpelier High School was the first public school in the nation to fly the Black Lives Matter flag, and RUHS is now among only a handful of schools that have opted to fly the flag, as well.
Twelfth grade student Brandon Ryan noted that “it’s very hard to talk about systemic racism in such a white state.”
Ryan explained that even though raising the flag is not intended as a threat to white people, it can sometimes be interpreted as such.
Senior James Grandy said that raising the flag “does feel like an accomplishment. We’ve worked so hard—It’s taken us half the school year to raise the flag.”
Booska and Grandy explained that earlier in the school year the racial justice alliance distributed an optional survey to the student body asking whether students were familiar with the Black Lives Matter movement, its history, and whether the students wanted to see a Black Lives Matter flag raised at the school.
Booska estimated that the alliance received more than 170 responses. Overall, he explained, most of the comments reflected that many students knew little about the Black Lives Matter movement, but were interested in learning more.
Grandy explained that after compiling the results of the survey, the group decided to visit each grade and share information about the movement’s history, and why the alliance felt raising the flag was an important action to take.
Noting that for the most part the students, staff, and faculty have seemed overwhelmingly supportive of the racial justice alliance efforts, Grandy hopes that support will turn into more action.
Wood said going forward he hopes the community will continue to discuss issues of racism with people who have different perspectives on the issue.
“When we talk about it, when we have civil discussions, we can really get something done,” said Wood.
Cadow Recognized for Effort, Excellence
RU’s Director of Career Pathways and Workforce Development, Ken Cadow, was recognized in a surprise and well-attended award ceremony this week by his peers and members of the Vermont Business Roundtable.
In presenting Ken with the 2018 New Medallion Award, Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss noted his many outstanding – and creative – efforts towards helping students understand and pursue areas of work and study that are of interest to them and important to the State.
“For more than twenty years,” Ventriss said, “the Roundtable has formally recognized and celebrated strong school leaders and inspired faculty members who help to improve students’ educational experience; launch their future aspirations; and provide them with the preparation they need for success in either college or a career. The New Medallion Award recognizes excellence, passion, dedication, and innovation in the design and delivery of proficiency-based learning experiences for students.”
“You should also know,” she added, “that out of all the nominations we received for this award from across the state, the vote of the Roundtable was unanimous: the award is going to Ken Cadow.”
The award included a monetary prize of $5,000, which Cadow noted will be applied to the various programs he is overseeing. “This money will go a long way towards supporting our programs,” he said, “and we are very, very grateful.”
Ventriss was joined at the podium by Roundtable colleagues Sherra Bourget, Patrick Leduc, and Chris Loso.
The Vermont Business Roundtable is a statewide organization of chief executive officers representing a diversity of economic sectors and geographic regions. The Roundtable is committed to sustaining a sound economy and preserving Vermont’s unique quality of life by studying and making recommendations on state wide public policy issues. You can visit their website at www.vtroundtable.org.
Project-Based Learning Students Work To Help Veterans’ Place
On Wednesday, Dec. 19, seven Randolph Union High School students, plus teacher Scott Sorrell and the school’s director of project-based learning, Lisa Floyd, traveled to the Veterans’ Place in Northfield, to deliver items that Sorrell’s Project Based Learning Challenge (Interact) had collected. Items included clothing, food, toiletries and other necessities.
According to Floyd, the Veterans’ Place is approaching its 10th anniversary, and has helped more than 350 homeless vets get back on their feet after serving their country. The site offers not only a place to call home, but also food, support navigating all of the paperwork that people need to deal with in order to receive benefits, and most importantly, companionship.
Veterans’ Place Director Karen Boyce told students she tries to prepare the veterans for the gifts of gratitude that will pour in over the holidays, but it is hard for them to imagine until they are there. She took the students on a tour of the home.
The building, she noted, was “originally built as a residence, then it became the town hospital, and finally, once Central Vermont Medical Center was built, a nursing home. Then when Mayo opened up, the nursing home closed and the building was empty for a few years, until the board of directors decided to make it into the Veterans’ Place.”
Students asked about whether the home offers services to female veterans. The answer was no, since there is not as much need, and because regulations about how the site would have to operate would be costly to implement.
For the last few years, former Interact student Kayla Ball, now a freshman at Northern Vermont University, Johnson campus, began collecting goods for the Veterans’ Place. This year, Rachel Davis, a Randolph Union senior, picked up where Ball left off, and doubled the amount of goods donated.
RTCC Jumps In
The collection boxes Davis distributed throughout the high school inspired counselor Colin Andrzejczyk and Jason Finley, the co-op coordinator at Randolph Technical Career Center, to get involved. Andrzejczyk and Finley began a group called Food For Thought (FFT) at RTCC. (See related story on the RTCC web page)
“We did this to address food insecurity in the local community, but also to raise awareness about need,” said Finley, who emphasized that the program is funded entirely by donation.
“It’s about community money and effort supporting a community need,” Andrzejczyk said. “Donations come in from current and former staff of the Orange Southwest School District, GW Plastics, Rotary, and American Legion Post 9— and Shaw’s helps with the discounts that they give us.”
In total, FFT put together 25 bags of food and toiletries, which the Interact students presented to the Veterans’ Place.
Palestinian Exchange Student ‘Open to the Whole Picture’ at RU
Courtesy of The Herald, October 25, 2018
By Cecile Smith
Seventeen-year-old Salma Asleh of Arraba, Israel is one of the new faces among RUHS’ class of 2019. A recipient of the prestigious State Department-sponsored Kennedy- Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) scholarship, Asleh said she has arrived to Randolph “very open to the full picture.” The YES program facilitates cross-cultural high school exchanges between the United States and a host of countries with significant Muslim populations.
When asked how her hometown, a mostly Palestinian community of 25,000, compares with Randolph, Asleh paused before pointing out that there are many more lakes in this area than in hers. It’s also colder here, she said matter-of-factly. So far, she said in her nearly perfect English accent, it has been hard for her to “pinpoint” how Vermonters are different from her compatriots. Cuisine, however, is an area of greater clarity, and Asleh noted that
“Middle Eastern food uses a lot of spice and seasoning, which is not very much used here. It’s a lot of strong flavors.”
Unlike in the U.S., lunch is the main meal of the day and the occasional family barbecue is a cause of much excitement, she said. Family, overall, is a key component of Asleh’s culture and in her free time she is often with her parents and siblings.
The youngest of four siblings, Asleh stands out in not wanting to pursue a career in the sciences—her sister and brother are physicians, and her other sister is studying electrical engineering in Tel Aviv. Despite being enrolled, like most of her schoolmates, in primarily science and math courses in Arraba, the soft-spoken young woman’s eyes light up when she talks about her passion, the violin, and her goal to enter a conservatory in Europe.
While she is in Vermont, Asleh takes weekly lessons in Montpelier under a Montreal-based violinist. Her international learning experiences, however, go way back—several years ago she and a few peers traveled to Bangkok, Thailand to participate in the World Scholar’s Cup.
Back home, the teenager enjoys her own area’s rich cultural history, her family’s picnics in the countryside, and visits to Jerusalem, a two-hour drive away, to visit historic sites and to pray at the mosque. Although her town is predominantly Muslim, Asleh explained that intermarriages between Muslim and Jewish people are not totally uncommon.
While Israeli-Palestinian affairs are rife with violence, in the northern part of Israel, where Asleh is from, she said she has experienced very little of the pressure and political tension felt more strongly in Gaza and the West Bank. “I kind of feel bad to say it,” she said, “but I’m kind of lucky where I live, because it’s not the main focus of conflicts.
“It’s just the political side of it that’s really bad,” she continued, citing examples of people in the West Bank who may have “never talked to a Jewish person, or never seen one, or interacted with one, which makes things a little bit more intense. [There are] people on each side very much preoccupied with all of these ideas about the other side or person.”
Here in the U.S., the observant exchange student has had the opportunity to learn more about her own culture in addition to this one, she said. Roadtrips to Rochester, N.Y., and to Pennsylvania have seen Asleh engage in many thought-provoking conversations with her host mother, Melissa Scalera, she said. Often, the former will have to turn to the World Wide Web in order to clarify a point about Palestinian history or politics.
One of her main goals for her time in Randolph is to develop more self-confidence and to form lasting relationships. Asleh is well on her way to both.
German Students Visit RUHS/RTCC
Ten students from the port city of Cuxhaven, located in the Lower Saxony region of Germany at the edge of the North Sea, will be spending the next ten days exploring Vermont, attending classes at RUHS and RTCC, and renewing ties with friends in the Randolph area.
The exchange, initiated by Vermont Technical College over a decae ago, has become an annual tradition with students from both countries taking turns visiting each other’s schools and learning about the educational and career opportunities both provide. When VTC eliminated the program in 2012, RUHS saw it as a chance not only to continue a longstanding relationship, but also as an opportunity to broaden its students’ knowledge of and interest in European cultures.
“This year,” according to teachers Deb Lary and Dot Goulet who are coordinating the trip, “the German students will be visiting the Vermont State House, taking a tour of Vermont Technical College, and visiting various tourist and cultural sites around Central Vermont, including Ben and Jerrys, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, the Green Mountain National Forest, as well as a number of local attractions, such as Eaton’s Sugar House, Quechee Gorge, and VINS. When they’re not on the road, the students will be spending time with their host families and shadowing RUHS and RTCC students.”
According to their chaperones, the German students are also very excited to be able to spend time in Boston and New York City on either end of their trip. A closing pot luck dinner and ceremony will be held on Tuesday evening, October 2 at the Brookfield Town Hall (by the floating bridge) at 6:45 pm. Former host students and families are welcome and encouraged to come.
First RU Summer Institute Success!
From July 9th through 20th, twelve 7th and 8th graders participated in the first RU Summer Institute, organized by RU 7th grade science teacher, Kerry Hazard and led with support from Media Specialist Michelle Holder and Cathy Ingalls. Generously funded by a grant from the State of Vermont, the sessions took place during two sunny weeks in which students normally are on vacation.
“We invited 22 students to join us this summer,” Hazard said, “and about twelve showed up. I think some were a little leery at first, a little shy, but it didn’t take long for them not only to settle in, but to start having fun. They participated in hands-on learning experiences, learned strategies about working coorperatively through team building exercises, prepared and shopped for meals, gathered data, practiced digital documentation skills, and even built amazing bat houses.”
“The experience was completely unique,” said Michelle Holder, Director of RU’s Media Center. “It wasn’t camp, and it certainly wasn’t a traditional summer school. Really, you could say the students created their own kind of learning environment. We’d do some activities around a particular topic, farms for example. Then we’d take a road trip down to the farm. There we’d learn not only about caring for animals and the land, but the financial aspect of running a farm as well. That, in turn, led to students connecting math skills with everyday activities. All in all, it was a very practical way of learning through doing.”
“The academic work focused on literacy, math and science as it related to the environment and projects in the community,” Hazard said.
“There were also a variety of fun field trips. Students learned about invasive species, animals, and helping the environment through visits to local woodland areas, the Ayers Brook Goat Farm, the White River National Fish Hatchery, and the ECHO museum in Burlington. Through these visits, students learned the importance and application of math and science in the world around them. Whether it was shopping for our week’s groceries, or learning about which goats will produce the most milk, it was clear that math in school has practical and important applications.”
“What we hoped,” she said, “was that we could give the students a better mindset for learning. That nearly all of them asked if they could come back next summer made us feel we’d made some progress in that direction.”
“In keeping with our transition to proficiency based instruction and assessment,” Holder said, “throughout the two weeks, students were also engaged in using social and transferable skills that will help them as they move into the next grade level. Days ended with students reflecting in their own personalized blog. Each Friday, we celebrated the week’s accomplishments.”
According to Hazard, she’d like to see the institute become an annual event, and possible expand it down to the 6th grade. In the meantime, by all accounts RU’s first Summer Institute was a huge success.