Magic in Winooski, Vermont

I grew up in rural Indiana — employment opportunities were limited to farming and low-paying, low-skilled jobs unless you made the two hour round-trip trek to Indianapolis each day. Few of my schoolmates went to college, and the majority of them had children while I was still an undergraduate. The crystal meth epidemic rocked my community in the 90s, much like the opioid epidemic is running rampant in rural and suburban communities today. I half-joke to friends that there’s a reason a lot of horror stories are based in Indiana. But I also love rural life, which is why I chose to make my home with my husband, dog, three cats, and soon-to-be-born son near Stowe, Vermont in a town called Morristown, population 5,227. There is plenty of magic in places like Morristown, but it’s a quieter and subtler form than you find living in metropolitan areas.

The joyfulness of Winooski students radiates out of this photo from the school district's Twitter feed. Follow @WinooskiLearns for more of the magic.

The joyfulness of Winooski students radiates out of this photo from the school district's Twitter feed. Follow @WinooskiLearns for more of the magic.

So when the opportunity arose for 2Rev to do some work with the kick-butt educators at Winooski School District in Vermont, I was ecstatic. Winooski reminds me a lot of my hometown in Indiana. I understand it well. There’s a lot of economic struggle, multigenerational white poverty, issues with drugs. But it’s also many other things: it’s the state’s largest refugee resettlement city (and in Vermont, which is 96.7 percent white, makes it categorically different than other neighborhoods). There are more than 20 languages spoken at school and students from countries all around the world. Magic. Then there’s the fact that Winooski became the first city in the COUNTRY to adopt mindfulness as part of their community plan. Magic. And the most magical? That the district committed to proficiency-based learning and recreated their portrait of a graduate to truly reflect deeper learning, elevating qualities like persistence and well-being to the same level as core academic competencies, and establishing graduation requirements that ensure that students are well-rounded young people prepared to face an increasingly complex world.

Earlier this fall, Winooski was awarded a grant from the Barr Foundation to multiply its magic by creating a wider ecosystem of learning, profoundly broadening the experiences that middle and high schoolers have so they can become more prepared to live the life they want to lead. The goal of the grant is to partner intentionally with businesses, create early college experiences, grow students’ social capital and networks, and engage the whole city of Winooski in the preparation of students. This work will strategically build upon the incredible foundation that the district has already established for its students by providing powerful opportunities for students to grow and demonstrate the district’s Graduate Expectations through meaningful and authentic engagements in the world.

We are teaming with Winooski throughout this process as their core technical assistance partner, building on the work we have done together over the past 14 months in project-based learning and authentic assessment, as well as the transformative work the district has engaged in over the past seven and a half years. Our learning agenda for this journey is user-driven — change is never done in a vacuum; it’s placed in the journey of what came before and what will come next.

We will be behind Winooski all the way as they blow through the school walls, and think about and create a coherent system where students can demonstrate proficiencies through meaningful and engaging applications in the world. We’re excited to support the realization of this next phase of work to ensure that Winooski students are provided with a truly deep range of choices and have the ability to expand what’s possible for themselves. We’re fired up about the potential to shift responsibility for the preparation of young people away from the shoulders of teachers alone and into a web of rich community partnerships.

One way to look at a place like Winooski is to see kids who are are significantly at risk. Their transience rate is approximately 25 percent. There is significant trauma within the refugee population, and there is real trauma associated with intergenerational poverty and the rampant opioid epidemic. There are significant obstacles to learning, and not all students are performing at the levels they’re capable of. Another way to look at Winooski is to see the tremendous potential in the children, families, and wider community. I am profoundly excited in the potential of this work to create new and powerful opportunities for Winooski’s young people. I believe that despite all of these obstacles Winooski is poised to make a radical change.

Our team will be documenting this work throughout the process. I look forward to sharing more of the magic with you soon.