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Aurora School closes, but might soon reopen as learning center

MIDDLEBURY — For the first time in more than 20 years, Middlebury’s Aurora School did not open its doors to students this month. Declining enrollment made it financially impossible to continue its K-8 programming. But Aurora leaders are in the process of reimagining the school’s mission in a manner that could soon bring hungry minds back to 238 Peterson Terrace.
School officials are in the midst of a $25,000 fundraising campaign to relieve some debt and bolster three future offerings at the now-dormant Aurora headquarters: After-school programming, summer/vacation camps and a new learning center open to home schooling families or other freelance educational efforts.
“I am very excited,” Aurora School co-founder and Director Emerita Susan Vigne said of the makeover-on-progress. “The way I’m looking at it is ‘new growth from an old root.’ This feels like a nice outgrowth of 21 years of the Aurora School.”
After helping plant the seeds of the Aurora School, Vigne doesn’t want to see it wither away after gaining an enthusiastic following and great reputation for innovative teaching tailored to individual students. Things looked bleak this past spring when enrollment projections for the 2017-2018 academic year were simply too low to keep the school doors open. The Aurora School can accommodate up to 30 students, and was drawing that many as recently as the 2015-2016 year and added middle school (grades 7 and 8) curriculum four years ago to meet growing demand. But enrollment dropped to 18 last year, mirroring a statewide trend as Vermont’s population continues to gray.
Vigne moved from Addison County to northern New Hampshire three years ago when her husband, Greg, became pastor of Whitefield Community Baptist Church. But she has continued her association with Aurora School as a part-time educator and leader. She heads up a very active school board that wants to preserve Aurora’s mission and perhaps open the campus once again to K-8 students.
But in the meantime, officials want to keep the school campus as active and viable as possible. To that end, plans call for Aurora School to offer afterschool programing before the end of this month, beginning with “Girls’ Circle.” It’s a nature-based self-awareness and group-building program for girls ages 11-14. Also in the works are chess club and music activities.
The Aurora School board has hired Katie McMurray to develop programming, and longtime volunteer and booster Parker “Monty” Montgomery is assisting, according to Vigne.
Aurora has held some very successful summer and vacation camps, and plans call for those to continue.
The school has accumulated some nice educational resources through the years, and officials want to make sure they aren’t wasted. There are computers, library books and bins of resource material on such topics as electro-magnetism, mathematics and Lake Champlain. This equipment and material will be made available as part of the new Aurora Learning Center.
“Addison County homeschoolers are very excited about the possibilities,” Vigne said.
Fortunately, the school already has a sporadic user lined up for some of its space: The Middlebury Community Music Center, which will occasionally uses Aurora space for music classes and private lessons, according to Vigne.
School officials want to keep rental fees low at 238 Peterson Terrace; hence the $25,000 fund drive that is currently unfolding on the “youcaring” website, at tinyurl.com/yae3fl4c. As of Tuesday, the Aurora campaign had raised $16,813 from a combined total of 54 donors. Montgomery has emerged as a major donor in the fund drive.
“There’s no independent school that meets its budget exclusively through tuition,” Vigne said of the ongoing need to  raise funds.
More updates about the Aurora School will be posted at auroraschoolvt.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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