Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Small schools are vital to Vermont communities

The Addison Central School District (ACSD) school board is intending to “consolidate” three small town schools within the district by beginning a “facilities study” to determine which schools are or are not worthy of remaining open. The Ripton Elementary School would be a likely target of these planned school closings. Although the board appears to be focused on which school facilities would save the most money through closure, I argue that there is more to a small Vermont school than just financial considerations. Each small school in Vermont reflects the needs and diversity of the community in which it exists, and offers something unique that can’t be replaced by consolidation. 
What is so special about the Ripton Elementary School? When my children were of elementary school age, I was considering moving to Ripton in large part because of the positive things I had heard about this relatively new school in the heart of the Green Mountain National Forest. I discovered that there was so much more this school offered than I had even expected. My children thrived in the small classrooms that allowed for differentiated instruction, tailored to students’ needs and interests. It was a safe environment where children bonded closely with both peers and adults. The entire school participated in multicultural themes and end-of-the-year theater productions. The school garden was well maintained by both students and community members and the outdoor playground included fields and woods in which students created what would now be termed “maker spaces.” I was also impressed that the school had close access to the Rikert Nordic Ski Center and the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, both of which were regularly integrated into the Ripton School program. The easy access to the outdoor woods provides rich opportunities for environmental education. These opportunities continue today while the school emphasizes IB themes such as:  How can our understanding of one’s self and others help create peace? How do our perspectives affect our actions within the community? 
Without the Ripton School, the community of Ripton would be irreversibly changed. What young families would want to move to Ripton only to have their children bused down a long route to a larger, more distant school in Middlebury? The Ripton population would become an even older population than already exists in our state, with diminished diversity. Community events that bring the town together, such as the famed Ripton Ridge Run, the holiday meals with elders, and the bike for books, would no longer connect the generations. The premise of the district IB necessitates elementary students to consider “who we are in our community.” The ACSD board should be doing all they can to enrich and preserve these small town communities, instead of extinguishing their tenacious vitality.
Although the ACSD board is supposed to represent all towns and schools in the district, it appears that their main concern is about money, and not about the character of our enduring Vermont communities and their children’s sense of belonging.
Michele Fay
Ripton

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