Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Rural schools add to town’s fabric

In 1989 I was hired to teach a multiage 4th-6th grade class at Lincoln Community School. Though I live in Bristol, Lincoln became my community for the next twenty-five years.
A number of us were new to LCS when I came on board. Over time, our evolving staff formed a cohesive working relationship with an effective means of collaboration. We designed an innovative multiage curriculum, incorporating local experts and the rich natural resources of Lincoln. The school and community thrived.
The community aspect of LCS has grown stronger over the years. Friday morning whole-school assemblies are widely attended by folks on their way to work. Students independently present a sample of their learning each week in the form of poetry, journal entries, dance, song and drama. During the course of the year, each student is publicly commended at assembly for using their mind well in a particular way. Students learn how they are part of a greater whole, supporting and appreciating each other.
Other community events occur throughout the school year. The fall harvest festival shares the bounty of summer gardens. All-school hike day celebrates the natural beauty of our area. Students and staff decorate the multipurpose room for the Thanksgiving luncheon, at which students sit with family, mentors and friends of all ages. Class performances, the annual culture celebration, reader’s theater, and the spring festival are further opportunities for students to share their learning in an innovative way while giving back to their community.
A volunteer appreciation breakfast prepared by all LCS staff honors the many people who donate their time to support students. Field days, the whole-school picnic, the first grade boat race in the New Haven River and sixth grade promotion at Burnham Hall are grand finale events each year, all creating a buzz around town and wide participation.
The closeness of Lincoln residents to their school is apparent. Most volunteers and many staff members live in the community. Students often have a relative who attended or is employed at LCS; former students sometimes return to the school for a stint as a volunteer or employee. The firemen who present to students on Fire Safety Day are generally either former students, the parent of a current or former student, or both. And they’re the same folks who toss burgers at the school picnic.
Although I have described the small school I know better than any other, each Vermont town values its school and the young people who pass through it on their way to becoming contributing citizens. Each community school carries its own stories.
At sixth grade promotion each year, Lincoln students stand onstage in front of a packed audience at Burnham Hall and offer reflections on their school experience to a group of people who have known them since infancy and who celebrate their every word and achievement. During this event, the love for the town’s young people is as palpable as the scent of the freshly cut flowers from friends’ and families’ gardens decorating the hall. After the ceremony, sixth graders are carried back to the festivities at school in a hay wagon, younger students running and biking alongside them as parents wave tearfully.
These traditions and connections are the threads that knit the members of a community together and hold us accountable to each other, qualities lacking in many places in our country. We do not want to lose them here in Addison County. Any real solution to the challenge of education funding will honor and include our local communities.

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