Unity and camaraderie

The Peoples Academy and Stowe High girls soccer teams gathered on the field in Morrisville with community members on Monday to take a photo together to demonstrate unity and camaraderie after their annual rivalry game. Stowe won the game, 1-0 on a last minute goal.

In the next year, Stowe elementary, middle and high school students will have the opportunity to go on nearly a dozen different overnight field trips. Morristown kids get two.

Elmore students don’t have a cafeteria, and have to bag it four days a week, while volunteers make hot food for the kids once a week.

Last Friday, students at Peoples Academy walked out of school in a global march protesting climate change. Stowe students were told they’d be punished if they did the same.

Just because the state made Morristown, Elmore and Stowe merge into one school district doesn’t mean that the kids in those towns have the same school experience. The question for the foreseeable future, though, is do they have equitable experiences?

“‘Equity’ doesn’t mean ‘same,’” superintendent Tracy Wrend told the newly merged board last week, during its first meeting of the new school year and its fourth meeting ever.

For instance, Wrend said, schools don’t need to count how many minutes of music one school gets compared to another. But the school board will be revisiting questions about equity among the seven schools in the district for a long time to come.

“It’ll be a year-long process for the board,” Wrend said.

Field trips

One striking difference between Stowe and Morristown schools is the list of overnight field trips the school board approved Sept 16.

On the Stowe side, there are 11 trips this year, and those are just the ones where at least one night is spent out of town. Elementary school kids are scheduled to spend the night in the Boston Science Museum next May; the middle school students in foreign language can go to Boston or Montreal; the high schoolers have even more options, including France, China, Costa Rica and Quebec.

On the Morristown side, the fifth-graders will go to Camp Keewaydin. Peoples Academy will bring a group to the Galapagos Islands.

These trips aren’t for everyone — many of them are just for students in specific academic classes. And they don’t include non-school-sanctioned events, like the Morrisville soccer trip to Spain.

The trips are all sanctioned by the school, but the school district doesn’t pay for the kids to go, which could indicate that Stowe parents, in one of the wealthier communities in Vermont, might have a leg up on paying for their kids to travel.

Wrend noted the disparity, saying the school board “might want to bring it up in talks about equity.”

Sometimes, life gets in the way, and trips have to be canceled at the last minute, whether it’s for political unrest in a country or a natural disaster or outbreak of disease, and the likelihood of getting back the money shrinks the closer to the departure date. Karen Cleary, one of three Morristown residents on the school board, is a director of a travel agency, so she will help come up with a policy to address those scenarios.

Getting to know you

Since one board now oversees seven schools in three towns, district staff members want to get acquainted with everyone.

At last week’s meeting, the principals from the district’s three elementary schools gave an overview of what makes their schools tick.

• In the one-room Elmore school, with only 17 students in grades 1-3, Wrend is pulling double duty as that school’s de facto principal.

She said Elmore kindergartners and anyone in fourth grade or higher goes to Morristown Elementary School, but all the supports available in Morristown — special education, school psychologist, English as a second language — are also there for Elmore. But it’s on an “as needed” basis.

The school has one teacher and one para-educator for the 17 kids. A Morristown Elementary Spanish teacher and a guidance counselor come once a week, and the Elmore teacher incorporates art and music into her daily lessons.

Volunteerism is the lifeblood of Elmore. Once a week, kids cross the street to the town hall, where there is a small library set up and a volunteer librarian does readings and checks out books; a parent volunteer provides physical education class twice a week in the town hall; a rotating cast of parents comes in once a week to make hot lunch; and nearby neighbors like “Mrs. Twombley” let the kids visit regularly so she can tell them stories.

• Morristown Elementary School teaches children between kindergarten and 4th grade and enrollment is shaped something like an hourglass: 50 kids in kindergarten, and 55, 44, 41, and 59 kids in, respectively, first through fourth.

Outside the usual reading, writing and arithmetic, the students get regular instruction in art, music, Spanish and library once a week, and gym class twice a week. In addition, there are opportunities for enrichment such as band, student council and the fourth-grade musical. Morristown Elementary also has a homegrown newspaper group with an acronym that would normally make an editor cringe but is downright charming at that age: MEARP, which stands for Morristown Elementary Awesome Reporting Pups.

This pup reference is key to the elementary school’s identity, noted principal Kate Torrey; since the Peoples Academy mascot is the wolf, the pup adds continuity for kids who grow up in the community.

That pack spirit even imbues Morristown’s version of a parent-teacher organization, a label the school shies away from so it can be more inclusive — not every kid lives with a parent, and not every adult has a kid in school. The group is called PUPS, which stands for People United in Promoting School Spirit. The group organizes fun things all year long, from ice cream socials and movie nights to costume bike rides and sledding parties. Torrey said last winter’s sledding party brought out 250 people.

“They have been a real boon to our school,” she said.

Community involvement is big in Morristown, with trips to the fire department, library, senior center, and Oxbow Riverside Park; collaboration with Lamoille County Mental Health and Laraway in Johnson; donations such as eyeglasses for needy children from Morrisville Cares — “There are a lot of generous grandparents out there,” Torrey said.

• Stowe Elementary School principal Nina Slade is brand new to the area, so she’s getting used to her own school and also learning about Morristown and Elmore.

Stowe Elementary has 351 students in preschool and K-5. Most classes have at least 50 students, except second grade, which has 45. The most populous class is fourth grade, with 66 kids.

It has the same breakdown for art, music, Spanish, gym and library classes as Morristown, except some classes get double doses.

Stowe boasts a “nice menu” of extracurricular activities, said Slade. Those include music (chorus, band and the fifth-grade musical); the spring art show at Helen Day Art Center; an annual talent show; a “reading buddies” program, where fifth-graders spend time reading with kindergartners; student council; and the popular Friday Program, where kids can dip out of school and go skiing or riding at Stowe Mountain Resort, among other offerings.

The Stowe PTO also sponsors events, such as chess club, movie nights and an annual wreath and citrus sale during the holidays.

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