Saturday, March 10, 2018

Safety First! Driving and Parking Less for Champlain Parents/Guardians

Nearly every day, safety concerns about Champlain’s morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times arise. Parking spaces hardly suffice for employees, much less for parents, and cars park every which way during the busiest times of 7:45-8:15 AM and 2:40-3:00 PM. The more cars entering our campus, the more dangerous for children and risky for drivers this becomes. We need to greatly reduce the number of cars entering Champlain’s parking lot now.

The Burlington School District Property Services Department recognizes this ongoing problem and, working with engineers and a traffic consultant, has proposed long-term solutions for constructing a designated drop-off area separate from the parking lot. A timeline for this road construction project has yet to be established. Until these design improvements are made, Property Services Director Marty Spaulding and I recommend the following ways to improve safety during the high-traffic times of 7:45-8:15 AM and 2:40-3:00 PM:

* All parents dropping off or picking up their children by car should stop on Pine Street or another location off campus. They should not enter the Champlain parking lot.

* Do not park and leave your car. Instead drop off your child(ren) on Pine Street so they walk directly into the school building. A Champlain staff member will be outside to help monitor their walk across the green. Inside staff members provide supervision in the gym and library, where all students remain until the bell rings.

* Carpool with neighbors to fill the car with 3 or more children to reduce the total number of cars driving to school.

* Use public transportation to commute to school and back home.

* Allow time to walk or bike to school instead of driving, perhaps with neighbors rotating the responsibility for accompanying the children.

Several of these requests impose a change of family routines, such as getting ready for school earlier in the morning, or saying goodbye from the car on Pine Street rather than inside the building. However, the complaints of traffic hazards and close calls each day warrant us to take action now. Multiple driving violations and license plate numbers have already been reported to Burlington police. Like so many other areas in American life, inconveniences for a few are outweighed by the best for the group. Thank you for all your support of safety for our students and school. ♥

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Thank You, Burlington Community, for Participating in Reading to End Racism!

Every class K-5 participated in Reading to End Racism by hosting a guest who read stories and nonfiction books on the topic of diversity and racism. Our guests made a person connection and joined the restorative practice circle with the class, together answering questions, such as:

When has there been a time when you got to know someone, who seemed really different from you, but turned out that you had a lot in common?

What could you do if you see or hear something racist or just really mean, based on someone’s identity?

What is one thing that you heard from the story, our reader, or someone else in class that you will take away from this discussion?

Champlain’s Parent-Teacher Organization donated $400 grant to buy twenty-seven recently-published books for our library on the topic. Here are a few of the new titles: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, That’s Not Fair!, and I am Enough. All will be available for students and parents to check out after February break.

Thank you, guest readers! Their response to join Reading to End Racism has been deeply inspiring! They are: Zaharo Adan, Kristin Allosso, Megan Beatty, Jo Berry, Marissa Berry, Janet Breen, Noor Bulle, Mohamad A. Chakaki, Brian Cina, Vi Courville, Infinite Culcleasure, Carina Driscoll, Alexis Dougherty, Denise Dunbar, Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, Nikki Fuller, Rebecca Haslam, Brianna Lambert Jenkins, Ebony Kirkland, Maggie McKeon, Yaw Obeng, Rachel Perras, Leda Smith Sommerville, Henri Sparks, Nicole Twohig, Bianca Walton, and Karsen Woods.

On Friday Champlain hosted Jenni Johnson, renowned jazz musician originally from Harlem and longtime Burlington community member. She performed to reach all ages and told stories to bring greater meaning to the music. All students attended the first thirty-minute assembly, followed by a special feature just for grades 2-5.

Racism is one manifestation of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Champlain’s Equity Committee looks forward to grappling with other biases and teaching students how to understand and respect differences. Please contact me if interested in reading or supporting our efforts to expand understanding and differences in abilities, gender, nationality, and religion.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Safety at Champlain Elementary School

Dear Parents/Guardians,

In response to Wednesday’s terrible school tragedy, several of you contacted me requesting information about the safety and response protocols at Champlain Elementary School and the Burlington School District.

For ten years and in three school districts, I have participated in Vermont State school safety training, all of which adhered to the national Incident Command System. Here in Burlington we are incredibly fortunate to have the fastest emergency-response systems I have ever experienced. Police officers, firefighters, and medical services are a few minutes away, unlike in most of our state, where precious time elapses before support arrives. Our centralized coordination and new 911-linked VOIP phone system provide accuracy and effectiveness.

Ten faculty/staff members comprise Champlain’s Incident Command Team. Until emergency responders arrive, I serve as Incident Commander and Ms. Janet Breen is the Incident Commander Designee. After-school program directors Karlie Gunderson and Bridget O’Leary also serve as ICT leaders. Our team includes a Public Information Officer and medical/psychological response team. We strictly carry out all ten State-mandated drills in collaboration with the Burlington Police Department. Every student should be able to explain where to go for the Secure-the-School/ Lockdown or Building Evacuation drills.

Champlain employs our Incident Command System whenever situations arise that require immediate response, such as the Protect the Perimeter incident that occurred last spring. Both during the school day and after school, we maintain maximum building safety and use walkie-talkies school-wide, including the playground.

For your information, on page 2 is the Five Commands of the Incident Command System, tailored to Champlain’s operations and campus. Our primary evacuation site is CrossFit on 39 Birchcliff Parkway; the secondary site is St. Anthony’s Church on 305 Flynn Avenue. The reunification site is the parking lot in front of CrossFit.

Feel free to contact me in case you have any questions. Thank you for all your support of safety in our district. Our thoughts and prayers go to the community and families of Parkland, Florida.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Dorinne Dorfman, Principal

The Five Commands

“Clear the Halls”
This command is commonly used for a medical or other emergency that staff and students should not witness or interfere with.
Clear the Halls means all students and staff stay in the room. They must exit the hallways or common areas until directed to do otherwise by the principal or designee. Students should go to the nearest room where there is adult supervision. Close the doors. Those who are outside must remain outside unless directed otherwise by an Incident Command Team member. Only use the classroom intercom for emergencies. Students and staff do not exit the building.

“Evacuate the Building”
This command is employed no less than every other month for fire or Hazmat drills.
Evacuate the Building means that all students, staff, and visitors exit the building(s) in a quiet and orderly fashion and move to designated safe areas at least 300’ away from the school. The two safe areas are: the back field beyond the playground (gr. K-3) and the lawn between the sidewalk and the community garden (gr. 4-5 and rm #225). Teachers bring their class rosters and the emergency flip chart. When snow is on the ground, classes walk in single file up the sidewalk on Pine St. to Flynn Avenue, and stand on the right side. Classes line up in the order that they arrive. Unified Arts and Special Education teachers stay with their students. Other adults not assigned to a class line up as they arrive on the sidewalk.

“Lockdown - Secure the School”

This command is primarily a response to an intruder who has entered the building.
Lockdown - Secure the School means all students and staff remain in their assigned workspace/classroom or immediately move to a designated area. Close and lock the door, turn out the lights and close blinds or shut curtains. Faculty/staff call 911 to report the lockdown. Teachers, staff, visitors, and students remain quiet in secured rooms, on the floor, away from windows and doors, and with all lights turned off. Do not open classroom doors to people in the halls until the “all clear” is announced by the principal or designee. Students or staff caught in the bathroom should shelter in a bathroom stall. Students and staff outside must go to the Crossfit evacuation site behind Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory on 39 Birchcliff Pkwy.

“Secure and Hold - Shelter in Place”
This uncommon command is a response to multiple emergencies, including inclement weather.
Secure and Hold - Shelter in Place means all students, staff, and visitors remain within the building and await further instructions from the principal or designee. People may move from room to room within the building. Those who must leave the building are required to ask for permission in the office to do so. Students and staff outside must come inside the building and enter the nearest classroom.

“Protect the Perimeter”
This command will be used when there is a potential threat to the school below the level of concern of “Lockdown-Secure the School,” such as in response to a person who may have threatened or may pose a threat to the school.
While the school is operating under the Protect the Perimeter command, teachers will not take their classes outside for activities If a threat persists after 2:50, all after-school activities taking place on campus will be cancelled. This decision will be made and announced by 2:00pm over the public address system and placed on the school website. Law enforcement will determine if students may be dismissed from school at the end of the school day.

Talking with Children about Racism, Part Two

On Thursday, February 15, Reading to End Racism started at Champlain. A dozen different volunteers visited and read stories to students, such as former first-grade teacher Rebecca Haslam, mayoral candidates Infinite Culcleasure and Carina Driscoll, Director of English-language programs Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, and School Resource Officer Jessica Norris. The 2/23 Blue Note edition will include a complete list of readers

Last week’s Blue Note featured an overview of the program and five recommendations for all parents/guardians in speaking with their children about racism. Many have asked about prejudices other than racism that hurt our community. For the rest of the school year, Champlain’s Equity Team will move to address other identities that face discrimination, and will educate our students to thrive in our diverse world. This week’s edition offers five additional suggestions to families to continue conversation.

Talking about race and racism are among the most difficult subjects to tackle. First of all, “race” is based on history, not science. How do adults explain that “race” is not real? The concept of “race” has one purpose: to divide human beings who in fact all belong to one species, the homo sapiens. Many peoples and families have experienced hardship not based solely on discrimination, such an unlivable minimum wage, health problems, lack of healthcare, and unforeseen tragedies. Comparing personal or family challenges helps children relate to the problem of racism. In an unequal society, some people experience increased hardships based on their skin color or ethnicity, from being followed in a store while shopping, to being targeted by police without just cause. This stress often affects their health, and the healthcare received by people of color may not be equal to those available to white people. This may be caused by either where they live or prejudice among health care providers. Learning empathy, children can imagine how racism has negative consequences in all areas of life.

Every time a racial incident has arisen at Champlain Elementary School, the parents of the harmer are shocked. They had no idea that their children had felt prejudice towards black or brown classmates. When students say hurtful words or refuse to play with other children based on their skin color or other bias, they mirror the world around them. The question is not so much “Why did they do it?” but “What do we need to do now?” Here are suggested starting points of conversation to unlearn the racism affecting every American.

1. Point out racist stereotypes in the media, especially in children’s programs that negatively depict people with darker skin or unusual accents. Not only will this build critical-thinking skills, but children will gain the knowledge to combat one of the most insidious forms of racism.

2. Explain that our school and country have laws to protect people against discrimination. Although racism began hundreds of years ago, racist beliefs and actions continue to this day. Racism promotes inequality by giving white people more rights and freedoms, and taking away those entitlements from people with Indigenous, African, Latino, and Asian origins. All schools have policies to address racism that include reeducation and consequences to reverse prejudice and protect children from harm.

3. Learn helpful, sensitive vocabulary. As part of reading together, point out new words that describe people and cultures. Equally important is to explain words that are inappropriate, and why those words are so hurtful. Words people say make a huge impact on others, no matter what the intent.

4. Visit shops, museums, and neighborhoods different from one’s own background. Choose vacations in diverse communities or countries, if possible. When traveling, parents can bring their children to museums, parks, and playgrounds. Shop in local businesses, eat local cuisine, and try using the local language, if other than English. This is especially helpful if a child has made prejudiced remarks about a certain group. Positive real-life experiences make a deep impression that can reverse the prejudice society bestows on us all.

5. Attend public schools in desegregated communities like Burlington. Children from diverse backgrounds learning and playing together improves critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. They grow into adults who are less likely to mistreat or discriminate against others, and, by deeply valuing ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, they become better prepared for, have greater access to, and will be more successful in college and career opportunities.

References from Parts One and Two of Talking with Children about Racism
Anderson, A. & Dougế, J. (2016). Talking to children about racial bias. Healthy American Academy of Pediatrics.
Gray, E. and Samakow, J (2015, July 23). 11 things white people need to realize about race. HuffPost.
Kelly, D. J. et. al. (2005). Three-month-olds, but not newborns, prefer own-face faces. PubMed Central. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Kinzler, K. D. (2016, October 21). How kids learn prejudice. New York Times.
Wells, A. S., Fox, L., and Cordova-Coba, D. (2016). How racially diverse schools and classrooms can benefit all students. The Century Foundation.
Williams, D. Beyond the golden rule: A parent’s guide to preventing and responding to prejudice.
Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from

Talking with Children about Racism, Part One

Champlain begins Reading to End Racism on Thursday, February 15, hosting guests to read age-appropriate stories about diversity and racism in every classroom. Our guests and stories will be on students’ minds, giving parents/guardians a wonderful opportunity to teach their children cultural respect and social awareness right at home. While Reading to End Racism will end on Friday, February 23, the topic will be continued and expanded to include gender identity, ability/disability, and other areas of human diversity, based on our mission to build students’ cultural competence and strengthen democracy and equality in our school, community, and country.

Champlain’s Equity Committee requests that every family takes the time to talk about Reading to End Racism coming to Champlain. With this home support, children can start thinking about the topic in advance, reflect on their own feelings and knowledge, and consider different points of view that they may hear.

American schoolteachers and families need to talk about race, and start while children are young. At just three months old, children already prefer faces of the same skin color as their own (Kelly, et. al., 2005). Studies have found that children entering kindergarten share the same beliefs about race and privilege as their parents (Kinzler, 2016). Only by talking often about race, culture, and other differences, and promoting values of respect and awareness of diverse cultures, can we prevent children from becoming prejudiced. Conversations include being a caring member of a diverse community and world, and understanding history, current events, and social responsibility.

The two primary reasons for talking about race with children in preschool and elementary school are:

1. To combat the prejudice and racism that persist in society, and

2. To develop beliefs in respect, equality, and justice for all.

Fortunately children have great curiosity to learn about our community and world. They need to spend time with people from different backgrounds and talk about what they think. Let them talk about race as much as they want with parents and educators. If the adults don’t know what to tell them, say, “Let’s find out by looking it up or asking someone who I think will know.” Here are a some ways to combat prejudice in elementary-age children.

1. Talk about people from different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, and about the activities and news that involve them. Holidays, current events (if age-appropriate or children ask), and one’s own experience in learning, working, or being friends or family members with people of backgrounds different than one’s own.

2. Explain and practice showing respect. Children need to learn to respect other people’s boundaries, such as not touching someone else’s hair or clothing without permission, and not teasing about appearance.

3. Ask children what they think and how they feel. Teachers spend much time on listening and assessing students to determine reading and math skills. Parents can do the same by questioning and listening for children’s views on physical and cultural differences. This conversation opens the best teachable moments to reverse racism and teach about tolerance, equality, and justice.

4. Question one’s own bias and stereotypes, and model how children can respond positively to others different from them. Parents reflecting on their beliefs with the goal of embracing people of all backgrounds is powerful modeling for children, who will need to confront the same issues.

5. Read lots of books representing people from different backgrounds. Biographies and historical events can fill the blanks and lead to more questions. Champlain’s library has a wide range of fiction, biographical, and nonfiction material available, including twenty-seven new books about cultural diversity and racism, thanks to a generous PTO grant. By openly discussing personal connections to the experiences of others, especially those from different backgrounds, children come to understand that we truly are one human species with much to learn and share together.

You can read more suggestions in “Talking with Children about Racism, Part Two” in next week’s Blue Note.

Helpful Resources for Parents/Guardians

• Beyond the Golden Rule A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice —
• Embrace Race —
• Raising Race Conscious Children —
• National Museum of African American History and Culture —
• Teaching for Change —
• Teaching Tolerance —
• The Children’s Community School —

Kelly, D. J. et. al. (2005). Three-month-olds, but not newborns, prefer own-face faces. PubMed Central.
National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Kinzler, K. D. (2016, October 21). How kids learn prejudice. New York Times.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Reading to End Racism and Other Activities Celebrating Diversity

To strengthen cultural respect and social awareness among students, a new group committed to educational justice has formed at Champlain. The request for volunteers to combat prejudice arose after a recent rise in racist incidents involving language and conflict. Future activities will address all areas of difference, such as gender identity, learning differences, and religious diversity. Representing parents, counselors, faculty, and administration, our group now meets weekly for planning school-wide educational activities, starting with Reading to End Racism. For years, the Burlington School District has hosted this program and invited leaders and supporters of diversity and inclusion from our city.

Here’s how it works:
* This national program promotes cultural respect, social awareness, and literacy by hosting guests who read stories that address diversity and discrimination.
* Guests read a story to a class and share from their own experience connected to the themes raised in the book, such as racism, resilience, and community, to name a few.
* Each reading and discussion takes approximately 45 minutes.
* Teachers use the “Circle” discussion process with a talking piece for engaging everyone in answering questions pertaining to the book and our Burlington community.
* Reading to End Racism at Champlain will take place from Thursday, Feb. 15 to Friday, Feb. 23.
There are two ways that we are asking parents/guardians to get involved with Reading to End Racism:

1. Volunteer to read a story in a class, especially parents of color

2. Volunteer to welcome guests to Champlain and escort them to classrooms throughout the building

To volunteer, please contact our colleague Christina Pasnick at or Janet Breen at 864-8477 by Friday, Feb. 9. Please let her know what date(s) and time(s) you may be available between the hours of 8:15 AM and 2:30 PM (1:30 on Weds) to read or welcome guests. Thank you so much for your consideration. Please feel free to pass this invitation along to others who you think may be interested in reading at Champlain, too.

Champ Celebrations and SBAC Interim Math Assessment

Champ Celebrations!

“You can still earn a Champ card if you sit quietly in your seat,” a kindergarten teacher reminded a small boy who just couldn’t keep his hands to himself during math. He smiled back, appreciative that he could earn his way back and contribute to the group.

“Can I please help today cleaning up the cafeteria?” a student asked lunch monitor Patricia Divenuti, hoping to bring a few Champ cards back to class.

“Thank you,” a fourth grader said quietly after facilitating a dynamic peer-mediation session, upon receiving a Champ card.

Elementary schools across America use the research-based program, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), to teach children social and behavior expectations at a young age. Signs in hallways and classrooms listing rules, instructional and assembly time devoted to reviewing expectations, and common responses to student misbehavior are PBIS hallmarks. Students learn a common, simple mantra, such as “Be safe. Be respectful. Be responsible.”  A coin or ticket of value distributed to children who are especially helpful, or to children as part of their behavior plan, is telltale PBIS.

In many schools, children earn tokens to spend at the school store or a teacher’s goodies in the classroom. In Tong Chen’s classroom, 2012 Vermont Teacher of the Year, I encountered this system. In no other middle school class had I seen students compete to get the highest grades or get called on during lessons. Students earned and spent their “Chen Bucks” on sweets displayed in the back of the room. By high school, they completed Advanced Placement Chinese and traveled to China. Although Ms. Chen’s instructional methods truly motivated her students to excel, Chen Bucks added a fun diversion from the usual nose-to-the-grindstone to write and speak Chinese.

* Champlain students bring their tokens to their teachers, who places them in the plastic display in their classroom. When they earn one hundred Champ Cards, students participate in a celebration of learning, such as:
* Sometimes students choose the celebration, such as the pajama and sleeping-bag crew in Roger Klinger’s third-grade classroom, when students selected an hour of cozy, free-choice reading and hot chocolate on a cold winter day.
* Last week first graders in Brooke King’s class enjoyed a hidden treasure hunt along the forest path on Champlain’s campus. Children helped each other to find over two hundred frozen gems and spent time in the forest fort that they built themselves. Following directions was the class theme in earning Champ Cards.
* In Aziza Malik’s 4/5 class, when students reach one hundred Champ Cards, they can choose from the following options: extra recess, Chromebook time, PJ day/cozy day/over the shoulder day, morning meeting games, group games, and save up for larger celebrations.
* According to Vi Courville, “Kindergarteners work really hard to earn Champ Cards in order to have a class celebration. Some of the exciting celebrations we have done and continue to work to earn are: stuffy day, hot chocolate and marshmallows, dance party, lunch in the classroom, dress up day, and popcorn party. Teachers and ‘Kinders’ will work together and brainstorm other fun celebrations to add to our future celebrations.
* Students in Alice Patalano’s first-grade class has enjoyed extra recess, popsicles, a dance party, and eating lunch in the classroom.
*This week Taylor Warner’s first graders earned one hundred Champ Cards and enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the classroom, talking with our friends. We’ve also had fun during pajama day with a movie, show and tell, extra recess, and snack outside.
When a class earns one hundred cards, a child reports to Janet Breen in the main office. When enough Champ cards are collected, an assembly is devoted to school-wide celebration with music and dance. Currently the number of Champ cards earned in 2017-18 is 10,800 and counting!

SBAC Interim Math Assessment for All Third, Fourth and Fifth Graders
The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) replaced the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) shortly after states adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2015. Burlington schools administers the SBAC to students in grades 3-8 once or twice a year. This spring the Vermont Agency of Education made the change to test students in grade nine rather than eleven, as had been practiced for more than a decade.
At Champlain, students in grades 3 and 4 will participate in the one-hour SBAC mathematics assessment on Tuesday, February 6. Fifth graders will complete the exam on Thursday, Feb. 8. Their classroom teachers will proctor the exam, which is scheduled during their math classes. Friday the 9th is the makeup exam, proctored in our school library. For more information on the SBAC, please visit the Agency of Education’s website: or the Burlington School District Curriculum Information for Parents: