Saturday, September 23, 2017

Moving Forward as a Community and Peer Mediation Training

So many questions. So many views. So many worries. So many feelings. Grappling with the conflict in the Burlington School District, I wrote these words. I wanted my school family back, filling each day with smiling and problem solving. After receiving the news of a final agreement, I wrote to Champlain teachers about a plan for moving forward. My suggestion was to:

Breathe. Take a moment to gather your energies. Breathe. Think about what's most important to you. Breathe. Think about your students, many of whom you have just started getting to know. Breathe again.

Slow down. On Wednesday we have no special plans for our school. No assembly, no special announcement from the principal. Right now our students are still fresh from summer vacation combined with an unexpected fall break. They are wondering about their "home" class, their specials classes, the big lunchtime. They are even still wondering about the new windows and library. Their sense of time is much different than adults, and for many, school may feel all new again.

Let's keep our routines on Wednesday, perhaps with a little pizzazz, like an extra storytime or visit to the outdoor classroom or woods for a team-building activity. Some of our students will need a refresher on class expectations and routines, and some will need to learn again as if from scratch. Depending on students' developmental levels, they may need to process what happened over the last few days during Morning Meeting. Or they might be ready to jump into the day and not look back. Every faculty and staff member at Champlain has our students' best interests in our hearts and minds. Listening, paraphrasing, guiding, laughing, and sharing can be close at hand while teaching.

Champlain enjoyed a wonderful return to school. Everyone was joyous. Teachers shared with me that Morning Meetings were thoughtful, productive, and pretty short; kids were ready to roll up their sleeves and work hard. Their resilience serves as a model for adults to move forward together. Teachers also expressed their deep gratitude for the support and care of our Champlain community throughout this challenging time. Thank you so much!

Peer Mediation Begins Its Second Year at Champlain
The response to Champlain’s morning announcements mentioning new peer mediation (PM) training was immediate. Perhaps this is due to last year, when mediators demonstrated the facilitation and problem-solving process during assemblies. Or maybe they heard students got out of class, sometimes for over an hour for a tough conflict. I’d prefer to believe that Champlain students want to be Champs for their friends, for our school, and for our families.

On the very second day of school in August, students came to the office asking for space to solve a problem. Joining them was Karlie Gunderson, Champlain’s new B’Kids After-school Program director, who watched students ask questions from the PM script and successfully arrive at a resolution. B’Kids will partner again in PM training to support our students all day long. Training for first-year peer mediators takes place on three Thursdays, Sept. 28, Oct. 5, and Oct. 12. Second-year mediators can attend a refresher training on Nov. 2, which will focus on conflict reduction and intervention. Typically peer mediation takes place after the fact, once the conflict has boiled over. Champlain’s second-year students, who can sew a special ribbon on their sashes to symbolize their prior training, will be encouraged to increase their awareness of school climate, and to offer thoughtful questions and solutions before a full conflict ensues. This may include reporting to an adult and offering alternative possibilities, such as, “Why don’t we all take turns?”

Parents/Guardians are welcome to volunteer at peer mediation trainings. Please let me know if you’d like to join us. Thank you, Champlain families, for all your support of student leadership!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

An Interview with Christine Hertz, Author and Guest Teacher at Champlain

Last year Christine Hertz, a literacy interventionist in Worcester, VT, published A Mindset for Learning with Heinemann Press. She and co-author Kristi Mraz have completed a second book on elementary education and will produce videos in conjunction with its publication in two classes at Champlain Elementary School. Participating classes include Ms. King’s first graders and Ms. Malik’s fourth and fifth graders. In this interview, Ms. Hertz explains this new work.

DD: Tell us about your project about Champlain and beyond.

CH: We have a new book coming out in February 2018 and one of its primary goals is to help teachers create classroom communities of caring, engaged citizens. We believe that, in addition to fostering students' academic growth, schools and classrooms can foster students’ social and emotional growth. For years, we have been developing strategies to cultivate students’ empathy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. We believe in teaching the whole child – academic, social, emotional and physical – and we believe that there are joyful, engaging ways to teach skills such as self-regulation and resilience while also developing more traditional academic skills like reading, writing and mathematics.

DD: You have already published a book with Heinemann, A Mindset for Learning. At the same time, you are a classroom teacher and a literacy specialist. Why did you write this book? What would you like every teacher and parent to know?

CH: Carol Dweck is a researcher, currently at Stanford University, who has pioneered a great deal of work around the idea of growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that we can learn anything with support, hard work, and thoughtful strategic instruction. We found that theory to be powerful in our own lives and even more powerful in our classrooms. In fact, Dweck has found that children with a growth mindset outperform children who do not think of themselves and their learning this way. We wrote A Mindset for Learning to give teachers and student specific stances (optimism, flexibility, resilience, persistence, and empathy) to use when they are faced with a setback. We would love every parent and every teacher to model their own learning journey – their own journey of growth – for their children. We're never perfect, but we can always be making progress.

DD: How did you decide to choose Champlain for the video?

CH: Champlain has a wonderful reputation for being a welcoming, inclusive community that values developing students both as learners and as citizens. We have heard many glowing things about your students, families, and faculty and we are thrilled to have an opportunity to visit.

DD: What will students learn in the lessons taught at school?

CH: Students will learn about big concepts such as perspective taking, flexible problem solving, and risk-taking. We will also be teaching strategies such as self-talk, storytelling, and reflection. At the same time, we will weave grade-appropriate literacy skills into the lessons. For example, during a read aloud, students might learn about empathy while simultaneously deepening their understanding of character development. These lessons will be interactive, engaging and student-driven.

DD: You believe strongly in project-based learning, yet literacy is your specialization. What does one have to do with the other?

CH: We believe that teaching and learning should be rooted in what is authentic and important to students. Project-based learning allows students to engaged with a problem or an inquiry that stirs their curiosity and their drive for learning. Literacy is a vital tool for both conducting that project, but also for communicating its outcomes to the world. Project-based learning allows students to use the literacy skills they are acquiring in an authentic, purposeful way. For our youngest students, that might look like raising money for hurricane relief as a class. For our older students, it might look like more individualized, longer-term projects.

DD: What do you look for in an elementary classroom? What would be going on that tells you that children are receiving an excellent education?

CH: First and foremost, we look for strong relationships between teachers and students. Relationships are at the heart of teaching. We look for teachers who are compassionate, responsive, playful, and constantly trying to outgrow themselves and what they know. We look for students who are not afraid to make mistakes, to challenge themselves with what we call “just right risks,” and to dive into the messy process of learning. We look for collaboration, critical thinking, and that certain hum that exists when students are learning and happy.

Champlain Adopts New Master Schedule and Lunchtimes for 2017-18 School Year
Starting on Tuesday, September 5, the daily schedule of each class at Champlain has changed. Every student is with the same teacher and participates in the same activities, though the latter may be different times of the day or week. Lunchtimes have been extended to thirty minutes, using the entire gymnasium. Students in grades 1, 2, and 3 have lunch at 11:15-11:45am. Students in grades K, 4, and 5 have lunch at 11:55am-12:25. As always, parents/guardians are welcome to join their children at lunch. Lunchroom volunteers first complete a training with the principal - for more info, call 864-8477.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Special Events for Champlain Children and Parents/Guardians

Champlain Elementary School starts off the 2017-18 with new surprises and old favorites. After two summers of renovations, new banks of windows adorn nearly every classroom. Our redesigned library shines with maple shelves, outlined by soothing blue carpet. Our new student support classrooms provide space, style, and privacy, allowing a team of learning specialists to collaborate in close proximity.

Every year classes can learn in Champlain’s outdoor classroom or working in our school garden. This summer Champlain’s Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) purchased four picnic tables for additional learning and dining space, placed between the plants and playground. Our PTO has also funded twelve teacher-led projects to enhance student learning, such as technology, books, and cooking supplies for our mobile kitchen. PTO support helps launch a new weaving program with artist-in-residence Carol Macy. Last spring, students loved the creative process and colorful product of this ancient art form. This year a dozen students will master weaving skills and keep portable looms. Thank you so much, Champlain PTO, for your generosity!

Another surprise will be held on Wednesday, September 13 at 6:00-7:00PM, when Champlain hosts Curriculum Night. Families learn all about the school year ahead: science and social studies units, literature, mathematical concepts, writing, and more. Teachers will give two presentations, at 6:00 and 6:30, allowing parents with two children to attend both.

An old favorite is the annual Community Harvest Fest, taking place on Friday, September 15 at 5:00-7:00PM. Hosted by Champlain’s PTO, families can enjoy outdoor games, learn about gardening, and enjoy favorite foods. Students participate in an exploration hunt, rewarded with a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream treasure. Once again in the gym, people of all ages participate musical cakes to win delicious prizes. Hope our whole Champlain community joins us!

Big Changes at Champlain Elementary School

What’s happening at Champlain? Workers on the roof, big trucks in the driveway, and even the Burlington City Fire Department made an appearance (everything was fine). The second floor makeover includes big new windows for every classroom, matching those installed on the first floor in 2016. The first floor renovation will create several new learning spaces for educational support services, in which nearly half of Champlain students participate. Tiny spaces accommodating only a few will be replaced with new classrooms sized for up to ten children. Special educators, interventionists, and support staff can increase multiple-intelligence and other hand-on activities to increase student learning.

Anyone new on board? Yes, five new teachers will join Champlain’s faculty this fall. They include two longtime Burlington teachers new to Champlain, Ms. Alice Patalano (first grade) and Mr. Gavin Wallace (second grade). Ms. Taylor (Silvestro) Warner will teach first grade. Former B’Kids after-school program director Ms. Jessica Villani will teach second grade while Ms. Ashley Francke is on maternity leave. Ms. Lisa Goetz will teach fourth grade. We warmly welcome our new teachers, all of whom bring a breadth of experience and a passion for student learning.

What can we expect next fall? The Burlington School District has begun implementation of restorative practices K-12. This summer approximately thirty elementary teachers and principals attended training with the South Burlington Community Justice Center. As an alternative to traditional school discipline, restorative practices focus on sharing, listening, solving problems, and repairing relationships. Champlain will expand peer mediation to include more students and expand their responsibilities to help solve conflict in class, at lunch, and on the playground. Restorative practices build upon the Responsive Classroom, which features class meetings and community building, and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, which includes directly teaching students appropriate behavior and celebrates kindness, collaboration, and service.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

An Interview with a Very Special Champlain Teacher Ms. Jill Sikora-Cain and Thank You!

DD: When did you first start teaching, and what did you teach?

JSC: I began my career working as a substitute teacher, kindergarten through twelfth grade, in the Boulder/Denver, Colorado area.  My first full-time teaching position was working at a private school in Boulder. I taught fifth and sixth grades for three years. My career at Champlain Elementary began in 1987 as a fourth grade teacher, but most of my time since then has been working at the third grade level.  

DD: What is your favorite topic to teach?

JSC: My favorite topic to teach is art.  Over the years, I have incorporated art into many subject areas, especially science and social studies.

DD: In your view, what are the best things parents can do to support their children's success in school?

JSC: For children to be successful in school, it is important for parents to spend quality time with their children, ask questions, read together, emphasize the intangibles in life, and instill a sense that learning and knowledge is essential to their wellbeing and long-term success.

DD: Many teachers are baby boomers and are retiring quickly. Without their wealth of knowledge to benefit young teachers, what advice would you give them today?

JSC: To new teachers everywhere, my advice to you is to stay organized, remember all of the good you are doing when things are difficult, and, most importantly, relax and have fun with the kids.

DD: What is one of your best memories of Champlain?

JSC: It’s the incredible faculty and staff members that I have had the privilege of working with over the past thirty years who I will always remember. Over the years, the Champlain community has been blessed to have such a remarkable group of dedicated teachers and staff.

DD: What are your retirement plans?

JSC: During retirement I plan to spend more time outside. I enjoy gardening, hiking, skiing, scuba diving, and traveling. Hopefully, I will have more time for family and friends.

DD: What else would you like to tell our Champlain community?

JSC: Keep up the good work!  It is noble work that truly and positively impacts each student and our community generally.
Thank You for a Wonderful School Year!
On behalf of the entire Champlain faculty and staff, I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to the hundreds of kind and caring parents, guardians, and community members who have contributed their time and energy to the students of Champlain. From volunteering in Morning Champions and classrooms to chaperoning field trips and co-curricular activities, the love and devotion of your commitment have affirmed my ideals for Vermont and my hopes for our country.

This year Champlain embarked on a new approach to student behavior management with restorative practices and peer mediation. Our students and parents/guardians understood this philosophy of educational justice and participated in conversations that repaired relationships and taught social-emotional skills. In this way, we reduced detentions and suspensions and increased Lunch Bunch groups and mentoring activities. Without your patience, understanding, and forgiveness, restorative practices could not succeed.

In addition, Champlain’s Parent-Teacher Organization continually brings many voices together and supports the learning of all students by organizing exciting family activities, such as the Harvest Fest, Trivia Night, and the Fun Run. In turn, these activities allow the PTO to raise funds and give grants that directly support our classroom instruction, field trips, artist residencies, peer mediation, and more. Thank you, everyone, for getting involved and making a positive difference in our school!

From Peter Pan’s “I Won’t Grow Up” - Dr. D’s Adaptation for Champlain’s 2017 Step Up Day
I wanna grow up.
(I wanna grow up)
And go to middle school.
(And go to middle school)
Take a lot of different classes.
(Take a lot of different classes)
And be nobody’s fool!
(And be nobody’s fool)
Since growing up means
It would be, the time for every opportunity
I am growing up, growing right up, growing on up
That’s me!
It is I,
It’s me!
Yes, me!
I wanna grow up.
(I wanna grow up)
I want to meet new friends.
(I want to meet new friends)
Do my absolute best.
(Do my absolute best)
Start cool new trends.
(Start cool new trends)
And if it means I must prepare
To learn and work and take good care
I am growing up, growing right up, growing on up
Yes me,
Yes I,
Yes me!
I’m there!
I wanna grow up.
(I wanna grow up)
Gonna grow to the best.
(Gonna grow to the best)
You’ll see me succeed.
(You’ll see me succeed)
And help all the rest.
(And help all the rest)
'Cause middle school is awfully great
No reason for anymore debate
I am growing up, growing right up, growing on up
Yes me,
Middle school,
Here I go,
Growing up! 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Fun Run and Mini Milers: An Interview with Champlain Volunteer Elzy Wick

DD: How did the Fun Run get started?

EW: Nine years ago the Fun Run started with two parents whose kids are now grown. It was a one-mile loop around the school that people could do up to three times. It was fun, though it wasn’t a big fundraiser. The loop wasn’t great on a hilly run and someone had to be posted in order to watch traffic. We didn’t have access to bathrooms, so the event had to be short. When I took this on myself a few years ago, I tried the Fun Run on Oakledge Park. Additionally I asked area businesses to sponsor the runners’ free shirts. We were also able to turn this into a bigger fundraiser. In past years we’ve had ten shirt sponsors. For $100, we add their logos to the shirts. The sponsors said this was their best advertising deal, so maybe next year we’ll increase the fee. I would like to keep the registration fee down to $5 and keep it accessible. The raffle sales have been up. Another parent, Kate Kenny, helped get raffle prizes, so we had a lot this year. The Fun Run raised $1,700 last week, which isn’t a huge amount, but this is just profit that goes to our Parent-Teacher Organization and school.

DD: What is Mini Milers exactly?

EW: Mini Milers is a Run Vermont program, which an organization that manages the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington. They also created the “Ready, Set, Run Festival,” that is a youth-run race that takes place the Saturday before the marathon. 750 kids run in this event. The purpose of Mini Milers is to involve kids in a ten-week program devoted to the sport of running in a fun, group setting. There are thirty Mini Miler sites throughout the state, mostly in schools, plus an adaptive program. A volunteer leader coordinates and teaches the program, recruits the students. Run Vermont provides a whole leadership manual. We use it as a guide, since getting fifty-five kids together after school, who just want to run, requires us to be flexible. We focus on being a good teammate and sportsmanship. We run three loops: two by Oakledge and one in the Five Sisters Neighborhood. In previously years we started the program in March, but kids were in tears because it was so cold. Now instead we start in April. We also expanded the program from grades 3-5 to K-5.

DD: Who else is involved?

EW: Kyle Darling from SkiRack has helped a lot. For two years, Kyle and I were co-leaders, with the help of outside volunteers. Parents’ help is key, too. In the future, I would like us to partner more with the King Street Center, so that more families can access Mini Milers and attend the Fun Run.

DD: What’s so special about running?

EW: First of all, it’s a lifelong sport. Your can do it by yourself or with a group, and wherever you are. It gets you outside, seeing the world. You can run competitively or not. It’s a good foundation for other sports,

like basketball and soccer. Even if students don’t go for daily runs, they learn what that means and can always do it. There are some kids in the program who go out for runs on their own or with a parent. We encourage them to run, with the goal of twenty-six miles for the program. Students get a tag that I punch holes in for each mile. On Wednesdays we count their miles and they tell what they did on their own. It’s the honor system. So far five students have reached the goal, and I expect ten will in total. We will have a ceremony on Wednesday, June 14 at 2:30pm. Every student will get a medal and certificate.

DD: What are your future plans with running at Champlain Elementary School?

EW: I am going to stick around. Another parent, Heather Chernyshov, will be helping me for the future. For the Fun Run, some people say don’t change a thing. Others say it should be for the whole Burlington community. I go back and forth about keeping it as it is. Sustainability Academy has a partnership with City Market for a 5K community run. Next year I would like to start a committee. We always need more ideas and hands to pitch in. We can do a signup board at Curriculum Night next fall. Anyone who wants to get involved can email me at

DD: Thank you so much! Teaching young people to run on a regular basis is a healthy, lifelong habit. This was my second Fun Run and I loved every minute! What a great event for our school community to come together and celebrate fitness and friends!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Moving Conversations, Part II

Starting in kindergarten, Champlain educators teach about diversity, equality, and the right for everyone to learn. Our motto, “Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible,” allows all to thrive academically and socially. Yet we inherit inequalities that are hard to understand and block out. For example, a student had teased another for his clothing. In a moving conversation, her parent admonished, “That’s not her fault. Maybe her parents can’t afford anything else. You can’t make fun of people for things they can do nothing about.” Another time a parent questioned his child, “If you talk to teachers like this, of course they’ll be mad at you! Why would you deserve respect when you don’t show it?” At times like these, students are 100% present. Meeting with the parent and principal together was not in mind when they made less-than-best choices.

Peer mediation (PM) allows students to facilitate and support moving conversations outside of class. Those in conflict have learned to trust the process of talking, listening, and problem solving, as if walking across a bridge back to friendship. A student too embarrassed or distressed to talk with peers can be very moving. The facilitators and I describe PM, predicting a positive outcome. “If you don’t tell what happened, we can never know your point of view,” a peer might say. “We’re all being affected by this, and that’s not fair. We all want to put this behind us.”

Since April, a staff-member of Spectrum Vermont has begun working with Champlain students. Yuol Herjok Yuol (BHS and Lyndon State alum) mentors a student group by meeting once a week and discussing issues that matter to them. Our school counselor Greg Kriger and many teachers host similar groups (oftentimes called Lunch Bunch) to strengthen connections and improve their experience at Champlain. One of the most challenging topics brought up is race. Our students learn about the equality of all people and the importance of cultural competency. Nevertheless the outside world of demeaning stereotypes and epithets trickle in. In our school community, students have found space to explore these issues. For example, in a fit of anger, students of any ethnic background might shout fighting words that divide people by race. They know these words, soaked in meaning and history, instantly grab all attention. Some statements are crueler than others and require different responses from the principal, based on Burlington’s Harassment, Hazing, and Bullying Prevention Policy F29. Oftentimes a moving conversation is needed instead. In every case, the student goes to the principal’s office right away. I call parents, and we all talk together. Every time, the parent’s words make a huge impact and the tears come. The student can’t explain why such terrible words came from her/his mouth, but s/he is full of regret and wants to apologize to whomever had heard.

One time a student did not accept the other’s apology. He said to his classmate, “I need to see your apology in your actions, not your words.” That gave the harmer much to think about, and we talked about kindness and respect for differences. Afterwards the harmed student and I debriefed the conversation. “Your classmate will remember your words for a lifetime. You made a huge impact, and we can expect positive changes for now on.” We had all been moved by this conversation.

This is among our toughest work as educators. This was not a theory or storybook about “stars upon thars.” This practice could only happen in an ethnically-diverse school, where educators show sensitivity and tenacity to directly face problems. This was the real life of children grappling with America’s painful legacy and practicing ways to change their world.