8th Grade World Issues Class Final Project: Addiction in the NEK

Each year the 8th grade at The Riverside School culminate their World Issues class with a service-learning project based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. After thorough investigation about how these issues are represented in their local area, the students used evidence found in statistics and local headlines to support their conclusion that the health issue of addiction is especially relevant in northern New England and the Northeast Kingdom.

In order to learn more about the issue, students read, researched, discussed, watched the locally produced film The Hungry Heart, and invited local experts into class.

Once they felt reasonably knowledgeable on the topic, teacher Nelia Rath challenged the class to do something about it. The students were unanimous in their opinion that what was most needed was to raise awareness among their peers in Caledonia County. And so they decided to collaborate to create an informational packet to share with local school administrators that included plans and materials for a five lesson unit, appropriate for middle and high schoolers.

Also included is a list of people in recovery who would like to come speak to classes, and a copy of the documentary The Hungry Heart, which is about addiction in Vermont. The class was grateful that after reaching out to local filmmaker, Bess O’Brien, about their project, she offered them 15 copies of the DVD at a very reduced price.

In 2014, then Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his entire State of the State address to the crisis of addiction in Vermont. This alone says that it is important, but some of the things that really surprised the students, as they wrote in their cover letter to introduce the project to school leaders were “that anyone you see can be an addict, no matter what they look like or where they are from. People take drugs for a variety of reasons, including stress, depression, peer pressure, poverty, or over-prescribed medicines.” Another thing that stunned them was that “addiction can cost thousands of dollars a day, and this expense can drive people to steal or commit other crimes just to support their habit.” The scariest thing to them is that “one in ten Americans will develop an addiction of some sort in their lives,” which means that it’s likely that someone in their classes will someday become an addict.

The staggering statistics and harsh realities were hard to believe but the class concluded that there is no one solution to this problem, but everyone can do their part to stop this public health crisis. 

Spring Field Trip to Quebec City

The 36th annual Riverside School Spring field-trip took the fourth-eighth graders, the faculty, and 20 parent chaperones across the border to Quebec City for a three day adventure through this historic landmark.

The trip began with small groups engaging in self-directed historical walking tours of the entire city that helped orient them to its history and unique style. The evening commenced with a lively game of trivia about all the information they had gathered throughout the day.

The second day involved students exploring the battlefields on the Plains of Abraham and touring the majestic Chateau Frontenac. The whole group took packed lunches onto the ferry to cross the St. Lawrence River and get a more holistic view of the city on its shore.

That evening students and chaperones divided up into their individual classes and spent the time dining at different restaurants all over the city. The faculty had prepared the students to know how much money they would need for their meal, tax and tip as well as how to order off a menu, even ones written in French! It was an effective cultural exchange and enjoyed by all.

Some of the most valuable memories for the students was when their individual teachers extended the year’s learning with specific trips, such as the eighth graders visiting the Islamic Centre of Quebec, where they met practicing Muslims and heard personal stories of the tragic shootings that occurred there earlier this year.

Michelle Ralston, the head of school, offered that her favorite part of the trip was the final day when the entire group toured the Huron Wendat Museum. There, participants met members of the First Nations communities as they acted as guides and docents. The group learned about traditional skills such as beading, fire-building, and the construction and atmosphere of a long-house.

The Riverside School has a five year rotation of spring field trips that include going to Boston, Montreal, the Champlain Valley, and next year’s adventure to the Seacoast.