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. 

The Adventures of Lewis & Clark Enjoyed by All

back row from left to right: Cameron Griffin from Albany, Ethan Lussier from Kirby, Nick Heinrich from Danville and Emily Counter from Barnett front row from left to right: Josie Rowell from Kirby, Teagan Desrocher from Concord and CJ Hunt from Kirby

back row from left to right: Cameron Griffin from Albany, Ethan Lussier from Kirby, Nick Heinrich from Danville and Emily Counter from Barnett
front row from left to right: Josie Rowell from Kirby, Teagan Desrocher from Concord and CJ Hunt from Kirby

The 2nd-5th graders from The Riverside School performed The Adventures of Lewis & Clark to a packed house on May 16. The students worked with the Music teacher, Jacob Topping all semester rehearsing for this entertaining take on this historical journey.

Dr. Tim Thompson to speak at The Riverside School Commencement

Dr. Tim Thompson and his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes stand in front of The Riverside School, the school he helped found and Ruby will be graduating from on June 3rd. Dr. Thompson is the commencement speaker. 

Dr. Tim Thompson and his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes stand in front of The Riverside School, the school he helped found and Ruby will be graduating from on June 3rd. Dr. Thompson is the commencement speaker. 

Dr. Tim Thompson will be the graduation speaker at the 36th Riverside School commencement. Tim Thompson with the help of his wife Merle, and two couples from neighboring towns, started The Riverside School 36 years ago. This June, his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes, graduates from 8th grade celebrating in the house that he once owned and raised her mother in.

Dr. Thompson came to Vermont in 1973 as a Public Health Officer and started a medical practice. He grew up in the coal fields of Virginia and after medical school found himself in Burlington, Vermont. Shortly after, he was drafted to go to Vietnam along with every other doctor from his internship class. Instead of going going overseas he tried to go to a Navaho tribe out west as a Public Health Service officer. He was not able to do that but had heard that rural needy areas were giving deferrals; he applied and was accepted by the National Health Service Corp. He found a small town in rural Vermont, Lyndonville. He never left.

Tim lived on the north ridge in Sutton and knew the 19 mile commute to the hospital was not sustainable. He and his wife bought the Riverside Cottage with the hopes of fixing it up and raising a family.

Soon their friends, the Koehnes and the Newells presented him with the idea of starting a high school. He replied at the time, “If you want us to be involved in starting a school we have to start with elementary first because we have three school aged children.”

“We got to be great friends and it was great fun to invent the school. We ended up getting certification from the state for the grounds, which was pretty amazing. They gave us a fire and septic code and all the stuff that we needed to have a school. The house is rambling and quirky but at any rate we started up! The school was popular from the beginning and we had a lot of kids here. By the third year there were 35 kids here every day. I taught Math, Merle did art but was mostly the dean. The Koehnes taught Latin and English grammer, Laura taught Natural History, Jim Newell taught Medieval History and Languages, and Sally taught French. We had an incredible faculty.  We had  strict rules for graduation: you had to swim 25 yards, pass the Geography test and pass Latin!”

Dr. Thompson’s favorite part of the school is as poignant and unique today as it was 36 years ago, the off campus field trips. Tim admits, “They were amazingly complicated to pull off but we had parents who were willing to put their time and effort into them. We ended up in Canada, the Cape and all over the place. These trips would take a week or so, but the Koehnes would preteach the whole trip. They had a full curriculum before we ever went out. One set of parents that had both graduated from Swarthmore said that it was the best single best educational experience of their lives.”

Such as life changes, so too did the faculty at Riverside. Tim remembers, “The school got so big we gave the house to the school as we lived there for the first eight years. The kids were growing and leaving and moving and it was a  natural progression to move on to something else.”

The school went about hiring new teachers and built new curriculum. Tim states, “The gift that independent schools have is that you can pick your teachers outside of the normal teaching pools. We got really outstanding teachers. There was never any question about the quality of what we were doing. I think that the transition from being something that was personal and inventive was exciting. It was an attempt at doing something fresh and new. Thankfully, the Newells and Koehnes were really instrumental in making sure it was able to become what it has become. Riverside has gone through multiple changes over the years. I think it has been really exciting to watch.  There is still great leadership and great teaching.”

The Riverside School class of 2017 will graduate, June 3rd. You can read the entire interview on www.theriversideschool.org/history/

 

Birch Buddies Offers Hands on Learning

Fourth and Fifth graders, Metellus Harris from Albany, Henry Griffin from Danville, Ethan Lussier from Kirby and Nick Heinrich from Danville plant carrots in the garden at The Riverside School as part of the immersion environmental education course that their teachers have built into their coursework this year. 

Fourth and Fifth graders, Metellus Harris from Albany, Henry Griffin from Danville, Ethan Lussier from Kirby and Nick Heinrich from Danville plant carrots in the garden at The Riverside School as part of the immersion environmental education course that their teachers have built into their coursework this year. 

The Riverside School’s 4th and 5th graders have been using their natural environment as their classroom every Thursday afternoon since the beginning of school. Coining the name “Birch Buddies” the students, their teachers Joy Sanders and Erin Glocke and a parent volunteer, Anna Crytzer, explored ideas such as shelter building, safe fire practices, outdoor cooking, knot tying, tracking and orienteering, gardening at the school and learning about dams and their effects on the water systems from a representative from VT Fish and Wildlife. Henry Griffin was most intrigued by this visit and remembered, “I learned about a thing called a fish ladder. A fish ladder is basically a way for fish to get up a dam.”

The class followed a consistent schedule of gathering to share stories about things they’ve seen in nature, playing a game (often a game rooted in some kind of learning about animals), coalescing at a fire, breaking off to do workshops or some kind of activity, regathering to share our day’s experiences, share gratitudes, and listen to a story. “During one workshop Joy let us carve spears (not real ones) but I used a small knife and learned about a safety circle,” mused Lacey Patoine.

The idea behind this immersion teaching style is to connect students with nature and help them better understand it. As we know, this generation risks a concerning disconnect with their natural environment and this class is specifically designed to provide them a positive outdoor experience. They learn skills that aren’t typically taught in school but are necessary components to help them connect with the world around them. It has enhanced their awareness of their surroundings, strengthen their teamwork ethics and encouraged curiosity while promoting a healthful lifestyle.  Gus Yerkes stated, “Birch Buddies has been important because if we were lost in the woods, we will know what to do.”