Woodstock High Students Prepare for Winter Trip to West Africa

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2016 10:00:32 PM

After more than a decade and a half of leading students on service-learning trips around North America, Latin America and Europe, Woodstock Union High School educators are gearing up to introduce a new continent: Africa.

Under the guidance of Dean Keri Bristow and agriculture teacher John Hiers, 17 WUHS students are raising money through bake sales, plant sales and private foundation grants to offset their expenses for a February tour of Senegal, a small, equatorial country on the Atlantic Ocean. During the week-and-a-half trip, the students will visit and work at two schools and two orphanages, learn more about the slave trade at a UNESCO World Heritage Site on an island from which captives were shipped to the Americas, and spend two days and nights among elephants and other animals at a wildlife preserve.

“We’ll be covering a lot of different topics, from exposing them to another language” — Senegal is a former colony of France and has many French speakers — “to learning more about the history of slavery to the pressures that cause species to become endangered to examining and comparing cultural traditions,” Bristow, who also teaches Spanish and French at WUHS, said last week. “You can go in many different directions educationally.”

Junior Annabelle Lessard is looking forward to going in as many directions as time allows.

“I was drawn to this trip because I knew we’d be working in schools,” Lessard, who lives in Barnard, wrote during an exchange of emails last week. “Having the chance to work with other children either younger than me or my age would be an amazing opportunity. Teaching them English and comparing the ways they learn to the way we do will be eye-opening and hopefully inspire me for my future.”

Lessard said that she had been hearing for several years about Woodstock students traveling abroad, including “talk about going to Kenya,” a trip that was called off because of recent violence in that country and its neighbors on the eastern side of the continent.

The trip leaders needed to teach some current events lessons to school officials and parents about the relative calm in Senegal to win approval of this outing.

“There has been some concern raised about, ‘Is it safe?’ ” Bristow said. “Some of the School Board raised concerns.”

It helped that the Vermont National Guard has a history of cooperation on joint projects with that nation’s military.

“We got a safety briefing from them, meeting with several members of the Guard who travel there regularly,” Bristow said. “One of them said it’s an extremely welcoming country.”

In addition to Lessard, students scheduled to make the trip are Lily Adler, Hunter Balch, Mimi Callagan, Tyler Chynoweth, Anna Dieffenbach, Teresa Ennis, Lauren Forgione, Natalie Haimovitz, Emily Haynes, Katey MacMaster, Darian Magner, Violet Spann, Will Vicar, Lily Walker Money and Cole Wescott. By the time they arrive in Africa, they’ll have just wound up a course on slavery, and hope to pick up insights from their Senegalese hosts.

“The focus is on what was it, and what is it now?” Bristow said. “When we get there, they’ll be talking about what is slavery through our eyes and what is the African perspective. We’re hoping to have a dialogue with them about that very issue.”

Lessard added that Africa has intrigued her since she studied its history and geography in seventh and ninth grades.

“When this opportunity came along, I was one of the first people to get an application because I knew it would fill up fast,” Lessard wrote. “It is an opportunity of a lifetime. … After high school, I plan to go to college, hopefully at a bigger school … because I want to major in engineering. … I’d love to travel to countries to help those in need of buildings, bridges or other, larger structures.”

To learn more about Project Senegal, including upcoming fundraisers and opportunities to award grants that help lower the per-student cost of the trip, email jphiers@vermontel.net or kbristow@wcsu.net or visit Project Senegal 2017 on Facebook. Direct contributions by check can be sent to Woodstock Union High School: Attention Project Senegal, 100 Amsden Way, Woodstock, Vt. 03035.

Screen Gems

Mascoma Valley Regional High School will introduce the public to its new auditorium by hosting a screening of Buster Keaton’s classic silent film The General on Friday night at 7. Silent-film composer and pianist Jeff Rapsis will play the musical score that accompanies the movie, in which Keaton plays a locomotive engineer down south whose train is hijacked by Union soldiers. While admission is free, donations are welcome.

Community Engagement

The Claremont School District and the Claremont Learning Partnership are inviting parents, aspiring parents and all other city residents with an interest in education to a “community conversation” on Oct. 6 on the topic of “How can Claremont be the best place for all young children to live, grow and play?”

The forum will take place at Claremont Middle School, with the doors opening at 5 p.m. and the conversation beginning at 5:30. Child care and a light dinner will be provided. To learn more, or to arrange transportation to the forum, call 603-543-4200 or email cleclair@sau6.org.

By Degrees

Lebanon native Felicia Darling recently earned her doctorate in mathematics education from the Stanford University School of Education. Under a Fulbright Scholarship, Darling conducted research in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula for her dissertation on how teachers of math students in a Maya school try to help their community solve everyday problems. Darling owns a bachelor’s degree in math from Vermont’s Johnson State College and a master’s in education from Lyndon State College.

The Write Stuff

Vermont Public Television (VPT) this year honored Keira Kegelman of Hartland and Jacob Marotti of Norwich for penning prize-winning entries in the 2016 PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest for students in kindergarten through third grade.

Kegelman, who attends Hartland Elementary School, earned honorable mention for placing second among Vermont third-graders with her tale, Adventures With Wolves. She previously had won the top prize for kindergarten pupils in 2013 and was second among second-graders in 2015.

Marotti, then a second-grader at Marion Cross School, placed third at his level with his story, Super Monkey and the Attack of the Giant Ape.

All entries included the writers’ illustrations of their stories. The winning authors read their stories at the VPT studios for future children’s broadcasts. To see video of all the creators and their stories, visit vermontpbs.org/writers.

High School Honors

Woodstock Union High School senior Jenna Majeski is one of 34,000 students nationwide whom the National Merit Scholarship Program recently commended for ranking among the top 5 percent of the 1.6-million-plus students who competed in the 2017 scholarship competition. Majeski joined the competition by taking the SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test as a junior in the fall of 2015.

Special Needs

The Plainfield School District is looking for resident children who may qualify for special education services because of physical and developmental disabilities.

“All referrals are considered confidential, and services are provided at no cost,” the district said in an announcement of its “Child Find” effort. “The parent, legal guardian, or surrogate parent retains the right to refuse services.”

The district added that it “offers comprehensive special education services to eligible students ages 3 through 21 years, and to children from birth through age 21 years who have a hearing or visual impairment. Children from birth to age 3 with other disabilities will be referred to appropriate agencies for services.” Those services include screening for vision, hearing, motor skills, speech, language and general development. In-school evaluation covers learning disabilities, speech and language development, physical impairments, vision and hearing problems, mental retardation, emotional disturbances, autism and other pervasive development disorders, as well as traumatic brain injuries.

For more information on eligibility and how to refer a student for services, interested persons can call Frank Perotti Jr., the school district’s director of special services, at 603-469-3250, ext. 264.

By the Book

The Norwich Bookstore is inviting teachers, staff and librarians from Upper Valley schools to its Educators’ Reception on Oct. 5 at 3:30, to learn about new books for young readers and about the store’s discounts for schools. Admission is free. To learn more, call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com.

Educator Training

Marlboro College’s Center for New Leadership is inviting Upper Valley educators and administrators to its four-part series of Results-Based Accountability sessions in October, at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich.

In a news release announcing the training sessions, which will take place next Tuesday morning and the mornings of Oct. 11, 18 and 25, the center describes results-based accountability as “a framework that helps organizations manage performance, measure impact and tell their story.”

A fee of $150 per person covers the four sessions. To learn more about the training, visit bit.ly/RBAUpperValley.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Education-related news also can be sent to schoolnotes@vnews.com.

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