Final Blogpost

During this year with the course What’s the Story, I have grown as a student and a citizen of Vermont. I was able, with countless resources, to delve into a topic that expanded my knowledge of the real world, and become a more understanding and rounded human being. Over the year, I have explored growth in self-direction, responsible and involved citizenship, informed and integrated thinking, and clear and effective communication.

Self Direction:

Having self-direction means being able to pursue refined questions, manage your own learning, and receive and use feedback from others to make the product better. Sometimes, having self-direction can be challenging; it is much easier to just hand off the brainstorming to someone else and have them tell you what to do. This happens a lot at school, you are given a problem and then you have to find the answer. Earlier in the year, we came up with the questions and we came up with the answers. I still strive to have an open, creative brain that will always be ready to brain dump ideas. However, it can be really frustrating. When first coming up with our topic, we were like an ocean. There were so many possibilities, so many pieces of society that needed attention, it was a great expanse of possibilities. Then, we would become a wave that would come close to shore on one possible topic, only to go back out again into the tides, currents and the large, deep ocean. Honing in on our purpose, what the film was to be about, was the hardest part for me. This was also hard because of the teamwork and compromise that needed to be a part of this. Managing my learning was very easy for me. I have been doing it my entire high school (and middle school) career. Although, being a junior and taking this course was not a good idea. I should have done What’s the Story when my regular high school classes were a bit less intense. This will be something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, especially in college! Getting feedback was really helpful (although I didn’t always know it then), it did push us back in the process, but the end product was worth it!

Responsible and Involved Citizenship:

Being a responsible and involved citizen means you take informed action, you retain a moral and empathetic imperative, and you are a team player. Taking informed action took a while, because I couldn’t start making generalizations until I talked with many farmers. Then, with that information, I was able to identify commonalities and I saw an aspect that I could take informed action in. I knew that I couldn’t have the purpose be a resource for farmers on what they are supposed to do to be better farmers, because I was not in the place to do that. But as a responsible citizen, I noticed that farmers could use more support from fellow Vermonters. Along with being a responsible and involved citizen with the farmers we interviewed, I had to be an involved citizen of the What’s the Story cohort and with my team. This means arriving, (or calling) on time to meetings, coming to as many What’s the Story meet-ups and overnights that I could, and doing the work! I stepped up and did what I said I would do, I kept my partner on track as well, and I put in a lot of time.

Informed and Integrated Thinking:

Thinking in an informed and integrative way involves interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information, applying systems thinking, and in some cases having a claim with evidence to back it up. When I first got all over the responses from the farmers early on, I had to go through them all, and try to make a supported hypothesis about, for example, the challenges farmers face. Finding the commonalities, and trying to make a claim about it was challenging because there were a lot of patterns. Using systems thinking is something I definitely want to keep working on, but for this project, I tried to understand the farms as a part of a larger system of the Vermont economy. This was probably the most complex idea to think about. Although it took us a long time to get there, we figured out a claim that zeroed in on the community aspect that we really wanted in our documentary. We found the evidence first, synthesizing it helped us come to our claim. Making a claim from evidence is a skill that I will continue to use throughout my entire life.

Clear and Effective Communication:

Clear and effective communication means active listening, having a purpose, audience, and organization. The communication in this case, also has a storytelling aspect to it, because as filmmakers it is our job to tell the story in a meaningful way. Throughout my What’s the Story experience, there have been countless instances where my active listening skills come into play. Active listening to my partner was crucial to the effectiveness of our team, active listening to the farmers and professionals we talked with, as well as active listening during the workshops, to better our interviews, film production, and presenting skills, and most importantly, active listening to the feedback we received after our peers viewed our documentary for the first time were all instances that these skills were put into play. This is a skill that I will continue to work on throughout my entire life, as listening is one of the best skills a person can have! I published a website and the finished documentary to our audience which is the community (and consumers) of Vermont. This is one piece of storytelling. In our film, we wanted to be removed from it, and just have the farmers tell their intimate narratives. This was my way of persuading the audience to support the farmers and their businesses. Hopefully, we’ll be successful!

“Teaching Dreams” Learning:

In the poem “Teaching Dreams”, the author delves into the fact that in most cases, students learn something, oftentimes meaningful, that the teacher didn’t intend to teach. During What’s the Story, I learned a lot about farming, which was my goal going into the course. I wanted to have an excuse to talk with farmers!! One of my biggest takeaways from that experience talking with the farmers is that I no longer want to be a farmer for my job. I have so much respect for the farmers, but there are many drawbacks to having that be your profession. One of the reasons I wanted to do this program was because I wanted to have opportunities to talk with adults in professions that I might be interested in. This might change again once I get to college, but for now, I’d just like to be an avid gardener and possibly homesteader, being very self-sufficient, while supporting farmers through CSA membership and buying their products.

Another thing I learned is that during the retreats, it is clear that we bond better when we have to live together. This is the same for my youth group, although we meet weekly all year, when we go away together for a week, the bond between all of us becomes so much stronger. I think just having to live with people, eat meals with them, and work through hard things with them creates a stronger bond then some of those team bonding activities. Setting community expectations at the beginning also started to create the bond. I also learned that it was really hard to maintain the connections with people not in my group during the time between the retreats and meetups.

Another thing I learned, that might have been a goal of the teachers, was that this generation has a lot of power and together, collectively, we will be able to make great changes in the world. As someone who is a climate advocate, I am very aware of the limited time line that we have to take action, and I am sad that I can’t do more. However, once I saw the films the my What’s the Story peers had made, I was hopeful for the future. I feel like this generation cares about social issues, acceptance, and making the world a better place in general. The world needs our help in many ways and I hope that as the young people on this Earth, we will be able to stand up for what is right. During What’s the Story, it became clear to me that when you give kids resources and don’t tell them they can’t do something because it is too unreasonable, great things will come of it!

Thanks for everything, What’s the Story!!

Mary Nagy-Benson

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