On the 23rd of January our team pulled off a day of immense productivity that took weeks of coordinating and planning, but once we got to carrying out the plans we had orchestrated everything went as well as we could have hoped (a few difficulties here and there but nothing major). Gretta and I met up at MUHS at 8 am to head up to Burlington Highschool. There we met with Susan Blethen, an ELL teacher and had the privilege to sit in on her class and interview her students. It was such a valuable experience and great addition to our project and other than some slight technical difficulties in the beginning, it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. I was pleased that many of the kids were eager to participate in our project and help us get to know them and their ELL program. The conversations went really well and we had a good variety of responses. One girl told us about a project to create a logo for acceptance/ awareness of immigrants and asylum seekers in Vermont communities (depicted below). The ELL class at Burlington High School worked together to come up with a design for posters and pins that carry the message: “ALL ARE WELCOME”

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During the interviews, each student had something different to say but overall their experiences seemed to be positive ones. I was pleasantly surprised by this. I realize now that I had been subconsciously expecting a narrative geared more towards overcoming adversity and struggling for acceptance. At this point, I could already sense that the events of that day would take us down a different path, one that we didn’t know existed yet.


Next, we were off to Winooski to film at their school. They gave us an office space to work in and we filled the rest of the afternoon interviewing students, teachers, and liaisons as well as having a meeting to discuss the best direction to take the project in given our new information and resources.


What immediately struck me upon visiting these other schools was how different they felt compared with my own school. There was a completely different environment and I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what it was that made this so. Both schools felt very warm and inviting. Maybe it was the student art, international flags, famous quotes and posters that lined every wall maybe it was the fact that it was exciting to be somewhere so different from what I was used to. I had known that Winooski and Burlington were more ethnically diverse and had larger immigrant populations but I had no idea of the full extent to which the demographics were different from that of Middlebury. It gave me a feeling that coming here as an immigrant and learning English among other people in your situation, where you don’t individually stick out as the odd one out would be a far easier transition than first entering a place like MUHS where you would be one of a handful of students immediately identifiable as different among hundreds of “normal” students. Not to suggest that people at my school aren’t friendly or inviting, but there is an element of openness at Burlington and Winooski that can’t just be imitated and brought somewhere else.


This brings me to addressing how our project has developed as a result. During our interview time, for the most part, we heard largely positive stories. Our focus has consequently shifted, instead of telling the stories of overcoming adversity and finding ways to improve all ELL education systems, we’re changing tact. we’re now looking to bring the positive aspects of Burlington and Winooski to smaller schools and compare and contrast areas of larger diversity vs less diversity and analyze the impact of each on communities for our audience. It’s less about changing current situations and more about bringing current situations to light. This is a topic of growing visibility and relevance. Everyone on our team seems to agree that our experiences working with this topic have changed both our local and global perspectives and that is one of the major things we want to bring to Vermont through this documentary.


Kati Tolgyesi

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