March Retreat: What’s the Story Through the Eyes of a Participant

As the March Retreat comes to a close, I think back to what we’ve done over the past 6 months and how to describe What’s the Story?. This program is a year long course were middle and high school students from around the state are recruited, or apply on their own accord, to make teams and create change in their societies and communities. Throughout the year, students research topics, interview stakeholders, and create documentaries and other multi modals to create their wanted affect. The program is co-run by Tim O’Leary and Bill Rich and supported by Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English. English, Social Studies, or Bread Loaf teachers come together to create the mentors that help facilitate the program. What’s the Story? is an incredible educational experience like none I have ever had.


One thing that jumps out to me most as unique, is the opportunity to have independent learning. We, the students, are able to choose which topic we want, whatever that may be, and we are able to run with it with the gentle guiding of the mentors around us. When it comes to choosing people to contact and interviewing them, we do that all on our own. We decide who would be best for our story, come up with what we want to ask them, and then take it into our own hands to reach them and to interview them. This freedom to pick something that matters to us, gives us the motivation to do the long, hard work to get to where we wanted to go. And it feels amazing. Compared to a classroom model of learning, you are given a topic and the papers to read and analyze. This makes the students feel unmotivated to do their work because it doesn’t matter to them at all.

Another one of a kind quality of the course that goes hand in hand with the previous one is style of teaching that pilots the students. It isn’t actually teaching and that’s the beauty of it. It’s more of mentoring and a support system of teachers to go to if you have a problem. These teachers don’t hover over your shoulder and make sure you don’t make a mistake, but instead, watch from afar and when you do make a mistake, help you get back on your feet and running again. This model of education works extremely well with the students in the course and makes the course so much different from almost any other form of education out there.

The third reason that makes What’s the Story? so different is the fact that it gives its participants the opportunity to really make a difference in the world they live in. They are able to choose who or what they want to help and then they are given equipment from Bread Loaf, opportunities at film fests, time to talk with radios and newspapers, and chances to teach and present to workshops. Students are hardly ever given these kinds of opportunities in schools, so the chance to do so makes them feel important and like they can make a difference in the world.


What’s the Story? is possibly one of the best educational experience I have ever had. It shows me what the future of education could be for Vermont and possibly the entire county. When I’m doing work for my team, I always feel like I’m doing something important, something that matters. I feel like I can make a difference in the future of my community. I have learned how to write better, how to ask a good question, how to make a convincing argument, what people want to hear, and how to make change. When I’m with my team, or the all of the other participants, I feel no boundary of age or distance. I only feel like I’m one part of a whole trying to make a difference in our world.


I would recommend What’s the Story?  to any student who would like to have an amazing experience working with other students from all over the state and with a wide range of ages to create a change in your community and society. This course takes hard work and dedication but both of those sometimes tedious requirements in other situations are definitely worth it with this course.



Elsa Lindenmeyr

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