WTS Newsletter: December 2016

I’m writing to share exciting news from the last month, an update on our December retreat, and forecast where we are headed.

Vermont Creative Learning Forum: Woodstock, VT (November 15th-16th)

A team of six learners and mentors attended the Vermont Creative Learning Forum (VTCLF) , organized by The Community Engagement Lab and centered around an exciting series of conversations “seeking to advance personalized and proficiency-based learning initiatives through creative engagement.” WTS was asked to be one of six case studies explored over the two-day forum. Learners and mentors shared our work and engaged with others from across the state, equally passionate about creatively engaging personalized and proficiency-based pathways.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference: Atlanta, GA (November 18th – 20th)

The day following the VTCLF, a small team from WTS flew to Atlanta to present theory and practice about “The Very Best of Personalized and Proficiency-Based Learning” using WTS as a model. We were ecstatic to bring Eva Rocheleau and her father Paul Rocheleau with us. Eva is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, a standout learner last year’s WTS, and has returned to dig deeper this year on gender identity and the roles schools can play to grow respect and awareness on the topic. Eva and Paul were joined in Atlanta by Bill Rich, VT-BLTN and WTS Director, and myself. A highlight for me was introducing Eva to some young people from the Navajo Nation I’ve worked with in the past and other Bread Loaf School of English alumni equally dedicated to empowering youth to become change agents.

December Retreat:

Our second overnight retreat took place during the first weekend in December at the always beautiful Common Ground Center in Starksboro, VT. The primary focus of our work was to pivot the research of our Social Action Teams into recording video interviews with stakeholders. To make this transition, we really needed to study three things and how they weave together in a live performance – (1) technical/mechanical know-how, (2) making choices around filming (aesthetics), and (3) the interpersonal skills of interviewing:  finding and following emotions and stories in engaging and authentic ways. The agenda for the weekend can be seen here. Jason Mittell, Middlebury College Professor of Film & Media Culture and a current parent of a WTS student, provided the highlight of the weekend. He ran a wonderful two hour conversation on Saturday with a laser focus on analyzing and creating choices when filming an interview. In addition to these topics, we continued to unpack ways to engage others and better understand ourselves; it’s not every weekend where young people are engaged in discussions about Moral Humility on a Saturday night and reflect on their own learning and growth on a Sunday morning.

Please find the most current work of these Social Action Teams by following these links: Animal Cruelty, Breaking Binary, Cultural Communication, Education ReformLake Champlain Pollution, Mental Health, Migrant Farmers, and Smashing Sexism.

Looking Forward:

Learners and Social Action Teams are currently focused on completing their interviewing and filming by our February 11th Saturday work session, when we’ll pivot to re-imagining a narrative arc based on accumulated content. We will also meet on January 14th for a Saturday work session to reconnect, regroup, and redraft a final month of filming interviews and b-roll footage.

Wishing all a centering and restorative new year,

-Tim O’Leary, WTS Lead Instructor

Tim O'Leary

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