The Burlington School District Youth and Family Engagement Team (YFET) held their first retreat of the year on Wednesday, November 29th, at the Robert Miller Community and Recreation Center in the New North End of Burlington. UP began partnering with this district-wide team two years ago with a focus on reducing racial and ethnic disparities in their discipline data. Our work together is supported by a grant by the Vermont Department of Children and Families. 

One of the major findings of last year’s team was that many parents and caregivers in the district desire better and more transparent communication with members of the administration. To accomplish this goal, the team decided to restructure their meetings this year, gathering for a longer amount of time, as well as inviting different community members to each of the four retreats. At this first retreat, twelve youth from Burlington High School and Edmunds Middle School met to take part in community building activities, explore their core values, learn about their leadership styles, and to form an action plan to invite parents and caregivers to the second retreat in January.

Also engaging in this retreat was Autumn Bangoura, Equity Instructional Leader for the Burlington School District and Virginia Litchfield, Youth and Family Restorative Liaison, who is based at Edmunds Middle School. The team came up with a communication plan, as well as the questions that they would like parents and caregivers to discuss at the next retreat, including, “How involved do you feel in your child’s school life?” “What barriers do you think you face when trying to communicate with administration?” and “Do you feel comfortable communicating with the administration? If not, why?” After this meeting with parents and caregivers, the team will invite administrators to the third retreat in February, and teachers to the fourth retreat in March, when they will provide opportunities for similar kinds of dialogue. 

This first retreat was full of laughter and joy, as the team played rounds of Play-doh Pictionary together, and shared their answers to the all important question, “if you were a kind of pasta, what would you be, and why?” Ninth grader Keke Bennett-Jones and 10th graders Christina Adolphe and Nasra Hassan did a great job co-facilitating the evening, creating space for both serious conversations about the group’s experiences at school and fun. We are excited to include parents, caregivers, administrators, and teachers in these gatherings over the coming months, and to support the Burlington School District as they build and strengthen their community.