From Tuesday, April 9th through Friday, April 12th, youth and adult teams from ten New England schools visited Vermont as part of the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) Learning Excursion. NGLC is an organization dedicated to supporting schools and educators who are reimagining public education. Each year, the organization designs an excursion during which teams of high school students, teachers, and administrators visit innovative learning communities with the goal of applying what they learn to their own schools. The theme of this year’s Excursion was how genuine youth-adult partnership both reflects and can lead to genuine transformation of schools, learning, and outcomes for students. Participants toured and met with youth and adults in three school communities: Harwood Union Middle & High School, Twinfield Union High School, and Winooski Middle & High School. In addition to the school visits, the teams participated in a facilitated panel and small group discussions with members of UP for Learning school teams and community partners, all held at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort in Stowe. The four-day excursion was full of inspiring examples and conversations about the present and future of education in Vermont, helping the teams think about how they could bring what they experienced back to their own schools. The Learning Excursion was generously funded by the Barr Foundation


During Tuesday’s panel, members of several UP teams shared their “why,” “what,” and “how” of youth-adult partnership, then sat with participants in small groups to discuss their experiences in more depth. After taking part in the panel and table conversations, UP Youth Facilitator and Champlain Valley Union High School student Olivia Cieri reflected, “It was amazing to hear from other youth working with UP, that I don’t see as often, or have never met. I learned a lot from the incoming schools, and I hope they were able to learn from me. I think it was a great opportunity to bring people from such different backgrounds together and discuss youth-adult partnership.” Jacoby Soter, a Youth Facilitator from Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans sat with youth and adults from Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA), and stated, “ I loved working with the group from Boston. It was a unique experience to see how a district that has just as many students as our entire state functions and operates. The perspective I got was eye-opening because the group was enthusiastic about creating a sustainable system to enact effective change that benefit students at their high school. Working with this group allowed me not only to take a moment to reflect on how far Vermont has come in youth-adult partnership, but also see how far we still have to go as a state to create educational equity. I am excited to see what [the school] does in the future and I am also excited to take what I heard from the team back to my own district.”


The teams toured the three schools, sat in on classes, and heard from administrators, teachers, and youth about student-centered approaches to curriculum, advisories, and community resources. At Harwood, participants learned about their advisory system, ELO (Extended Learning Opportunities), and Harkness pedagogy. They also saw how Harwood students are actively involved in leadership that impacts academics, school culture, and climate. At Twinfield, participants learned about the school’s strong personalized and proficiency-based learning practices. They also learned about the Renaissance Program, where students design in-depth studies that are connected to the school’s proficiencies but not offered as courses. Based on the student’s interests and learning styles, the studies can be completed as internships, college courses, service-learning, independent research projects, study groups, and other options. At Winooski School, the teams toured the school’s health center, library, and iLab, and learned about how the school provides students with flexible pathways to graduation. They also saw how student voice is woven throughout the school via advisory representatives, community meetings, and a newly formed athletic advisory council. Kristen Vogt, Knowledge Management Officer at NGLC, shared some of the survey responses from the Excursion participants, 100% of whom agreed that they now have a deeper understanding of innovative, student-centered learning in Vermont, and 98% leaving with at least one idea/action to implement in their school or district. One participant remarked, “On the whole this experience was extremely positive, and was transformative for me as an educator (and hopefully will contribute to our ongoing transformation as a school). There were so many things, big and small, about this experience that made it powerful, thought-provoking, and supportive.”

During the week, UP also hosted a panel discussion with many community partners that widened the lens of youth-adult partnership work in the state. Restorative Practices consultant Jon Kidde shared, “I spoke to some very motivated youth who had great ideas for their schools and were looking forward to putting them into action. I think the Excursion provided an excellent forum to help catalyze change led by youth-adult partnership. I was so happy to be a part and it was fun to connect with community partners here in Vermont.” Maria Davies, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator at Lamoille North Supervisory Union, shared, “It was wonderful to see how our little brave state has such a sense of community and collaboration through and through. I can honestly say that all of the community members that were in attendance I have collaborated with in some form or fashion in the work I do. Doing so has also been a true pleasure. I hope that other states can take note and do the same. We are so much stronger and supported when we stand together.”

The Learning Excursion was an amazing way to showcase all of the incredible work happening in schools across Vermont. UP Executive Director Lindsey Halman noted, “one takeaway from the week is how there’s not one place in Vermont where you can go to see good things happening. Every school has something to offer in terms of innovation and student-centered learning, and it was a great opportunity for New England teams to see that. I was excited about the variety the visitors got to see at each of the host schools. Vermont embraces student-centered pedagogy and practices in many places, and people in our schools don’t always realize how far along they are. It’s what they naturally do; it’s not siloed or specialized, it’s part of their learning community. When there’s so much talk of what is wrong in schools, it’s important to highlight what is right.”