Two UP for Learning teams delivered workshops at this year’s Vermont Association for Middle Level Educators (VAMLE) Conference, held at Champlain College on March 16th! There was record-breaking attendance, with 300 participants coming from middle schools from all across the state. This year’s theme was “Beyond Bullying: Creating Communities of Equity and Respect.”

Five 8th graders representing our Restorative Practices team at Hunt Middle School delivered a workshop entitled “Learning About and Practicing “I” Statements to De-escalate Conflict,” focused on the non-violent communication technique of using affective (or “I”) statements. They began their workshop with introductions and a community building activity, then presented a slideshow that included terms and definitions, and discussed how effective “I” statements include stating one’s observations, feelings, needs, and requests. They modeled how to have these conversations, and then asked for volunteers to choose a  pre-written scenario from a bowl and act it out, the first time without using “I” statements, and the second time trying them out. All of the scenarios were created by the team, so they were realistic and true to everyday middle school experiences. The group then facilitated a debrief of the activity, asking participants what it felt like to practice using affective statements, and how using them more regularly might improve the climate and culture at their respective schools. The five 8th graders did an amazing job representing their team and Hunt Middle School! They were thoughtful, confident, and flexible in their facilitation. 

Thetford Academy’s Middle School students Jillian Fein, Logan Wells, Tristan Woodward, Eliza Knowlton-Young, MaryAnn Maxfield, and Paul Hesser also presented at the conference, representing their school’s Getting to “Y” team. These student leaders were energized to teach middle school students from around the state of Vermont about their work. They created an interactive one hour workshop that engaged both the youth and adult attendees on how interesting data analysis can be and how the data can be used to brainstorm root causes and solutions.

For several years, Thetford’s Getting to “Y” team has been diligently making an impact on the health and wellbeing of the student body. They shared examples of how to use the youth risk behavior survey data to create action steps. Some of their projects include Sunshine Boxes, Suicide Prevention, Coping with Stress, InSTALLments, a student resource center, Mental Health Check-ins, Red Ribbon Week, all-school assemblies, a Zen Zone, and more. It was clear that there was a lot of interest in the content as the audience had many questions about how to implement the projects. An audience member commented on how professional and prepared the Thetford students were. While this may seem like it comes naturally to these students, one of the team members shared how challenging it is for her to present while also sharing that is why she did it. It is through experiences like this, where youth teach and empower other youth, that meaningful change will take place in individuals, schools, and communities.

The gathering also included a keynote speaker, Bennet Townley, who is the Operations Specialist at Special Olympics Vermont. He spoke passionately about his time playing on the Unified Basketball Team at Champlain Valley Union, and how vital this program was to his sense of belonging in his community. The attendees also participated in icebreaker activities, and watched and discussed several short videos about bullying and inclusion. Overall, it was a fun and inspiring gathering, and we are so proud of our UP teams for delivering such impactful workshops!