"Moving to Higher Ground" Event Highlights Successes for Rural Schools and Students

Last Updated: May 30, 2012

This article appeared in the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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This month, students, teachers, and community members from central and northeastern Vermont gathered for the eleventh year to focus on place-based learning (PBL) work, youth voice projects, and school-community partnerships that have stengthened some of the state’s most rural and most economically challenged schools and communities and provided numerous opportunities for student success.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier was the setting for over 240 youth and adults to gather and celebrate the successes of a variety of PBL projects including greenhouses in schools to supply cafeterias and study ecosystems, a rare bird collection research initiative, and an intergenerational e-reader buddies program. The theme of this year’s conference was “Moving to Higher Ground: Schools and Communities Make Vermont Strong.”

A moving portion of the event was the keynote presentation, “A Community Comes Together after Irene: Moretown Students Tell Their Stories.” The August 2011 hurricane was the state’s worst natural disaster in over eighty years, and devastating floods laid waste to many small rural communities in the state just as the school year was beginning. In Moretown, flooding from the storm forced some schools to hold classes outside under tents where students learned while covered in blankets donated by the town.

Margaret Maclean, project coordinator/trainer for the Rural Trust and VRP stakeholder summed up the event this way. ”This conference was possibly the best VRP conference to date! Many exciting projects were shared and participants felt very proud of all their hard work this school year. Everyone left energized and talking about possible ideas for their schools in 2012–2013."

The Vermont Rural Partnership (VRP) is a coalition of schools from seven counties and includes both very small and large, regional schools and represents approximately 3,000 students. The organization's mission is to enlarge student learning and improve community life by strengthening relationships between schools and communities and by engaging students in community-based public work. VRP has been in existence since 1996 and is both a network and advocacy organization that works to promote policies that will grow thriving rural schools and communities in the state. It serves its members by developing curricula specific to local places, strengthening student leadership and civic engagement, and advocating for thriving and sustainable small schools. VRP also provides mini-grants to schools for teachers to develop programs tied to VRP goals. The Rural School and Community Trust is a resource partner of VRP.

PBL is one of the most reliable strategies for increasing student achievement because it promotes deeper student engagement in curriculum as well as stronger student-adult relationships and authentic learning opportunities, all strong predictors of school success. At the same time, the vital school-community connection is strengthened as the classroom moves into the community, tapping its often hidden resources and spotlighting unique human capital. For high-poverty rural schools with few “traditional” school resources, PBL can help fill some of the gaps left by low tax bases and curricula that does little to acknowledge the life circumstances of rural students.

VRP schools have been working for years to look within the community, the history and living traditions and the unique landscape as a springboard for developing localized curriculum. Vermont has been a leader among states in its efforts to embed place-based learning in its curriculum standards. (Editor’s Note: Read more about the benefits of place-based learning in RPM here.)

Read more:

Vermont Rural Partnership Website:

In related news, a VRP school alumnus who is now in that national spotlight visits her hometown:

Read more from the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.