In the News


Thaddeus Stevens School featured in an article in Vermont Digger celebrating Thaddeus Stevens given his "part" in the new Lincoln movie:

January 2013



Candlelight Vigil Commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr.


Hosted by Thaddeus Stevens School


Light a candle to remember Martin Luther King, Jr.; extinguish it with a commitment to end bigotry.

Join the thousands of schools across America as they gather to commemorate and re-new his vision.


Monday, January 21, 2013

                     5:00 pm, Vail Barn, Lyndon Institute Campus    

Candles Provided




“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

~ Martin Luther King


“I had fondly dreamed . . . that no distinction would be tolerated in this purified Republic but what arose from merit and conduct.”

~ Thaddeus Stevens


"Loose Parts"

“We’re digging for gold so we can buy beavers,” is the response to the question, “What are you digging for today?” in the Thaddeus Stevens School’s new “Loose Play” play area for first through fourth grades. The 2
nd graders are digging with small shovels and occasionally finding worms in the dirt. The Loose Parts theory of play, designed by Simon Nicholson in 1971, involves materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions. They can be used alone or combined with other materials. Stumps, stones, twigs, boxes, baskets, pots and pans, shovels and buckets all make up the play area next to the red Vail barn, donated by Thaddeus Stevens School grandparent Ruth Wheeler. Over the summer, parents along with school director Julie Hansen, came together to design the new playground. Rather than a traditional playground of metal and plastic equipment, parents decided to incorporate the Loose Play concept. A small stage was built, but the rest of the playground is loose parts for creative play. Parent Emily Switser, who helped with the design, says, “It is so much fun to be able to watch the kids playing together. The playground transforms every time I see it. The kids have really taken to it and have such a great time.”  Teacher Brittany Tinkham says with a gleam in her eye, “Some people see dirt; we see a world of possibilities.” 

October 2012


Trash or Treasure?
“They feel so professional,” says Jon DeSantis as he adjusts the height of his “new” drafting table. Peyton Pope agrees, “I like them because they tilt up and it’s a lot easier to draw.”  Colby Switzer is just happy that other kids don’t keep accidently drawing on his paper like last year when often two or three children sat at one table. The sun-lit art room is filled with neat rows of drafting tables donated by Lyndon Institute to the Thaddeus Stevens School over the summer. Director Julie Hansen commented, “The LI maintenance team popped in and asked if we would like some old drafting tables, and we jumped at the opportunity.  The lids are angled so that the students don't work on a flat surface; they can stand while they are drawing and shift their perspective readily.” The drafting tables represent only a small portion of the renovations that have occurred at the Thaddeus Stevens School over the summer.  The rooms are flooded with light and the walls are covered in bright-colored paints with student art displayed all over the school.  Art teacher Leah Benedict loves the new look.  “There is so much research that confirms the impact of art on brain development.  We integrate art with the other core subject areas which encourages the kind of deep analytical thinking we promote at the school.”

September 2012



Thaddeus Stevens School Celebrates One Year in Vail Barn with More Expansion


“Wow.  Look at these colors,” say Sammy Storz and Sydney Benjamin, as they walk through the newly renovated floor level of the Vail Barn.  A bright red bootroom trimmed with white paint greets anyone who enters the door.  Purple, turquoise, and soft blue are found throughout the rooms.  The math room is melon, the phonics room is yellow, and the science room is filled with animals (both live and stuffed) with a blue ceiling dotted with white puffy clouds. 

“Parents and board members worked together on painting the rooms and local contractors took on the larger renovations,” says founding Trustee Bob Morgan, “It’s been a great journey since we started the School with only two grades in 1999.”

The teachers at the School investigated current research as they developed their primary grades curriculum and consider play extremely important at these stages of growth in terms of developing skills and creative thinking.  “The work of Simon Nicholson and his “Theory of Loose Parts” inspired us to create a playground filled with pails, shovels, diggers, boxes, shells, cloth, feathers, paints, and miscellaneous items that the students will use to construct and de-construct as they wish,” says Julie Hansen, Director of the School. 
The other research-based innovation the School has adopted is to organize the teachers according to their specialty.  “It is observed that shifting teachers into teaching those disciplines at which they excel has a powerful impact on student achievement, even in the primary grades,” says Maria Dufresne, Dean of the Lower Elementary School.
Thaddeus Stevens School has also been approved by the State of Vermont for kindergarten and is seeking an appropriate venue that will provide lots of outdoor activities and enough space for movement throughout the day.  


Monday, August 27, 2012 Caledonian Record


Thaddeus Stevens School Incorporates Healthy Living Courses and Activities
Thaddeus Stevens School has included walks, hikes, and healthy food choices.  Across the street from the track, the School has scheduled a daily walk of three to four laps around the track.  “We put it in the schedule both because it is healthy but also because it allows the students to expend their abundant energy so they can sit in a class and focus on the academics,” says Julie Hansen, School Director.

The students look forward to the walk and some have set goals for themselves:  run two laps and walk two laps with the goal to run all four laps. “It helps me get through the morning because I don’t just keep thinking about going out for lunch recess and I can pay attention in class a little bit better,” says Quentin Piliero.

In addition to the outdoor field science program, an Outdoor Leadership course has been added.  One Friday per month the entire School community takes a hike.  In October the School headed up Devil’s Hill in Peacham.  Science teacher Tom Forster says, “It’s a good beginning hike.  We put the third and fourth grade students in front to set the pace and asked the students to hike in silence for ten minute intervals.  At the end of each interval the students gathered in small groups to talk about what they observed and whether they could tell the difference from walking on dirt or rocks or pine needles.”  After lunch the students chose specific locations to sketch for thirty minutes.  Eighth grader Emily Guay liked the silence because “it made me notice more around me, like I saw a striped rock that was cool and I don’t think I would have noticed it if I was just talking with my friends.”

The final piece, which began with the Animal Celebration Day, featured an awareness of local foods.  Eric Paris, local dairyman whose farm is certified organic, spoke to the students about the importance of knowing where their food comes from and what happens to it on its way to their table. Mr. Paris cautioned the students about the rising rates of diabetes in Americans due to too many processed foods.

Chef Craig Locarno from Lyndon Institute, a member of the Vermont Fresh Network, also visited on Animal Celebration Day and told the students that they are the future and need to be healthy to do the best they can.  Thaddeus Stevens School and Lyndon Institute have worked together to offer Stevens School students fresh, healthy lunches made with locally raised produce and meats.  In keeping with the School’s focus on sustainability, no paper plates or plastic utensils are used to serve lunch. 


October 2011
Thaddeus Stevens School Granted Accreditation by the 
New England Association of Schools and Colleges


"We are so proud to have our school recognized by NEASC accreditation.  The Trustees credit the vision and tenacity of Director Julie Hansen and the school's faculty. We have all committed years of service to building an institution worthy of this honor, and to have it singled out for professional endorsement is gratifying." 


The School conducted a thorough self-study according to the guidelines and standards mapped out by the Association. Parents, both current and past, participated in the self-study in cooperation with faculty, staff, students, and Trustees. Last April the School hosted a visiting team of four evaluators who spent three days scrutinizing the report, sitting in on classes, and speaking with all the constituents of the School.


“I have led self-studies in the past and participated as a visiting team member on two occasions. I believe in the process. It keeps the school focused on its mission and its core values of excellence,” says School Director, Julie Hansen. “It has always been my goal to achieve this for the School but building that capacity takes a few years.”



October 2011

Translator Deconstructs Fairy Tales for Stevens School

Elborg Forster, international translator, presented three stories to the Stevens School students. The Wizard of Oz, Babar, and Maya, the Bee, all represent the values of cultures from which their authors wrote.

“We constantly tell the students that art and literature are cultural artifacts, so it was great to use examples of stories they have read as children,” says Leah Benedict, art teacher at the School.

Using colorful overheads and reading from the stories, Forster explained the symbolism found in the stories. Babar, the French story written between two wars, depicts a stylish, middle-class life filled with music and food and parties. The French longing for a past that had been lost in World War I found comfort in the Babar stories. African elephants transported to France and acquiring the French culture represented the African colonies funded by France.

“I guess I won’t read these stories the same,” says fifth grader Lauren Rauert. “We talk about this in class, but I never really understood it.” Frank Baum, the author of the classic Wizard of Oz places his story in Kansas, the heart of mid-west plainspoken optimism. The yellow brick road and Dorothy’s silver slippers refer to the change from the silver standard to gold in Ameri

ca at that time.

“I liked it that Dorothy represented his ideas about women being able to be independent even before they could vote in America,” says Sydney Benjamin, eighth grader.

Forster has translated a number of stories, letters, and poems from German to English and from French to English, and is usually published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

May 2011


March 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Under tables with tired arms and dodging paint droplets, the fifth and sixth grade students of the Stevens School create Renaissance cathedral ceilings.  Their challenge is to design two ceilings: one reflecting the Roman Catholic values in Rome and Southern Europe, and the other reflecting post-Reformation Protestant values of Northern Europe.  After signing a fifteenth century apprentice contracts, class divides into the Northern Renaissance guild of St. Luke (patron saint of artists) and the Southern Renaissance guild of St. Luke.

Inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, students design, pounced (transfer sketches by means of tiny holes and chalk) and paint mural-size allegories.  Both the ceilings are displayed on the anteroom ceiling at Stevens School.

February 2011
Stevens School students have held the top placed team in five of our six years of competing, and have had the top individual scorer for the region in the past six years in a row.  Congratulations to Sydney for being our top individual scorer this year.

Spring 2010

Pictured:  Members of the Stevens School Eighth Grade class (kneeling) with some of the over 500 pounds of pet food they collected, and volunteers and staff (standing) at the NEKCA Food Shelf in St. Johnsbury.

As a community service project the Eighth Grade class at the Stevens School in Peacham, VT organized a pet food drive at school.  Because of the poor economy, many people in our community have had trouble finding resources to care for their pets and the Eighth Grade students felt the pet food drive was a unique way to help their neighbors and contribute to their community.  The students orchestrated a drive at school encouraging classmates, parents, and other school community members to donate dog and cat food for the food shelf.  They also solicited donations from area stores.  The Stevens School Eighth Grade would like to thank the St. Johnsbury Price Chopper and the Littleton Walmart for their donations, and a special thank you to Littleton Walmart employees Michelle Potteiger, Amanda Hannaford, and Dawn Wise.  With their help the students were able to add hundreds of pounds of pet food to their cause! 

Giving Back to the Community  (Caledonia Record November 2, 2009)

Civic participation is a key component to The Stevens School, named after Thaddeus Stevens.   Born in Danville and raised in Peacham, Stevens went on to become an influential representative from the state of Pennsylvania., eventually authoring the Fourteenth Amendment.

“His legacy demands that practice citizenship in all kinds of ways,” says Julie Hansen, School Director.  Students learn to identify their points and to articulate them with confidence.  “Certainly,” says Hansen, expressing one’s opinion is critical to preserving American democracy, but so is giving back to one’s community.  The Youth Shelter Walk is an aspect of learning to do that.”

The students also volunteer at the School’s annual “Simple Gifts” activity, as part of St. Johnsbury’s Victorian Holiday celebration in December.  Students and parents work at stations with craft supplies to help younger children create small gifts during the holiday season.


Stevens School Students Discover Microscopic Life in Pond  (Caledonia Record October 5, 2009)

 With the help of AmeriCorps volunteer, Tom Forster, the Stevens School is building trails and boardwalks on its seven acres as part of a plan to expand their field science program.  Students identify and document the flora and fauna as they develop worksites on the surrounding wetland, woodland, and field habitats.

“Right now the big focus is the pond and its surroundings,” says school director, Julie Hansen.  “Mr. Forster brings years of outdoor experience in Alaska and Nepal and mountains in between.”  Forster says, “It’s a dream teaching job – teaching outdoor science and building trails with motivated students.”  Students have also taken ownership of the trails and are delving into identifying what is there.  Eighth grade student, Alex Lynch, discovered a microscopic organism that appears to have a separate moveable head with pincers of some sort.   The school has yet to identify it, but Forster says he will contact a specialist who can come in and take a look.

“It’s cool to go outside and test the water temperatures and then collect and see what’s in it,” says seventh grader Austin Grant.

“We hope to make our site available to other schools and to create lessons that they use with their own students to conduct scientific inquiry related to their curricular focus,” says Hansen. 



Stevens School Students Visit Home of Namesake, Thaddeus Stevens (Caledonia Record, March 2009)

"Newspaper accounts tell us that it was in this window that Mr. Stevens was informed that President Lincoln had been shot," said Gail Tomlinson, director of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.  As part of their trip to Philadelphia, Pa. recently, Stevens School students rode the train from Philadelphia to Lancaster in order to tour the home of Thaddeus Stevens, currently under construction as part of an historic preservation project that recognizes the importance of the work Stevens and his colleague Lydia Hamilton Smith. 

Students donned hardhats and explored the home of their school's namesake.

"Connecting our Vermont students to his Vermont roots and his life and work in Pennsylvania has been an idea we have talked about for quite some time," said Julie Hansen, director of the Stevens School. "When I called Tomlison, she was very excited to host our students."

"It makes you realize that a person doesn't have to have a big fancy house to make history," said Luna Guzman, an eighth grader at Stevens School.

A large cistern has been uncovered at Stevens's home that appears to have functioned as a stopover for runaway slaves.  A spitoon was discovered and a door leading out of Stevens's property into the cistern. The cistern was built as part of the water system but does not appear to have contained any water.  "I would have to say that this is the best primary document I've used so far to make history real for the students," says Hansen.

"It was cool to be in his home and know that he was from right in Vermont and did so many good things," said Andrew Hershey, a seventh-grade student.

Beginning their trip in Philadelphia, the students first explored Independence Hall and sat in the chairs of the first United States senate.  After spending a day in the urban environment, they traveled to Lancaster to visit the Stevens home and to experience the food and hospitality of the Amish community.

Sixth-grader Natalya McDonnell Parrish crystallized that idea when she said, "I can't believe I stood in the same room as he did when he found out about President Lincoln."


 The Stevens School takes First Place at Regional MathCounts 2008-2009 Competition...Again!! (Caledonian-Record March, 2009)

For the third year in a row, the Stevens School won first place at the regional MathCounts competition held at Lyndon State College on Saturday, February 14. Competing with schools from Montpelier and the Northeast Kingdom, the Stevens School not only placed first as a team but also won the top prize in two more categories: Clare Neal, eighth grader, won first place in the individual overall competition and second place in the individual countdown round. David Fickes came in second place in the individual overall competition. The winning Stevens team included Clare Neal, David Fickes, Aren Tulp, and Julia Fickes.

MathCounts is a national math enrichment, coaching and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement in every U.S. state and territory. Over 100 students spent their Saturday morning solving math problems as individuals and as members of school teams. The top ten students then competed head to head in the final countdown round.

Jon Snyder, Stevens School math teacher and MathCounts coach expressed his pride, "MathCounts is both challenging and fun for our kids. I am proud of each one of our competitors and for all the parents and students who came to support us during the competition. We are excited about competing in the state round in March." 

 In My Opinion by Julie Hansen (Caledonian-Record, November 2008)

Regarding the Burton Snowboard Controversy

As a member of the national network of First Amendment Schools, the Stevens School takes interest in the current controversy with the new Burton Boards’ graphics on their snowboards.  The corporation contends that the images of nude women and self-mutilation fall under the protection of free artistic expression.  It would be good to remind them that the First Amendment guarantees protection from governmental intrusion on free expression, not on the public’s rejection of images it deems objectionable.  Further, it is important to remember that, in exchange for the protections on individual liberties, there exists an exchange.  The governed must uphold a commitment to protecting and promoting the common good.

If Burton wishes to continue the argument of free expression, it is then important to examine the decisions of the courts with regard to the limits of free expression and the common good.  First Amendment protections for obscenity and pornography have limited themselves to images entertained by adults.  In Miller v California, 1973, the Court set guidelines to consider when determining what constitutes obscenity and pornography.  These include:

-       Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

   Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

In another First Amendment case, Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, the court said that “obscene . . . words . . . are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”

I would suggest that the above standards make clear that the images of naked Playboy Bunnies, cut hands dripping with blood and burn marks representing self-mutilation on a snowboard, in no way elevate public discourse or civic concern for the welfare of the common good.  Indeed, Burton’s statement on a web page reinforces their desire merely to shock:  “Board art has long been cutting edge, RAW and off the cuff . . . always in your face.”  We must ask, “In our face for what?”  What is the political or artistic value that is promoted?  And if we have to ask then your point has not been adequately made. 

Surely, the adult members of the corporation are aware that self-mutilation is a pathology that is harming too many of our young people.  Surely the adult members are aware of the connection between violence against women and the objectification of the female image.

That the snowboards are purchased by consumers over the age of eighteen does not adequately respond to the concerns of the community at large.  The boards will find their way to the slopes.  The cross-over from the adult world to the children’s world changes the dynamic of the “free expression” argument to one that must address the responsibility to those in the larger community who will forced to view them.  Schools across the state participating in ski programs sponsored for elementary students risk exposing children to images that they are not equipped to view.

In deciding Tinker v Des Moines, another First Amendment case, the Court said that “students do not shed their Constitutional rights at the school door.” Equally, corporations do not shed their responsibilities to the communities in which they live and operate.

We hope that a comprehensive public discussion will ensue in the upcoming weeks.  We need to hear from the managements of the ski resorts who sponsor the school ski days during the winter.  We would want to be assured that our students participate in a program that understands its responsibilities toward safeguarding our younger generations.  We are all responsible for the protection of our nation’s children, for building citizens for the future.  One of the marks of maturity is to control impulses that gratify only ourselves, to make reasoned decisions that consider the consequences of our actions and to consider the implications of our actions. 

There is a greater good and Burton has chosen to relinquish its responsibilities to that greater good. 

Stevens School Community Reads We the People

Fall 2008. “We like to have one book that the entire school reads,” says Stevens School Director Julie Hansen.  “The parents, students, faculty, and staff read the same book and then we come together at least once to talk about it.  Since this is an election year, we thought We the People would be great.”  The series, published by the Center for Civic Education, has sets leveled for elementary, middle, and high school grades and examines the founding ideals that contributed to the creation of the Constitution.

Students discuss issues during the daily morning meeting.  Eighth grade student, Max Buckminster, says “We get a clear picture of the ideas and we discover our opinions."“And each one is equally unique,” adds fellow eighth grader Ezra Racine.

The eighth grade students worked with the third grade students, showing them electoral maps and referring to the pages in the text that explains elections.  As the students work their way through the book, the school allows time to watch the candidate debates and their campaign speeches.  Using We the People as the foundation keeps class discussion from becoming personal and contentious.  “The teachers make sure that we match the ideas to the Constitution so it doesn’t feel biased or uncomfortable, says eighth grader, Elizabeth Ruffner.

Leah Benedict, faculty, enjoys hearing the students present ideas and refer to book.  “The We the People curriculum gives them the tools necessary for understanding our democracy and for voicing their understanding of the Constitution.”

Eighth Annual Mock Trial

April 2008.  "Order in the courtroom!   I won't tolerate any more disruptions in my courtroom," said the Honorable Keith Aten, presiding over the Stevens School mock trial, as the fifth and six grade students were escorted out of the room for protesting one of the witnesses. For the eighth consecutive year, students from the Stevens School in Peacham presented a mock trial as part of their integrated course of studies.  

This year's trial, The People vs. Stover, was presented at the Caledonia County Courthouse. Stevens' seventh and eighth grade students are given the facts of the case and the witnesses' statements. They work in teams and are given guidelines regarding the expectations of each assigned roles. Both the defense and prosecution each work for one day with a professional attorney to assist them with their "game plan." This year Colin Benjamin, Esq. assisted the defense team and William Cobb, Esq. assisted the prosecution. "Working with Attorney Benjamin helped us so much. He helped me to devise a strategy for my closing statement," said Max Buckminster, seventh grade defense attorney.  

The jury is made up of parents, local citizens and former students. While the jury deliberated, the Honorable Keith Aten (local Littleton attorney) discussed the case with the students both praising and offering suggestions on how they might have presented the case. He also answered questions from the audience.

"The mock trial requires students to think and write clearly and logically. It pushes them to use the more complex skills of analyzing and synthesizing information," said Julie Hansen, Stevens School Director. "I am so proud of these kids. They've worked very hard and as always rise to the occasion."

 Stevens School Takes Top Prize in Regional Mathcounts...Again!

February 2008. For the second year in a row, the Stevens School placed first at the regional Mathcounts competition held at Lyndon State College.  Competing with ten schools from Montpelier and the Northeast Kingdom, the Stevens School not only came in first as a team, but won the top prize in two more categories: the individual overall competition and the individual countdown round.

Mathcounts is a national math enrichment, coaching, and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement in every U.S. state and territory. Students spent Saturday morning solving math problems as individuals and as members of school teams. The top ten students then competed head to head in the final countdown round.

Jon Snyder, Stevens School math teacher and Mathcounts coach expressed his pride: "Mathcounts is both challenging and fun for our kids. I am proud of each one of our competitors and thankful for all the parents and students who came to support us during the competition." 

Stevens School Celebrates Eighteenth Annual African-American Read-In

February 2007.  "It was a wonderful occasion for the school to celebrate diversity and share the important work of African-American poets and writers. The kids did a great job performing their readings," said Beth McCabe, parent of fifth grader. Students researched poets, essayists, novelists, and songwriters from the days of slavery up to contemporary rap artists to perform and read during the two-hour celebration. Musical offerings were interspersed throughout the readings. Parents, students, and community members discussed the work and issues of race. Responding to a recent suggestion that it is divisive to distinguish African American literature from other literature, eighth grade student Lizzie Moye said, "But today is not just about recognizing a few poems; it is about recognizing the history of African Americans, looking at what is in the brain and the heart and the body." Eighth grade student Jasper Craven used a rap rhythm to perform a poem by Imiri Baraka. "A lot of these poems deal with America and how it works so they apply to all of us. Reading them joins us together."

Students performed pieces in groups using the traditional call and response as well as solo recitations. "I really liked the Langston Hughes poems," said fifth grader, Quinn Bornstein.

The Read-In has been a tradition since the opening of the school. "It gives us an opportunity to have discussions with parents and community members about the issues and ideas that shape who the students will become, what they will value as they continue to find their voice and their place in society," said Julie Hansen, Director of the School.

Parent of a fifth grade student, Maria Dufresne summed up the event by saying, "For these students this is not a one day symbolic recognition of diversity and equality, but rather an integral part of the school's commitment to individual voice and understanding of each as a human being."


Stevens School Students Visit New York City

November 2006. "We alternate among New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston so that students can acquire a sense of the multicultural nature of America," says Director Julie Hansen. This year the students visited New York City staying in a youth hostel, riding the subway, visiting the United Nations, dining in Chinatown, riding the Staten Island Ferry, absorbing the art at the Met.

The annual trip is designed to reinforce and to extend the curricular foci of the school, so particular activities and locations are chosen that can be referred to throughout the year. Students participated in a Model UN last spring and remembered seeing videos of the rooms. "Sitting in the Security Council room really stuck with me," says Blake Schoolcraft. "I had seen it on a video about the UN and in movies, but it’s different actually being there."

Several students gave presentations on specific artists while at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Willie Dege, eighth grader, gave a presentation on Picasso, standing in front of the painting he had studied earlier in the year. "It was pretty cool to see the painting for real," he says, adding, "But it was weird that some of the visitors stood around and listened while I was talking."

Leah Benedict, art director and fifth and sixth grade social studies teacher explains that the trip builds confidence in the students, "just by learning how to ride the subway with so many different people."

"The Board of Trustees supports the goals of the trip and plans the budget accordingly. Parents participate in a variety of fund raising events that also support the cost of the trip. We couldn’t do it without everyone’s support," says Hansen. "It is a lot of work, but it enriches the curriculum; it deepens the students understanding of their world, and it strengthens the relationships between the students and teachers."

Stevens School Launches Innovative Science Program

September 2006. Science teacher Pete Little is taking science on the road. "Approaching science from the field naturalist point of view asks the students to engage in all of the elements of middle school science: earth, life, and physical sciences. Students must understand the interaction of each of those elements on the world around them." Director Julie Hansen has wanted to use the outdoors as the primary learning space for science classes for quite some time. "The environment provides the best classroom for scientific inquiry," says Hansen, "and the authentic science experiences develop an active mind that seeks answers using evidence acquired during the focus of study, a skill that carries over into other academic work."

The School began with a model developed by previous science teacher Dawn Morgan when the seventh grade class adopted the Peacham Bog and dedicated one day per week – all day – specifically on the bog for an entire semester. The effectiveness of the program inspired Hansen and the Stevens School Board to consider a more comprehensive model for the entire school. The School took into account the Vermont requirement of 120 hours per course, seasonal changes, locations, and transportation and designed an immersion program that begins with phenology in the fifth/sixth grade and builds to create field naturalists by the end of eighth grade. Four times per school year, for one full week, each grade boards the bus with science journals in hand prepared to devote their energies to observing, collecting data, cataloging species, and gathering comparative information.

Eighth grader Willie Dege says, "This is so much better than last year; it feels like we are actually doing scientific experiments." Jasper Craven agrees, "Today we found a rock and checked to see how it broke apart and we had to identify if it was a cleavage or a fracture and then talk about why."

"My hope is to create students who can walk into any ecosystem and explain how it came to be the way it is and what factors may, and inevitably will, change it," says Little.

First Amendment School’s Sam Chaltain Visits Stevens School

The followng is from the First Amendment School Newsletter:

March 2006.  FAS Staff Visit The Stevens School

The day before the workshop, Sam spent the day at one of FAS’s newest schools, The Stevens School in Peacham, VT.

The Stevens School is located in a tiny town in the Northeastern corner of Vermont, past Aunt Dee's general store and an 18th-century town hall. As I entered the school, housed in a light-filled structure on top of a tiny hill and surrounded on all sides by pine trees, I found all seventeen of the school’s students sitting in a circle, patiently waiting for the "First Amendment Man" to arrive.

After explaining how I nearly perished down a muddy, unpaved road, the students introduced me to a large picture hanging above the seats in the room. "That’s our community," they explained, and as I looked at the words written inside the giant circle, I learned about the school’s central values: PARTICIPATION, TRUST, AWARENESS OF OTHERS, EMPATHY, COURAGE, THOUGHTFULNESS, FOCUS, PATIENCE. Flanking the circle on either side were student representations of each amendment in the Bill of Rights. In another room, a giant colorful mural featured different figures from American history in a representation of our historic battle to ensure justice for all. In short, the school was blanketed with visual reminders of the ideals valued by the community, an omnipresence that was reflected in the compassion, articulateness and awareness of the students, who range in age from ten to fourteen.

Principal Julie Hansen, a transplanted Hawaiian who moved to Vermont in 1999 to help launch Stevens after answering an ad in the newspaper that asked her to describe her ideal vision of a school, had an idea after seeing the types of evaluation tools being used by some other First Amendment Schools. "I decided we should ask our students to help us create a scoring sheet of sorts, something that will allow the community to define our goals and help us refocus if we stray off the track."

After five small groups spread out across the building to brainstorm what such a sheet might look like, the group re-assembled to debrief the process. "How does courage play out in the course of an average school day?" Julie asked the group, as art teacher Leah Benedict’s dog Rags scoured the floor for some scraps. A young messy-haired boy named Max responded first: "If you saw someone being picked on and you spoke up." An eighth grader named Lizzy added: "Or if you think you have the right answer, but you’re not sure, and you speak up anyway." Then a tall girl named Katy, playing with the pink scarf around her neck, tried to expand the definition – "That could also fall under trust," she says, "since you’d be confident people won’t pick on you if you get the wrong answer."

It was just the first day of a conversation that will likely continue throughout the year (and years to come) at Stevens.

Stevens School Student Takes First Place At Regional Mathcounts

February 2006. Michael Fickes, a seventh grader at Stevens School, won first place in the regional Mathcounts competition held at Lyndon State College on Saturday, February 18.

Mathcounts is a national math enrichment, coaching, and competition program that promotes middle-school mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory. Mathcounts challenges students’ math skills, develops their self-confidence, and rewards them for their achievements.

Michael, along with about 50 other students from schools across the NEK spent Saturday morning completing math problems individually and then as school teams. The ten students with the highest scores competed in a "Sudden Victory" playoff. The intense final round asks two students to view a problem projected on a large screen and respond within 45 seconds with the correct answer. Michael will compete with other regional winners on March 25 at Vermont Technical College. The top four state "mathletes" will travel to Arlington, VA, for the national competition.

Nick Anzalone, Stevens School math teacher and Mathcounts coach says, "This is Stevens School first year to compete in Mathcounts, so I’m extremely pleased that we have a student who won first place and had such a strong showing across the board for the school." Other members of the Stevens School Mathcounts team included Katy Fogg, Megan McGill, and Sam Allen. Stevens School is an independent school for grades 5-8 located in Peacham, VT.

Stevens School Attends Fourth Annual MLK Candlelight Vigil

January 2006. "It’s one of the many ways that Stevens School demonstrates its mission to educate for citizenship," says Leah Benedict, Art Director and fifth grade social studies teacher. For the past four years the school has remained open on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in order to focus on his life and his legacy of equality for all America’s citizens. To set the "I Have a Dream Speech" in a literary as well as political context, the students look at the Gettysburg Address, Walt Whitman’s "Song of Myself," and Langston Hughes’ "I, Too Sing America," In the afternoon the students travel to Dartmouth, meet their Dartmouth Buddies for an hour’s visit, then join in the Vigil. This year the discussion with the Buddies focused on the discrimination that students had experienced and ways to deal with discrimination based on race, religion, or gender when it arises.

Students joined over 100 other participants in singing "We Shall Overcome" as they walked from the Cutter Shabazz Center to the Top of the Hop. Eighth grader Laura Broome says. "When I heard we would be singing I counted myself out, but when we got going I couldn’t keep myself from singing." Members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity passed the microphone to allow participants to share their feelings and recollections of Dr. King. Max Johnson says, "King made it possible for whites and African Americans to march together in peace, to sing in harmony, and to talk together in comfort. The Vigil is a great way to commemorate such a great hero."

"I like to hope that we settled issues of race and economic class, but racism is deeply embedded in our and many other cultures. We have to continue to talk about its ill effects, no matter how uncomfortable or time-consuming. Our children need guidance from their teachers and from mentors; it cannot just fall within the purview of parental responsibility. It takes all of us," says Director Julie Hansen.

Stevens School Joins First Amendment Schools

January 2006. "Joining the First Amendment Schools made sense to us, since we share a similar vision with regard to education," says Director, Julie Hansen. Since opening in 1999, Stevens School has developed practices that encourage students to express their voices and to listen respectfully to diverse views. Named after Thaddeus Stevens, primary author of the Fourteenth Amendment, the School has used his legacy in forming its practices and policies. "We are influenced both by Stevens’ commitment to equality and freedom and by John Dewey’s idea that democracy is not only a system of government but also a way of living that encourages us to find the common good among differing points of view," says Hansen.

The School community discussed the pros and cons of joining the coalition during the months of October and November. Some voiced concerns that it could be misconstrued as a free-for-all school without behavioral guidelines at all. The more the discussion progressed, however, it became clear that the only way for democracy to work effectively was for all participants to assume personal responsibility. Students understand that with democracy, particularly the freedom of speech, comes responsibility. Seventh grader Joe Moritz says, "I feel that I have more citizen responsibility." "Kids should have responsibilities and opinions," says Max Johnson, seventh grade student.

Students who attended in previous years are not surprised. "Being a First Amendment School really reflects what Stevens is all about," says Megan McGill, "It makes everyone more aware of what our government is about."

New math teacher Nick Anzalone says, "It is really exciting to work in a place where the fundamentals of being a United States citizen are given so much emphasis. How can we impress upon our students that they should spend their free time educating themselves about political issues without setting a strong example?"

Hansen, with the School since its opening, also works with the Vermont Bar Association’s Law Related Education Committee. She has presented teacher workshops demonstrating ways in which citizenship can be cultivated in classrooms and schools. Michael Palmer, Chair of the Committee comments, "The accreditation of the Stevens School as an affiliate First Amendment School is a significant milestone in the effort to assure that all students acquire a profound respect for each other, a desire to understand diverse points of view, an ability to resolve conflicts productively, and the skills for helping to maintain and improve our democracy. By joining the growing number of First Amendment schools across the nation committed to living democracy, the Stevens School has set a worthy example for schools throughout Vermont."

Hansen also feels that the discussions prior to their application clarified their commitment to educating for citizenship. She says that schools need to study themselves every few years to check that they still believe in their guiding principles. The original belief still runs strong at the Stevens School. Parent Jay Craven sums it up this way: "Nothing is more important in education than the cultivation of students’ voice, critical thinking, and sense of the things that are larger than ourselves. By emphasizing the first amendment at the core of its curriculum the Stevens school is working to develop all three of these principles."

The youngest member of the school, fifth grade student Kristina Dege, has been learning about democracy by the way that the School handles conflicts or behavior problems. Her perspective on democracy is that "it makes people feel comfortable."

"We are called an affiliate school at this stage. We then choose one area of our school (academic, social, community outreach, global participation) that we hope to develop more fully. We use the principles of the First Amendment Schools as we construct a plan for implementation. At that time we become a project school." says Hansen.

First Amendment Schools: Educating for Freedom and Responsibility, is a national school reform initiative designed to help schools teach and practice the civic principles and virtues vital to democracy, freedom and the common good. First Amendment Schools (FAS) was launched by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and the First Amendment Center on March 16, 2001, the 250th anniversary of James Madison’s birth. Currently there are 90 First Amendment Schools nationwide.

Students Present Dialogue on Freedom

November 2005. Ben Scotch, former Executive Director for the Vermont ACLU, coached, prodded, and discussed free speech with Stevens School seventh graders at the first in the School’s series "Dialogue on Freedom." The evening’s topic, "Free Speech, Civil Speech, School Speech," began by looking at a recent Vermont case involving a T-Shirt.

"Schools are challenged to provoke critical thinking. That includes providing students with mixed opinions about issues and events whether historical or contemporary. Along with that, students need to be given the tools to articulate a strongly-held opinion that stays within the boundaries of civil speech. The Dialogue on Freedom, originally designed by Justice Kennedy, is one way to accomplish that," says School Director, Julie Hansen.

Students presented the facts of the Guiles case and explained the cases that the court used to determine its finding. Scotch then questioned the students about each of the cases, analyzing their possible application to other areas of school speech. By the end of the evening Scotch commented, "What a rich dialogue, and what keen insights these seventh graders have about our basic freedoms."

The School event, held in St. Johnsbury at the North Congregational Church, is the first in the "Dialogue on Freedom" series, which is open to the public. A model called the "fish bowl" consists of two circles; the inner circle is smaller and the place where the dialogue takes place. There is always one empty chair so that anyone from the outer circle can join at any time.

"There was a point at which it felt tribal," says Hansen, "in that that the elders of the community (the parents) encircled the younger members as they took a first step toward active citizenship."

Scotch addressed the students in a formal, respectful way, never speaking down to them. As student Michael Fickes put it, "It was cool working with Ben Scotch because he made our ideas sound great, which not many people do."

Parent Linda Fogg remarked that she car-pooled with many of the students and had no idea that they were so "articulate and well-informed."

Stevens School Expands

October 2005. Students clamor aboard their new bus checking out the seats and testing the windows. "Can I open the emergency door?" "Hey check out the wheelchair door" The entire school has gathered in the parking lot to welcome the new bus.

"With bus service, the Stevens School can now make the school a viable option for families who need convenient transportation for their children to and from Peacham," says Board President, Bob Morgan.

The bus, purchased to meet the needs of those families beyond Peacham who would like to enroll their students in the preparatory school, will also provide transportation for school trips.

"We are meeting up with our Dartmouth buddies on Thursday, and this will make it so much easier than coordinating all the drivers for our frequent trips to Hanover, " says Julie Hansen, School Director.

It’s all GO at The Stevens School

September 2005. "This makes it come together," say Carrie Bruno and Katy Fogg, eighth graders.

Eighth grade students circumnavigate the globe at the Stevens School looking at art, literature, government, and language in order to fully appreciate the world beyond their borders. So, for example, during Japanese class students practice kanji for part of the time, and then the math teacher joins them all for a game of GO, an ancient game of strategy. Later, they will examine Ancient China and Confucianism in preparation for studies of later China, Mao, and current issues. They will then compare and contrast the traditions and ideas of Japan and China.

"An interdisciplinary approach really engages students on so many levels. Some students prefer reading literature from other cultures; some are really interested in the ancient history, and some want to know more about current issues. Immersing students in a culture by studying and reproducing the artistic traditions, playing games from that culture allows students to get a deeper understanding of that particular culture," says school director, Julie Hansen.

Art teacher Leah Benedict adds to the study by having the students practice calligraphy, sumi-painting, blockprinting, and woodcutting.

"I like it because switching from one subject to another isn’t really switching," Ben Hershey.

Stevens School Prepares for Discussion on "Raising Healthy Children"

March 2005. The Stevens School will host the second of three sessions for parents of middle and high school students that focus on preparing their children for the pressures of a media-driven society.

The second in the series, entitled "Tough Guys," examines the messages sent to boys via television, music, and movies. "According to statistics boys are more likely than girls to fall behind in school, to commit suicide, and/or to be involved in violent crime," says Director Julie Hansen, and "even more important, their greatest source of information is often film, music, or video games. Many of which reinforce stereotypes of women and men on behalf of a comedic image or an action thriller."

David Roos, teacher and presenter for the segment says, "Men and boys do feel emotion as strongly as women and girls, but the push is for them to quell those emotions and appear to be ‘strong.’ When boys start to feel emotions they also feel the need to suppress them. Acting out in stereotypically masculine ways is one way that boys compensate for their confusion about what is emotionally acceptable. This tough-guy persona can lead to many troubles and perpetuate itself into an image that must then be maintained and reinforced."

"It is essential that we teach our children to be critical thinkers," says Bess O’Brien. The series is not structured to deter students from watching film or from engaging in video games, but, as Hansen says, "to teach parents and students to find ways to question the images and to analyze the message that accompanies the image."

The series, which began last month with a "Killing us Softly," a documentary that looks at the messages regarding body image that girls receive through the media, offer a film followed by discussion. "It’s so important to keep the conversation going between parents and their middle school children," Hansen says.

"How do you convince a 12-year-old girl that the media images of women they are seeing daily shouldn't dictate what they should look like?" asked Lauren Moye, mother of a sixth grade girl. Parents of pre-teen and teen girls really need to know about these issues, and it's great to get together with a supportive community to analyze the messages that girls—and women—are getting from advertisers and on TV and film."

"We want parents to be able to talk with each other and we show the films in our life skills class to give the students a chance to reflect on them within the context of their own lives," says, Leah Benedict, life skills teacher at The Stevens School.

The Stevens School will present "Tough Guys" on Wednesday, March 16, and "Here Today" on Thursday, April 7, both at the North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury at 7pm. Admission is free.

Stevens School Hosts Annual African American Read-In

February 2005. "We’ve done this every year since we opened and every year something happens in the room to all of us," says Director Julie Hansen. "The students stand tall, speak clearly, and listen intently to one another."

The students spent time reviewing a variety of biographies, poems, essays, and stories written by African American authors in order to find the phrase or paragraph that they would present during the reading. The works spanned the years from the 1600s up to the present.

Seventh grader, Carrie Bruno, says, "It felt more important to me this year because we have been studying early America and how slavery came to exist."

Peacham resident, Diana Senturia, attended the Read-In and told the students that she was "so glad you do this. We all thought that racism would disappear with segregation, but it hasn’t and we all still have much work to do."

The Stevens School is named after Thaddeus Stevens, famous abolitionist, congressional representative, and author of the fourteenth amendment. "We feel that we have a legacy to live up to. Civic education is at the core of our entire curriculum, including its relationship with art," says Leah Benedict, sixth grade social studies teacher and the school’s art director.

This marks the sixteenth year for the African American Read-In sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the International Reading Association.

Stevens School to Host Film and Panel Discussion:

"Raising Healthy Kids: Against the Odds"

February 2005. The Stevens School will host a series of film and panel discussions entitled "Raising Healthy Kids: Against the Odds."

"Killing Us Softly" scheduled for Thursday, February 17, reveals the degrading media messages that target girls and women. The panel consisting of Dr. Susan Gresser, parent Barney Brannen and a teenage girl will facilitate discussion for parents to suggest ways to empower girls and reclaim their culture.

"Tough Guys" scheduled for Wednesday, March 16, looks at the mixed messages boys receive in our society today about being macho and violent. The film presents ideas for alternative teaching and new ways of dealing with boys and their feelings. Panelists include Umbrella Director, Michelle Faye; psychologist Sam Silverman, and teacher David Roos.

"Here Today" scheduled for Thursday, April 7, presents an intimate look at addiction and how it affects families and communities. Members of the documentary film and Director Bess O'Brien will facilitate discussion.

All sessions will be held at the North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury and begin at 7:00 pm. Admission is free.

Stevens Students Selected for

Northeast Kingdom District Middle School Music Festival

January 2005. "This really rounds out their musical experience," says Stevens School music instructor, Janet Edmondson, "and gives them the opportunity to practice and perform with a much larger ensemble." She is talking about the Northeast Kingdom District Middle School Music Festival with which Stevens School students Laura Turek of Waterford, Graham Edmondson of Barnet, and Forrest Gresser-Baker of St. Johnsbury have been selected to perform.

The students will rehearse individual parts during weekly lessons at school, and then join approximately 250 other student instrumentalists and singers from the district for a day of intense rehearsals culminating in a concert at North Country Union High School in Newport on Friday, March 4.

Laura studies oboe with Gail Warnaar of Barnet, Graham studies clarinet with Janet Edmondson of Barnet and Forrest studies bass guitar with Buzz Hubbard of Lyndonville. They are all members of the Wind Ensemble at the Stevens School.

"We have some fine chamber groups at school, and the students receive a lot of individual attention, but there is something very exciting about playing in an 80 piece band. These students have worked hard to get to this level and I am so pleased for them to have this opportunity," says Edmondson.

Every student at the Stevens School plays an instrument, whether a traditional band instrument, strings, or recorder and percussion. Edmondson notes that by playing an instrument "young people develop a level of musical literacy which will allow them to participate in a variety of musical experiences throughout their lives and to better appreciate the talents of others."

Stevens School Students Reunite with Dartmouth Buddies

December 2004. "Hey, hi again!" "I remember you." "You’re new." Thus began the third year of the Stevens School’s partnership with Dartmouth students. Meeting at the "hop" for dinner, students reunited with Monica Barrera, Sagine Gousse, and Jessica Sharpless, plus new members of the partnership.

"It’s so important for middle school students to have older students to talk with. We are pleased that the Dartmouth students maintained a commitment to meeting with our students on a regular basis," said Julie Hansen, Director of the School.

"We talked about what we wanted to be when we grow and talked about movies and snowboarding, all kinds of normal stuff," said Kelly McGill, 8th grade student at The Stevens School.

A Dartmouth student named Tiffany said, "I can’t believe how much about current events the students know. It’s great. And I learned about snowboarding, too."

The Dartmouth students are part of the Tucker Foundation’s "Multiculturalism in the Schools Project." The Tucker Foundation, a Dartmouth College community service organization established more than fifty years ago, is dedicated to "educate Dartmouth students to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in a global community."

"Research confirms that the middle school years are powerful and formative years in terms of a child’s sense of the future and how he or she might live in that future time. Partnering Stevens School students with Dartmouth students gives our students an opportunity get an idea of life after high school and to establish a touchstone with that world," says Hansen.

Students will return to Dartmouth again in January as they continue their tradition of walking with Dartmouth students in the candlelight vigil for Martin Luther King, Jr. Dartmouth students hope to visit the Stevens School in February for the Annual African-American Read In, a national event.

Stevens School Participates in Largest National Mock Election

October 2004. To kick off the election activities at the Stevens School, students hosted the four Senate Candidates for Caledonia District. Julius Canns, Matt Choate, Jane Kitchel, and Bernier Mayo fielded questions from both students and parents Thursday, October 6, at the School. The evening began with questions from the students and moved on to questions from the approximately thirty people who came out to meet the candidates.

"I have some new polling information for our poster," says sixth grade student Joe Moritz. The students have designated one room at the School as "Election Central." It is filled with posters representing national, state, and local elections. Students monitor the polls regularly, making predictions about events that might influence the results. They have established rules for political discussions and bring in articles related to the various campaigns. When asked if this seemed important, eighth grade student Laura Turek, said," It’s not just adults who have opinions. Meeting the candidates and making our election central room is helping us learn about the facts. It’s good for us to practice forming opinions based on facts and information."

This election year, students and teachers at The Stevens School will be conducting a mock election using a state-of-the-art electronic voting system as they participate in a mock election program sponsored by the Youth Leadership Initiative, a national civic education program based at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. More than one million students are registered to vote online during the two-week voting period from October 18-October 28. The YLI Mock Election is the largest secure online mock election in the nation.

"There is so much talk about the loss of political participation in America. The leaders of the nation want students to grow into active citizens, and because we are named after Thaddeus Stevens, we have a commitment to teaching students how to engage in political discourse. We talk a lot at school about civil discussions, that is, discussions that are civil in terms of our behavior and in terms of its focus on civil issues," says Director Julie Hansen.

Stevens School’s Forest in the Classroom

October 2004. "I really liked seeing the carnivorous plants in the bog," said seventh grade student Megan McGill. She is talking about the Forest For Every Classroom project at the Stevens School. Students have staked out a forested transect that passes through northern hardwoods, coniferous forest, and into Peacham Bog, a state designated natural area. For the next six weeks they will measure, observe, record data, and draw conclusions about changes in the soil, plant life, and soil moisture in the transition from hardwoods to bog.

"Specifically, we are investigating the impact of non-living or abiotic factors on the forest ecology," says science teacher Dawn Morgan. Once the information is logged, students will then present their findings to community members.

Students also commented that using the tools and measuring devices as they walked on the boardwalk was "really cool." "We constructed an elevational profile as we walked along the transect," said Katy Fogg. "We pushed a soil auger into the bog and pulled it up so we could look at the difference in the layers of the soil there," said Carrie Bruno.

Director Julie Hansen pointed out that one of the advantages to the small school is that they have managed to adapt the first trimester schedule to allow the students to spend an entire day gathering their data and doing authentic science.

The Forest For Every Classroom is a collaborative project with the Conservation Study Institute, Shelburne Farms, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Green Mountain National Forest and the Northeast Resource Center of the National Wildlife Federation. FFEC is a professional development program that provides educators with the opportunity to develop the skill and knowledge to create standards-based curriculum that connect students to the public lands in their communities.