About 30 educators from around the country visited Harwood Union High School Wednesday to see programs that help students learn how to participate in a democracy.
The Institute for Democratic Education in America, a national education reform group, organizes tours in various parts of the country to highlight innovative and successful practices.
Since its founding in May 2010, the organization has arranged “Innovation Tours” of schools in New York City and Oregon, and it’s planning a tour later this year in Puerto Rico.
“We were honored” to be one of the sites on the Vermont tour, said Associate Principal Jean Berthiaume. “This is a great opportunity to focus on our assets.”
The group is also visiting Big Picture South Burlington, a program within South Burlington High School; Earthwalk Vermont, a nonprofit; and the Sustainability Academy, a magnet program that runs from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade at Barnes Elementary School in Burlington.
Harwood was selected because of programs special to the high school and because the school participates in Vermont-wide programs that the group is interested in, said Scott Nine, executive director of the institute.
“A lot of these different projects that we were wanting to showcase — all those things are at Harwood,” Nine said.
While at Harwood, the tour participants broke into small groups to talk with students, teachers and administrators, Berthiaume said. Among the programs discussed:
• Monthly school-wide student-run assemblies.
Every year since 1996, a group of upperclassmen has planned and presented monthly programs that feature music, video, performances, interviews and sketches. Overseen by English teacher Steve Rand, they are “kind of a David Letterman format,” Berthiaume said.
• The Harwood Change Process.
Under a formal process adopted in 2010, any member of the community can propose a specific idea for changing the school. The idea is then fleshed out and discussed. If approved by department heads and student government, champions develop an action plan, which can be implemented or refined.
One proposal that emerged from the process is the H-term, a two-week period at the end of the school year when students focus on one topic through, for example, an internship or a trip. The idea is still in development and is on hold for lack of funding.
Another being developed now is for a student peer-mentoring network about alcohol and drug use.
• Harwood’s Rwanda Program, the school’s collaborations with the Vermont Folk Life Center, the Young Writers Project, and a statewide program called Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together.
All these programs all complement one another and help students become participants in their own learning, Nine said.
“No school is a perfect place,” he said. “But (Harwood) is a school that is paying more attention to having young people take an active role.”