Independent school named Expeditionary School at Black River

LUDLOW, Vt. – Despite the turbulence of 2020, the Black River Independent School Committee remains committed to strengthening the Ludlow community, educationally and beyond. In a year marked by catastrophic wildfires, a global pandemic, historic job losses, and a national reckoning with systemic racism, BRISC’s vision for economic vitality offers an emerging model for how to redesign the relationship between local schools, the business community, and taxpayers. Now, with 2021 upon us, the highlights of our first semester are noteworthy.

We opened our doors tuition-free to 16 students Sept. 8, 2020. Offering a flexible culture of learning, we have remained fully open Monday through Friday. As our school has evolved with these times, so has our name, and so has our desired impact. From the onset, the curriculum placed an emphasis on respecting a wide variety of cultures, religions, languages, and the challenges of socioeconomic diversity. Continuing with an acronym that references a specific religious ceremony is counterintuitive. It undermines our purpose.

We are excited to announce that our second semester will include marketing and branding our revised name: Expeditionary School at Black River.

In time, it is our intention to be referred to as “Black River.” This will be a key feature of how our long-term business plan aims to scale an ecosystem of flexible learning across the state, and possibly the nation. The positivity of our first four months reminds us that the foundation to do so is solid. We have signed agreements with Black River Innovation Campus in Springfield and Castleton University’s the Center for Schools in Rutland. We are collaborating with Okemo Valley TV right here in Ludlow to capture students’ participation in National History Day’s “Communication in History: Key to Understanding” project. Through these partnerships, we are developing a network that can help balance the demand for enhancing student’s technological skills with a need to simultaneously keep them connected to the natural environment.

We are keenly aware of how the coronavirus is creating a world that is dependent on access to the Internet. In light of this reality, we are embracing the expedition of finding ways to facilitate learning opportunities where students must unplug from electronic devices. This past semester students participated in a rock climbing and canoeing excursion at the Chittenden Reservoir. With the help of the Book Nook here in Ludlow, we’ve purchased paper copies of Laurie Hulse Anderson’s “Seeds of America” trilogy. To strengthen our curriculum’s alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards, we are initiating partnerships with Vermont Institute for Natural Sciences and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, programming that we hope to make available by summer 2021. And, we are thrilled to accept the donation of a piano. Our interrelated approach to curriculum design allows us to weave music lessons into our teaching of the writing process.

To date, curriculum development and strategic plans have been influenced by EL Education’s approach to school improvement. The EL stands for Expeditionary Learning. This framework was first introduced 30 years ago via a partnership between Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound. Influenced by this philosophy, our organizational design is also anchored in the policy expectations put forth by Vermont’s Agency of Education in the mandates known as Educational Quality Standards (2015) and Act 77: Flexible Pathways to Secondary School Completion (2013). Both of which are still intact today.

At its core, expeditionary means “a journey or excursion undertaken for a specific purpose.” The second half of its definition conveys a commitment to “efficient promptness.” Initially, BRISC was established to maintain the presence of a cost-effective school in the heart of Ludlow. In response to the fiscal challenges created by Covid-19, with this revised nomenclature, the Expeditionary School at Black River’s approach intends to promptly respond to the needs of working parents and guardians as well local business owners during the remainder of and post-Covid. We opened in spite of the complications presented by this pandemic. As a result, we are well positioned to serve as a solution to the difficult lessons garnered from the rapid scaling of “remote learning.” Communities like ours cannot afford to do otherwise.

In the weeks following this announcement, we will be rolling out the details of a member loan program. In order to remain open next year and beyond, ESBR needs to secure investors. Thanks to the entrepreneurial mindset of the members of BRISC, we have a chance to coordinate a renewed approach to funding local schools, doing so is more likely to safeguard an affordable lifestyle for all Vermonters.

Please feel welcome to get in touch with me at Working together we are more likely to ensure that a renewed approach to operating a community’s school can also create many positive new beginnings for students, their families, and the local workforce.

  Written by Kendra Rickerby, Ph.D., Interim Head of School

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