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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Mother-Son Poetry Experience at Fletcher Free Library

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 11:58 AM

Third-grade writer Harper - SARAH TUFF DUNN
  • Sarah Tuff Dunn
  • Third-grade writer Harper
When Shelburne Community School staged a third-grade author celebration last month, my 8-year-old son, Harper, was beside himself with excitement about his latest work, titled “Stupendous Skiing.” The words had just seemed to flow out of his Ticonderoga No. 2. “Have you ever wondered how to ski,” Harper wrote. “Well this book will tell you. Downhill or cross country. You name it. Skiing is the most popular snow sport in the world. So let’s get reading!”

As a mom, I was proud. As a writer who suffers from the occasional block — well, I was jealous. But when it came to his delivery, I was empathetic. Harper refused to read the words aloud, instead choosing to run around the classroom and eat Oreo cookies at 8 a.m. Chip off the old block, as they say.

Fletcher Free Library
  • Fletcher Free Library
So when I saw that Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library hosts something called the “Poetry Experience” on the first and third Saturday of each month, I had a bit of a light-bulb moment. Perhaps this could give Harper and me the tools for not only the written word, but the spoken word, too. We recruited our neighbor Ariel, a fourth grader, to join us on a frigid Saturday earlier this month. Upon arrival, we found our way to the library’s basement Community Room where there was a circle of empty chairs.

We sat there. And sat there. And sat there. The Poetry Experience was supposed to run from 1 to 3 p.m., but by 1:30, nobody had shown up. We decided to stage our own workshop, making up riffs on “Roses are Red” and haikus about chewing gum, and eventually giving up to check out the engaging “Exploring Human Origins” exhibit upstairs.

When I track down Rajnii Eddins, a poet, rapper and Burlington School District paraeducator who oversees the Poetry Experience, I learn that a family emergency had prevented his attending the workshop, which sprang out of his mother’s work as a writer and performer. “It’s about self-expression and imagination, not critique,” Eddins tells me over the phone. “Everybody has a story that’s valuable. It’s a safe space to be creative and vulnerable and willing to share. As a hip-hop artist, I know that one can benefit from having a platform.”

The Poetry Experience typically sees between five and 10 participants as young as 7 and as old as 80, says Eddins. Participants get time for writing and sharing their work. They also work in tandem to create a collaborative story or poem. Which means that Harper, Ariel and I weren’t too far off in creating our own Poetry Experience. In hindsight, it was a success — with not an Oreo cookie in sight (we went to Lake Champlain Chocolates afterward instead).

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Milton High School Students Explore STEAM Education, With a Dog

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 12:56 PM

Milton High School students work with Austin as teacher Courtney Reckord looks on - SADIE WILLIAMS
  • Sadie Williams
  • Milton High School students work with Austin as teacher Courtney Reckord looks on
On a Tuesday morning last month, Courtney Reckord's high school students welcomed a new classmate: Austin. The barrel-chested mutt wagged his way into Reckord's Full STEAM Ahead class at Milton High School, greeting teenagers with wet-nosed nudges and enthusiastic prancing. Maybe Austin knew that it was his lucky day; these kids were about to make him a brace for one of his injured back legs.

As the acronym implies, Full STEAM Ahead draws on science, technology, engineering, art and math. Throughout the semester, Reckord and her students tackle projects that necessitate a holistic approach to learning — one intended to motivate students to solve problems by learning new skills. Most of the kids in the elective class are sophomores, with a smattering of juniors and seniors.

Reckord, 41, also happens to be the first educator-in-residence at Burlington's Generator makerspace. Along with the title comes a $500 monthly stipend, some of which goes toward supplies for Full STEAM Ahead. She also gets a work station at Generator and access to their equipment, including laser cutters, 3D printers, and woodworking and metalworking tools.

Preparing the cast - SADIE WILLIAMS
  • Sadie Williams
  • Preparing the cast
The art teacher — who moonlights making jewelry — has worked at Milton High School for eight years. And while she occasionally incorporates techie elements into her classes, this is the first one she's taught that is entirely dedicated to STEAM curriculum.

Reckord’s students have already made personalized skateboards with laser-etched designs. They customized cardboard pinball machines from local company Cardboard Teck Instantute. Now, they're setting their minds toward making Austin a new leg brace.

Two years ago, the 7-year-old dog had anterior cruciate ligament surgery on both hind legs. His owner, Rhonda Keyt, says he struggles to get up on the couch and sometimes favors one leg over the other. When Keyt saw Reckord's post on Front Porch Forum looking for a dog with a disability, she responded. Reckord scheduled a visit with Austin and immediately fell in love.

Students prepared for the dog's first visit by taking a field trip to Yankee Medical in Burlington to see how braces are fitted for humans. The first step in making the brace is taking a cast of the injured leg. So when the dog arrived, the kids got down to business — after some requisite petting and exclamations of how friendly he was.
Teacher Courtney Record cuts off Austin's cast - SADIE WILLIAMS
  • Sadie Williams
  • Teacher Courtney Record cuts off Austin's cast

The pup was skittish at first but soon settled down. He patiently allowed the kids to slip a stocking over one of the legs, then wrap it in plaster-covered gauze, which would harden into the shape of his limb.

After letting the cast set, Reckord snipped it off with scissors. Austin jumped to his feet and resumed running around the room, wagging his tail.

One student tenderly wiped excess plaster off the dog's leg. Then, the kids said their goodbyes to Austin with affectionate head pats.
Over the next few weeks, they'll be researching and prototyping the brace. "They are using the plaster cast as the negative," Reckord explains. "They will then create a plaster 'positive' that is close to the shape of the leg. They will use that to form the brace, in order to get it close to fitting. Then we will make minor tweaks to get it to fit better."

Austin will come back in late March to try on the contraption and see if it helps him.

Reckford isn't sure how it will all unfold. "It can be scary doing projects like this," she acknowledges, "because sometimes they don't work out." The kids might have to learn other skills, like 3D modeling, to make a hinge for Austin’s brace.

You can't be attached to the outcome, Reckford says. The benefits are in what students learn along the way.

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YMCA Camp Koda

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A co-ed day camp for kids who have completed kindergarten up to 12 years old, Camp Koda is located in several area communities with a focus on achievement, belonging and relationships. Koda locations are Georgia, Underhill, Waterbury, and Essex (Essex Elementary and Founders School – Founders is for kids who…(more)

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