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Oakes's Corner

Opportunities in American Education

I recently went on a tour in Vermont hosted by a number of colleges, Boarding Schools, therapeutic programs and residential treatment centers. I enjoyed this trip because every stop along the way was a completely different experience. In a week, we saw a total of eleven programs. They include-

  • Rock Point School- Boarding School-
  • True North Wilderness- Wilderness Program-
  • Spruce Mountain Inn- RTC-
  • Lyndon Institute- Boarding School-
  • St. Johnsbury Academy- Boarding School-
  • King George School- Boarding School-
  • Greenwood School- Junior Boarding School-
  • Landmark College- College-
  • Vermont Academy- Boarding School-
  • Marlboro College- College-
  • Spring Lake Ranch- RTC-
Throughout the trip, I was reminded of the breadth of educational opportunities this country has to offer. Having grown up abroad and attended European schools, I cannot let this go unnoticed.

So much talent is lost in many European countries because students are easily dismissed for not being able to perform at a high level in a one dimensional educational system. At an early age, students begin to be sorted out based on how they do in school. By the time they reach the end of middle school, they have been put into categories that are hard to break. Those who excelled in school go on to a select number of universities. Those who did not excel are placed in secondary universities and trade schools. This trip reminded me how diverse educational opportunities are in the US. This trip made it clear to me that talent here is often not lost and that most students are able to reach their potential.

For instance, I visited King George School, a therapeutic boarding school in Northern Vermont working with students who are struggling emotionally. It works to get them to a place where they can eventually rejoin their peers in other high schools or later on in college. It emphasizes the arts as a way for students to explore their issues with the expectation that they will continue with their academic subjects.

I also visited Spring Lake Ranch, a residential treatment program for young adults. Many have dependency issues, some have been abused, all are there seeking help so that they can resume their interrupted lives. At Spring Lake much of the therapy takes place during the daily activities. Residents join work teams and spend their days in the garden, the maple syrup barn, the kitchen or with the farm animals. The ranch takes care of itself and sells its products to surrounding communities. Residents rehabilitate themselves by getting involved and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

St. Johnsbury Academy is an impressive school with a large student body and splendid facilities, a college preparatory boarding school with a vocational program. Students are able to follow their studies and participate in programs such as the culinary arts, fashion design and automotives. Though some students there may find fulfillment in their academic endeavors, others may have strengths in other places while some find fulfillment in both. For instance, my tour guide in the morning spent his afternoons fixing school buses because that is what he loved to do.

Greenwood School is a junior boarding school. Its mission is to work with students with language based learning differences. These students often have trouble expressing themselves and may come off as being insecure and awkward. Though students are able to follow a traditional course of academics, they also are exposed to many hands on and experiential opportunities to learn. For instance, every year, the school picks a theme. The theme generally represents a time in history. The students spend the entire year constructing a village representing that time. They learn about the history and the architecture of the time. They read books to explore what it was like to live then. They learn about inventions of the day and how people supported themselves. In addition, every day, students meet in small groups to work on communication, speech and problem solving strategies. Public speaking is emphasized as it develops self confidence.

Landmark College works with students who have a variety of learning disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD. Landmark is a two year college that often receives students who are taking time off from their four year institutions. They come to Landmark to develop better strategies for success in their studies. Classes are small and students can take courses that address their particular needs. These courses teach students skills that will help them overcome their challenges. When students leave Landmark, they leave with the tools to succeed at a four year institution and in life.

I could have chosen to highlight any of the other programs to illustrate my point. Students here in the United States are fortunate. With the breadth of pedagogies and the diversity of standards and content, many schools are able to teach to the student's strengths, therefore building confidence and allowing the student to develop those strengths. Whether it be because of the nurturing environment, the diversity of subjects offered or the way in which the content is taught, students can thrive by choosing the environment that best suits their needs.