South Burlington’s The Other Paper – Neighborhood Learning Conversations

“We live in a rapidly changing world. Students need new skills to keep up with this world. We are bringing our community together to figure out how to remodel our schools so students are best prepared to support themselves and the community in the future.” — Jason Cushner, 2013 Rowland Fellow and Big Picture South Burlington Educator

Over eighty community members ranging in age from 10 to 93 gathered at South Burlington High School (SBHS) to share a meal and engage in dialogue on graduation expectations in South Burlington based on the work of the Neighborhood Learning Conversations Team since December 2013.

SBHS student facilitators prepared for the event through a training offered by Eagle Rock Professional Development Center of Estes Park, Colorado. Their solid preparation was evident: “having students as leaders” was singled out as one of the greatest successes of the gathering.

The March 20 event, hosted by PACT (Parents and Adults Celebrating Children and Teens), was the culmination of work that started with a conversation between a dozen people over three months ago addressing the question, “What should our high school graduates know?” Since then more than a dozen conversations involving over 200 people have occurred all over South Burlington in public meetings, people’s homes, classrooms, a school staff meeting, and the South Burlington Recreation Department’s Young at Heart senior citizens meeting. This work furthers the school district’s Ends Policy and is part of the State’s larger effort on graduation requirements and personalized learning plans.

“It’s the rare district that builds community input into upgrading our schools, and this has been a really fun way to do it,” noted Mr. Cushner in gratitude for the support of the South Burlington School District administrators. As a 2013 Rowland Fellow and Big Picture South Burlington educator, Mr. Cushner has been instrumental in organizing and implementing the NLCs.

“A lot of good ideas were given,” noted a student in reference to an NLC he attended, while an adult participant added, “The discussion in small groups was great, and the insights were wonderful.”

Lee Jackson, a parent in the school district and the scheduler for the NLCs, agreed and stated, “I’ve also found that the perspective of students is pretty amazing. “
Resident Yujing Sun, whose family hosted one of the NLCs, explained, “Neighborhood Learning Conversations are a good opportunity to culture an awareness of the connections we all have to one another.”

Those connections were clearly valued on March 20, where one participant shared, “Thanks so much for making us a part of the conversation – all of us. Our community’s kids are our future!”

For more results on the March 20 event, please visit For further information on Neighborhood Learning Conversations, please call 802.652.7530.

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