Craftsbury Schools Muscle Through COVID Pandemic

by June Pichel Cook

CRAFTSBURY – The Craftsbury Schools muscled through the COVID crisis with creativity, resilience, and imagination. A normal school year ended turned topsy-turvy in March with two days warning that Craftsbury Schools would be going into full remote learning by March 18.

Internet access in rural communities, a major impediment for delivering on-line education, became even more urgent in the pandemic. Learning for middle and high school students went virtual, with paper materials provided for students who did not have reliable internet, Principal Merri Greenia said.

A big prize was garnered by senior student Phoebe Stoddard, who was chosen as the state’s representative for the Billy Michael Leadership award. The national award is in honor of Billy Michael, who helped his one-room school win a statewide scrap paper collection contest during World War II. Stoddard exemplified the American spirit of teamwork, optimism, courage, and sacrifice. The prize included an all-expense paid trip to New Orleans in June for the awardee and a chaperone.

Craftsbury’s Senior Capstone program went virtual in May, with seventeen seniors’ recorded presentations and videos posted on the school website. In Zoom sessions, the students were questioned by three judges regarding their presentations.

The traditional Memorial Day celebration was a virtual event, shared with both the Wolcott and Craftsbury communities.

Graduation became a drive-in event. Strong winds on the Common didn’t daunt spirits that evening. Valedictorian Sophie Corneilus and Salutatorian Finn Sweet led the graduates in opening the ceremony and spoke briefly to their peers. The tradition of students presenting roses to their parents or guardians was upheld.

The Student Life Association, which has been reactivated, made $7,000 available to the school for needs related to the pandemic challenge. The money was used for new picnic tables and was made available to teachers for purchasing materials through a mini grant process.

When August rolled around, the Common sprouted three large tents from the Stout Tent Company to be used as outdoor classes. Classes were held throughout the fall in the tents. Families had three choices in their child’s education in September: full in-person instruction five days a week; hybrid learning with in-person two days a week and remote three days; and a fully remote learning program. All staff began training in the social and emotional curriculum, Developmental Designs.

The new school year began on September 8 with strict adherence to safety guidelines; families were invited to virtual meetings to review educational program options and safety guidelines.

By October, 85% opted to attend full in-person classes.

One of the biggest highlights was the boys’ cross country team winning the Division III State Championship, an amazing feat given the size of Craftsbury Academy and the fledgling revival of cross country as a sport at the school.

December is closing with the school in a full-remote learning mode for two weeks following the Thanksgiving holidays.

Morale of parents and staff have been positive about improvements in the remote learning experience compared to the earlier spring process.

Greenia noted that: “With case counts growing in the state, our school goal was eight Safe Days between the return to school and the start of the December break.”

The tents were folded up before winter came. Students are back in their learning nooks, wherever that may be – virtually or in-person – and awaiting the new year with high spirits.