Lisa McCarthy (2022 UVEI Principal Alum) is the principal of Woodbury Elementary School in Vermont. The school recently held a school-wide town meeting, featured on Vermont Public, in which students were able to share their opinions and vote on two questions, both of which have a meaningful impact on their school experience.
- Shall the Woodbury Elementary School go skiing at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center on March 14?
- Shall Woodbury Elementary use the donated $500 to go on a field trip instead of buying equipment for the playground.
Elijah Hawkes, Director of School Leadership at UVEI, reached out to Lisa to learn more about the experience – particularly the learning that took place and its application to democracy at large.
- Elijah: What did you – as the leader – think of the students’ decision?
- Lisa: As the school leader my focus was centered more on the process than the outcome. I strive at all times to be collaborative and distributive as a school leader. To me, this means engaging both students and staff in meaningful discussion and decision-making. I was encouraged that students engaged respectfully and thoughtfully during the mock town meeting.
- Elijah: What are the most important things you think the students learned through the event/process?
- Lisa: In Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union we highly value our relationships with our community partners. At Woodbury we have a strong commitment to place-based learning. Through place-based learning we explore the interconnectedness of the land, the people, and the natural flora and fauna of the region. We devote time weekly to Educating Children Outdoors with North Branch Nature Center and work closely with the Woodbury Community Library, as well as other community partners. The overall goal in place-based learning is for students to feel a sense of connection to the people and land they are surrounded by. Our hope is that this in turn leads to informed and engaged citizens who will work together to create a rich and vibrant community. Through this particular experience, I feel the most important thing that students learned is that their voice is valued and matters. They learned that by participating in a democratic process they can create meaningful change within their school community.
“Our hope is that this in turn leads to informed and engaged citizens who will work together to create a rich and vibrant community.” (Lisa McCarthy, Principal, Woodbury Elementary School)
- Elijah: In what other ways does democracy “live” at your school? Such as in classrooms, in meetings? (I’m thinking of the “habits” and ways of democracy more than in voting processes.)
- Lisa: We have a strong commitment to building community at Woodbury. We begin each day with an all school morning meeting that has routines and rituals. Students then break into their individual class morning meetings. We use these gatherings to reinforce community values and norms and also work together if there is damage or harm to repair within our school community. While we are in the process of developing a plan to formalize our restorative practices, these values very much are a part of who we are and how we function as a school community.
Lisa also shared that the news coverage resulted in an act of generosity: after students voted to spend money on a field trip, the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium reached out to offer a free visit for the school, allowing the school to also purchase new playground equipment.
Elijah Hawkes has been a faculty member at UVEI since July 2021. His interest in schools’ roles in democracy and citizenship led, last year, to a series of educator dialogues on the topic of healthy school communities in the face of increasing polarization, and to a set of recommendations for strong schools in polarized times.