The Caledonia Central Supervisory Union (CCSU) lies on the edge of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK), a beautiful rural area with limited industry and all the advantages and disadvantages of a farming culture adapting to 21st century pressures.  The four towns that are served by the CCSU: Walden, Danville, Barnet, and Peacham have a combined population of 5,571, and are among the 55 towns that comprise Caledonia County, which had a 2010 population of 31,202   (http://www.voicesforvtkids.org). With the region characterized by rural open spaces, farmland, and forest, communities are known for independent and resourceful families that face financial disadvantages and the stress of economic struggles. Apart from sharing similar values and community hardships, residents of this region also share their isolation from the rest of Vermont. 

Against this backdrop, working parents, tight school budgets, and limited transportation prevent access to high quality after school enrichment and supplementary education for the area’s youth. In a geographic area that has enormous wealth in the form of hard-working and creative individuals, natural resources and community mindedness, other factors inhibit the development of opportunities from which youth and communities derive tremendous benefit.

The Northeast Kingdom’s demographics illustrate the challenges of meeting the needs of our youth even as 21st century realities work to change our rural insularity. Towns within this area of Vermont have one of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment and reliance on public assistance. On average, 50% of the NEK’s population lives at 150% of the poverty level, compared to an average of 39% and 33% respectively for the state of Vermont and nationally (Vermont Center for Rural Studies). The NEK offers a paradox of being one of the most appealing yet most challenging places to live in the state (Vermont Center for Rural Studies).

During the development of our schools' strategic plans, members of each of our communities identified after school programs as priorities for improving academic performance and engaging students to become lifelong learners. The following needs were specifically identified: 

  • Peer interactions in supervised settings
  • Sports and fitness for life
  • Recreation in safe environments
  • Healthy snacks
  • Enrichment in the arts and science
  • Extension and/or review of school day concepts
  • Additional instruction in the Common Core areas of math, reading, and writing
  • Access to computers and technology instruction
  • Involvement with community mentors
  • Connection with elders
  • Opportunities to develop nurturing relationships with teachers

At the same time, when school personnel were asked how students’ learning needs could best be met they identified many of the same programmatic features:

  • Support for understanding academic concepts introduced during the school day
  • Additional direct instruction in math and literacy
  • Opportunities to apply learning in new environments
  • Increased opportunities for inquiry based, constructivist learning
  • A much broader exposure to the arts – visual arts, drama, and dance
  • Deeper learning about music through lessons, ensembles, and practice time
  • Access to technology (equipment and instruction)
  • Extended and broader opportunities to develop the social skills of collaboration and problem solving which are essential in 21st century learning and employment 
  • Modeling of healthy social behaviors 

Clearly the stated needs of families, communities, students, and teachers overlap and virtually all can be addressed through extended programming in each school.

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