Local teacher bikes length of state for fundraiser
BRATTLEBORO -- For 25 years, Dot MacDonald has taught at the Neighborhood School.
This week will mark her eighth length-of-the-state bike ride, which some parents, teachers and board members also take part in to raise money that will provide scholarships to the school. Participants obtain pledges before taking off.
"This is a great school for kids whether their parents can afford it or not," said MacDonald. "We are interested in economic diversity among other diversities."
She left with the other cyclists on May 15. First, they planned to camp at the Mill Pond Campground in Franklin, then they will wake up and ride to the Canadian border where the ride will officially begin.
On Friday, they camped near Stowe at Gold Brook Campground; tonight the plan is to stay at the Casa Bella Inn in Pittsfield. On Sunday, they will ride through Chester and Grafton to Townshend and then end in Jamaica.
The cyclists will ride approximately 60 miles on the first day, 65 on the second and 75 on the last. They will stick mostly to Route 108 and 100 then they will take Route 35 to 30.
"It's not too mountainous," said MacDonald. "We don't really cross the Green Mountains. We stay close to them."
As a long-time biking enthusiast, MacDonald decided to start the fundraiser. She has also assisted the Boys and Girls Club of Brattleboro in designing a 100-mile route for its own ride.
Before teaching at the Neighborhood School, MacDonald was in the printing business in New York City. She had a background in education and taught briefly there.
She said going back to teaching, at the Neighborhood School, gave her the opportunity to teach at a place where everyone was very involved in the outdoors. Children are encouraged to build shelters outside and are instructed in how to make a fire. They are also shown what plants can and cannot be eaten.
"They're outside an hour a day no matter what. It's incredible watching what they do when they have that much time," said MacDonald. "Outdoor education has always been part of our curriculum. (It) has been critical in our school's program."
MacDonald said that the school's way of approaching the curriculum is linked to standards set at any school but students there are physically involved in nearly everything they study.
Recently, her students had created their own maps of imaginary lands. Using real maps for reference, they were able to make authentic looking maps.
From third to sixth grade, MacDonald's students conduct research projects that are presented to the entire school. They are free to choose any subject they want, she says. In the process, they also conduct interviews and write letters to experts in their chosen field
This year, a student is researching disease while another studies the brain. One student will present on xenology -- the study of potential life on other planets
"They jump right into it," said MacDonald.
Neighborhood School teachers are constantly looking to strengthen their students' ability to handle conflict resolution. So far, they believe their efforts to be successful.
According to MacDonald, more conflict resolution is developed each day and every situation is a teachable moment.
"We take disagreements to be a good thing so we can label emotions and express ourselves," she said. "That's the culture here."
Assessments at the school are done on a regular basis. But it is done differently than at other schools. Sometimes, it may include adding challenges for a student who is surpassing expectations.
"We don't compare one to another. We know where they are, where they need to go and how to get there," said MacDonald. "To teach to a test is one of the most harmful things you can do."
With tests, children may get the wrong idea and may believe there is only one right or factual answer to a question, she told the Reformer.
Although she is at the age where she can retire, MacDonald expects to teach for at least one more year. She said it will difficult to leave.
"I may stay in some other capacity. I love this school and I love this community," she said.
During the bike trip, a person will follow the group in a car to ensure safety. The ride commenced at Jamaica State Park, where kids, parents and community members met for a potluck dinner.
The group had already ridden from Townshend to the Massachusetts border so that the complete length of the state ride could be accomplished.
Cyclists for this trip include parent and board member Josh Burns, alum and board member Cory Frehsee, parent and board member Paula Melton, parent and board member David Houghton and parent Grady Smith.
"If the weather channel can be believed, it is going to be pouring," said Melton.
For the annual fundraiser, there are activities at the school based around it. Students are taught about bicycle safety. MacDonald's class designed this year's T-shirt, which lists the names of people who pledged.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.
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