Westminster's Kurn Hattin Homes For Children highlights its curriculum

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WESTMINSTER >> Kurn Hattin Homes for Children welcomed the media to its campus Wednesday morning.

At Wednesday's media day, several videos were presented detailing the school's values as well as some testimonies from some of the students and faculty about what they have taken away from their experience at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. The videos were filmed in 2015.

Children at the school that are sometimes written off as "troubled," are embraced by the faculty and are encouraged to be the best version of themselves.

"I have more respect for people and I'm not that kid that they saw as 'Oh, she's going to get in trouble,'" said Takyia Squires, who was an eighth-grade student at Kurn Hattin in 2015."When I was in public school, I was at a second-grade reading level for a sixth grader, and this school has got my reading up to an eighth-grade level"

Kurn Hattin is a private school serving students facing serious challenges in their family life such as homelessness, abuse or other hardship. It was founded in 1894 by Reverend Charles Albert Dickinson and is privately funded primarily through charitable donations. Families who still have custody of their children pay what they can to support them. Most of 106 children live in dorms during the school year.

Several times throughout the tour on Wednesday, leaders redirected the conversation to their core values: perseverance, nurturance, hope, compassion and sense of worth. The executive director at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children, Stephen B. Harrison, noted that many of their students visit home on the weekends, and some come from a"dark place" and bring that baggage with them to campus on their Sunday evening. Each student is assigned a counselor and meets with them at least on a weekly basis.

Another outlet to release frustration or anxiety for the students is through music. Their music director, Lisa Bianconi, who has been there for over 30 years, says over time she has learned to adjust her classes based on the predicted psychology and moods of the children. She notes a majority of her students return to school from home on Sunday, some entering her class with high energy. Given this observation, Bianconi intentionally schedules chorus on Mondays to allow them "to get everything" out of their system. On Fridays she says students typically have anxiety approaching the weekends, which played a big role in her decision to schedule marching band practice that day as another way to let out any worry or fear. Aside from the scheduling, Bianconi has a deep passion for her work.

"If you come in and don't still feel like it's your first day of work, you need to get out," said Bianconi.

Wednesday afternoon, there was a children's musical performance by some of the students which including Beginning Choir (third through fifth graders), duets by Tristan Caroll and Dre-Shawn Cherbonneau, solos by Miracle Lapre and Leianna Isaacs and a drum line performance by sixth through eighth graders. According to Bianconi, her students perform in front of an audience about 20 to 30 times per year. In addition, an opportunity was presented to the Kurn Hattin Select Choir. They were chosen to perform The National Anthem live on Sept. 24, 2015, opening for the Boston Red Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass.

"Every kid has talent, you just need to find it," said Bianconi.

Another unique aspect of the school is its therapeutic horsemanship program which is run by Sara Stine, who recently received her Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning certification. Stine says she teaches her students must learn to trust the animals before they can trust people. She says at the barn on campus, she has them lie on their backs until they are calm.

"It's like I have a bunch of zen babies on their backs," Stine joked.

Stine says through interaction with the horses, the students learn to interpret the expression of someone or something else. She incorporates horses in the education and mental health of her students and she cares for six horses at Kurn Hattin: three fjords, a pony and two quarter horses.

The media day was closed by a lunch at their school's cafeteria, which included turkey, stuffing and fresh greens from their garden.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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