HINSDALE, N.H. — “If you raise the bar, our students rise to it,” said Karen Thompson, the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Hinsdale Middle/High School on Thursday. “And they never ever let you down.”
Parents and teachers were on hand to congratulate the handful of students who have successfully completed the 2021/22 Extended Learning Opportunities program and to thank the professional mentors who guided them through the process.
“I just really enjoy helping young men and women reach their potential and explore their interests,” said Peter Hughes, a member of the ELO team at Hinsdale who’s been teaching mathematics there since 2015. “And I like the rapport that can build with not just the students, but their parents and the mentors out in the field.”
In 2011, the Hinsdale School District shifted its philosophy to personalize learning for all of its students. One of the ideas was to get students out of the building and working with mentors in professional careers. The Extended Learning Opportunities program has since ushered more than 100 students out into the world with real world experience working for construction firms, with the police, in nursing homes, at museums and industries in the Hinsdale and Brattleboro area.
Superintendent Wayne Woolridge characterized the program on Thursday as “a deep learning experience” with mentors who help the students explore the interests as they prepare for careers or for college.
Woolridge, who noted the Hinsdale School Board received national recognition in 2018 for the ELO program, said it takes buy-in from everyone in the school and the community to make the program work.
“You have to have willing counselors and teachers who can look at their competencies and connect [the students] with those kinds of personalized experiences they can get in the community,” he said.
“It started in sixth grade when I started liking history,” said Rowyn Lacey Brown, who connected with Mara Williams and Chelsea Osborne at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. “Then I went to archaeology, then I went to paranormal history, and then anthropology and then finally a museum career.”
“It was really nice to be able to show someone who’s just as interested in the objects as I am, because she was really excited about them, learning about them, handling them,” said Osborne, who is in charge of ancient pottery and statuary at the museum.
Alex Gaffney, a welding student, thanked his professional mentors for setting him on a career that could include staying local or going “to build submarines.”
“Thank you for setting me up with the skills I can use in the future,” he said.
Matthew St. John worked with the Hinsdale Police Department and plans on majoring in public safety and health at Keene State College.
“We need future leaders,” said Chief Charles Rataj. “We were very happy to take him under our wing.”
“I’m a pretty OK student,” said St. John. “But I don’t really like sitting in the classroom.”
St. John participated in ride-alongs and observed how police officers work, but one thing he didn’t realize is how much paperwork goes along with the job.
“If you even give someone a ticket that’s two pages of reports that you have to type out,” he said.
Jaime St. John said she was a little nervous when her son told her he was interested in law enforcement.
“But I think he’s totally capable of it,” she said. “He really has this calling to be a police officer. I think he’s going to be a fantastic police officer.”
Dan Tetreault worked with his uncle, Richard Barry or R.A. Building, and his father, Tom Tetreault, of 2K3 Roofing, to build dugouts at the baseball field, put up a fence and improve the base paths.
“Being in class learning wasn’t my style,” said Tetreault, who plays shortstop. “I was bored and lost interest very quickly.”
Tetreault also had to help raise $20,000 for the improvements, work within his budget and coordinate excavation and the pouring of concrete.
“My central question for my ELO was what does it take to start a construction business,” he said.
His uncle said Tetreault was a quick learner.
“He pays attention and is eager to learn and try new things,” said Barry.
“He’s always excelled,” said Tom Tetreault. “Grades weren’t an issue. But this opportunity with ELO was something different for him. This is hands on ... a 12-hour day, constantly moving ... it’s always something.”
“I am never more proud than when I see the enormous amount of love and care and teaching that comes from our mentors,” said Thompson. “I’m not sure that our students completely recognize the magnitude of their learning experience they get through ELO. What I do know is that they will look back and remember this experience as one of the most valuable of their high school careers.”
The other mentors who were recognized during Thursday’s luncheon included Mary Wissman and David Fields, who worked with Chandra Burnham; Alexis Nelson, who worked with Malee Barcomb; Reformer photographer Kris Radder, who worked with Samantha Doyle; Jason Cardinale, who worked with Alex Gaffney; Jennifer Dowling, who worked with Tyler Doyle; Jason Ashcroft, who worked with Shianne Lorrette; Charissa Zavorotny and Roberta Hienonen, who worked with Angelina Mitchell; and Shannon Fike, who worked with Raymond Hillock.