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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series of tributes acknowledging and celebrating the extraordinary individuals who have been teaching and caring for our Brattleboro area children during this challenging time. In presenting these accolades, the Reformer and Compassionate Brattleboro, sponsors of this initiative, recognize that the teachers and caretakers in our area, as a whole, have risen to the challenges imposed in uncommon fashion — and that our larger community is enormously proud — and grateful!

Aimee Levesque

3rd Grade Teacher, Putney Central School

When the pandemic hit, our family hunkered down into remote schooling. For our second grader, this meant taking the reins of supporting him as a budding reader who was struggling. Aimee Levesque gave us so many resources and supports for the end of the semester and into the summer. We were fortunate to have her transition to third grade teacher – so our son was able to continue all of the good work he had started with Aimee!

We just received a report on our son’s reading and he has made leaps and bounds – this is entirely due to the support that Aimee has given our family. And we know there are so many other families that she supported in the same way – the PCS third grade is one of the largest elementary grades in the district. Aimee has given, and given, and given. We appreciate her so much. So many at PCS deserve our tributes, but Aimee’s support was invaluable for our family, and our son would not be where he is without her.

— Ruby McAdoo and Amer Latif, PCS Parents

Joann Tyler,

Administrative Assistant, Guilford School

I would like to honor our long-time administrative assistant Joann Tyler who recently retired at the end of November. She worked at the school for 20 years. This fall, she came back to help settle the school into operations at risk to her health. She is a local hero.

— John Gagnon, Principal, Guilford School

Julie Ackerman-Hovis,

Music Teacher, Green Street School

As the administrative assistant of Green Street School, I am in awe of our educators. The speed with which they’ve had to adapt to new teaching styles and online resource tools is dizzying. And yet, they have done so — not because it’s easy, but because they are dedicated and unafraid of hard work.

In particular, our music teacher, Julie Ackerman-Hovis, is a shining star. She has four children at home, plus over 200 students at school, counting on her for music enrichment. Even though music education has been curtailed severely due to COVID-19, our extraordinary “Ms. A” has doubled down to create a music curriculum that is totally engaging. She has created a series of “Music Detective” videos that are funny, intriguing, educational, and just plain fun.

Ms. A also runs a weekly Zoom School Sing, to maintain a tradition and expectation for our student body. It is highly attended each Wednesday morning. It is consistently well-organized and professionally presented. She features guest performers from among the student body and staff, and she pulls us all together as a school community each week.

Ms. A is also helping dedicated band members to further hone their instrumental skills by meeting with them for virtual lessons. On top of all of this, Ms. A supports the in-school sixth grade classroom teaching team. Our staff is extraordinary, and Ms. A is one of the examples that proves it.

— Mo Hart, Administrative Assistant, Green Street School

Kristie Henderson, Joe Rivers, Mandy Nash, Michele Nelson, Marissa Fuoroli

The Remote Team from Team Felix

This crew took on an unimaginable task this year by creating an entire online school, of both seventh and eighth graders, to meet the needs of all the families who opted to have their students learn remotely across the district. We have taken the students from Putney, Dummerston, and BAMS and formed Team Felix! The time, energy, and work that has been put into meeting not only the academic needs of these students, but even more importantly their social and emotional needs, goes above and beyond the call of duty. It is clear that these educators are constantly putting their students first to make sure they are successful and able to thrive in a positive learning environment.

— Chris Brewer, Math Teacher, Academic Support Team, Brattleboro Area Middle School

Jen Miner,

Administrative Assistant, Brattleboro Area Middle School

For our intrepid and beloved administrative assistant, Jen Miner, with credit to Sonny Curtis:

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

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Well it’s you girl, and you should know it

With each glance and every little movement you show it

Love is all around, no need to waste it

You can never tell, why don’t you take it

You’re gonna make it after all

You’re gonna make it after all

How will you make it on your own?

This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone

But it’s time you started living

It’s time you let someone else do some giving

Love is all around, no need to waste it

You can never tell, why don’t you take it

You might just make it after all

You might just make it after all

Jen is a possibilitarian, an optimist, and an engineer. We love her dearly.

— Nancy Goodhue, Teaching staff, BAMS

Michele Nelson,

Academic Support, Remote Learning, Brattleboro Area Middle School

Michele joined the middle school remote learning team part way through Quarter 1 to fill a need for extra academic support for students. She jumped in head first, and took on multiple small groups of students each day, plus daily office hours for all students. Her dedication to her students’ success is very apparent when she works with them, and when she follows up with students that miss work sessions with her. Her support for struggling students has been invaluable to the team, and her willingness to help in any way she can has been much appreciated.

— Mandy Nash, Remote ELA Teacher, BAMS

The Teachers and Staff

Early Education Services (EES) of SE Vermont

Friday, March 13, 2020, all schools, daycares, preschools are closed down by an order from the governor. Everything is to be virtual/online, starting Monday. What does this even mean for children aged six weeks through five years? All of our teachers cast into an unknown wilderness, of which our fairy tales speak so eloquently, think of Hansel and Gretel if you will... There is no going back, the familiar home of yesterday is gone, nothing is as it has been. At an EES staff meeting the story of the Heroic Journey is told, we’ve left home and the crumbs leading back have been eaten by the birds, there is no going back. It is forward into the wilderness and we have been offered no navigation tools! These need to be found through the challenge of undertaking the journey. This is a universal journey story, well known and described in every culture; and it is scary, the challenges always seem insurmountable. This is where we find our individual and collective Heroism.

I’ve been observing this heroism on a daily basis since that first announcement and others that followed, specific to early education and daycare services. A group we called Navigating the Unknown, was created. Through tears of grief, anger and fear, I witnessed one teacher after another, in the Early Head Start and Head Start programs of SE Vermont, sharing their vulnerability, their near hopelessness, a desire to back away, fear beyond their own comprehension — and then, in spite of it all, ultimately embracing a giant reach and a landing into, what can only be called, heroism. This, a living heroism as each one of these teachers and many new arrivals embrace not only the necessity but also the desire to welcome children back into the fold of our human social family. Each individual teacher, each Family Support Specialist, each Behavior Support Specialist, each manager, cook, cleaner, facility person, all woven into a perfect fabric, rising to the call. Eyes learn how to smile above masks, stories of masks and real faces behind them are told, clothes are quickly changed after offering hugs to drooling young ones, laughter continues, parents are reassured. And through it all, the most creative and imaginative online offerings were and are individually created by teachers on the four Facebook pages (one for each site), designed to knit the children together with their teachers when classrooms needed to be closed.

Yes, we’re still in the wilderness of our story template. The teachers and all of the support staff are stepping forward with a courage we may have previously believed only happens in the story books. To witness a living journey of heroism is uplifting to the spirit, beyond what we may have imagined. There are more miles to travel, more challenges before us. Much has been lost in the leaving of the familiar and yet, surprising rewards are being discovered. Some are delighting in knowing one another better; some are finding aspects of their humanity called forth with greater openness and brilliance. We will arrive some day at a new home base that is familiar and yet, transformed, carrying with us new tools, a resilience that was previously unknown, and a compassion toward ourselves and one another that continues to be discovered.

— Miriam Dror, EES Mental Health Consultant