Vermont Academy launches scholarship program

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SAXTONS RIVER — Vermont Academy wants to put more Vermont in its academy.

The Saxtons River private school announced this week that it is launching a new scholarship program with the goal of attracting more Vermont students to the school.

The "Vermont Scholars" program would give 14 Vermont students close to a $16,000 break on the school's tuition, which would bring tuition down to $16,717. The full rate is usually $33,650.

And if students want to be boarding students, it would bring the charge for tuition and boarding to $44,657, while the full rate is $64,200.

Jennifer Zaccara, head of school, said Thursday she is launching the Vermont Scholars program as a push to bring Vermonters back to the school.

Zaccara said a saying, written by the wife of a former headmaster on the doorway to the head of school's house, prompted her to push to attract more Vermont students.

"Every day when I walk through the doorway to my residence I see a treatise written by Dorothy Hall Leavitt," Zaccara said. "She was the wife of one of our most important heads of school. She wrote that Vermont Academy is a place 'where Vermont boys and girls can go further than the little red schoolhouse.'

"Plus, that's our name," she said. "We have a strong sense of being in Vermont and representing Vermont and having Vermont values.

"While we enroll students from across the country and around the world, the number of students coming from Vermont has declined. We want to reverse that trend," she said, noting that the scholarship program would "remove a barrier that might have come up in family's minds. We are promoting our philosophy in a new way and the response is really heartening."

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Zaccara said the $15,955 merit scholarship represents the average announced tuition of Vermont schools, grades 7 through 12, according to the Vermont Agency of Education.

"We're going to give students the state's average funding, and in return they'll have the chance to receive a superior education," she said.

The merit scholarship program will be awarded for up to four years. If students are from towns that don't have high school choice, they may be eligible for other need-based scholarship aid, she said.

Since the merit scholar program was announced earlier this week, Zaccara said the response has been very strong. Originally she hoped to attract a Vermont student from each of the state's 14 counties, but she said that appears to have been a modest goal.

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Currently, the school has 21 Vermonters enrolled, with 17 of those students day students. There are currently 175 total students enrolled, but the school has recently enrolled as many as 210 students."We get mid-year students," Zaccara said.

According to David Petrie, the school's marketing director, Vermont Academy is one of 11 independent boarding schools in Vermont, but some of the schools have a special mission, such as The Greenwood School in Putney and Stratton Mountain School in Stratton.

Petrie said that currently 14 percent of the students are from Vermont. "It's a small number," he said.

In the 1980s and 90s, Zaccara said, there were about 50 Vermont students attending Vermont Academy. One of the reasons is that family sizes are shrinking, and she said Vermont Academy is, like all Vermont schools, looking at declining enrollments.

Julia Sorensen of Vernon, who has two sons attending Vermont Academy as day students, said the scholarship program would be a big benefit to her family. While Vernon is a sending town, the Vermont Scholars program could make Vermont Academy more affordable.

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Sorensen said her sons — one is in 9th grade and the other 11th — chose Vermont Academy because of its relatively small size and the individual attention given to students.

She said she was particularly impressed by the large number of international students at the school, and the resulting diverse student population.

"VA has people from all over the U.S., as well as a large population of foreign students. My son's freshman class, half his class was from foreign countries. That's very much how the world is and I really, really wanted them in a place with diversity," Sorensen said.

Sorensen said she is very involved with the day students' parents group, and she said parents and students commute daily from Vernon, Brattleboro and Marlboro, as well as Chester.

The Vermont Scholars program has an expedited four-step application process which includes a written application, teacher recommendations and a school transcript. A financial aid application is only required for those looking for additional finance aid. Deadline for applying is Feb. 15, 2020.

Zaccara said the VA board of trustees has agreed to provide funding for up to 14 Vermont Scholars.

"We're so fortunate to have a board who understands how important it is to have local students here," she said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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