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David Holzapfel: Vermont Humanities Educator of the Year

There are those educationalists who believe that if we can just get the curriculum and the testing right, kids will learn.
(David Holzapfel, in remarks to the Vermont Humanities Council)

photo: Francie Marbury

photo: Francie Marbury

David Holzapfel has been a Windham County educator for the past 25 years. This fall his work with students was recognized by the Vermont Humanities Council (VHC) when they awarded him the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award in a ceremony that took place on the campus of the University of Vermont in November.

The annual meeting of the Vermont Humanities Council

The annual meeting of the Vermont Humanities Council

“The Vermont Humanities Council is pleased to honor Vermont teachers in the humanities who challenge and inspire their students, who open up for them the world of ideas, and who help them know the joy of learning,” said VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “In honoring one such teacher each year, we pay tribute to all the fine teachers in Vermont, and we honor the important work they do.”

The award, which comes with $1,000 prize, is given annually to a Vermont educator in grades 6 through 12 who exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities.

David’s particular brand of teaching excellence was the focus of a recent interview entitled, “Not teaching to the test,” by Sarah Buckingham of

David Holzapfel’s fifth- and sixth-grade classroom feels more like a small liberal arts college than it does a public elementary school.

The multi-age, multi-subject classrooms at Marlboro Elementary School embrace an interdisciplinary and experiential approach to education, influenced by the nearby Marlboro College.

Holzapfel says teachers there are given the freedom to teach the things that excite them: “That’s where learning becomes infectious for kids and that’s really what we want,” he says.

In this way, Holzapfel is being celebrated for doing things differently.

David admitted to Sarah that he didn’t pay attention to things like the Vermont Standards and the Common Core “and all those sorts of things.” In fact, one of his colleagues joked that he was being awarded for “doing what you’re not supposed to be doing.”

In David’s remarks at the annual VHC conference, attended by 300+ educators across the state, he addressed the policy initiatives that interfere with teaching and learning:

There are those educationalists who believe that if we can just get the curriculum and the testing right, kids will learn. Every six to eight years since I began teaching, a new educational initiative has been handed down and touted as the solution: The Public School Approval Standards, The Vermont State Standards, No Child Left Behind, Adequate Yearly Progress, Race to the Top and currently the Common Core Standards.

“The problem is,” says David, “If the curriculum standard in place (eg State Standards, No Child, etc) is so spot-on then why do we continue to change to some other grand scheme every few years?  And then the new plan is touted as being the solution to the problem of why kids aren’t learning. But it’s not the curriculum, it’s not the test that drives kids to learn. It’s meaningful work, challenging work entered into with enthusiasm.”

In a recommendation letter to the Council, Principal Francie Marbury highlighted David’s passion for challenge:

David believes that students need rich content to sink their teeth into. His search for the perfect book and the most engaging activity is relentless. Long before the Common Core, David understood that the literature he chose for his students needs to be complex and challenging and that, with the proper support, they would rise to the challenge.

photo: The Commons

photo: The Commons, Sarah Buckingham

“‘Challenging work’ does not mean that anything goes and that anything a student does is OK,” says David. “The teacher’s job is to instruct and guide individual students to learn to be learners and to be able to communicate their understandings. That means we must study and practice the writing conventions, math facts, critical reading and thinking skills; those tools which will enable us to learn about cellular biology or how an engine works or sustainable farming practices.”

“But teaching isn’t about force-feeding widgets with information which is what the curriculum-testing model promotes,” he says. “Too often I feel that educationalists don’t really trust that kids want to be learners.”

In the article, “Not teaching to the test,” reporter Sarah Buckingham addressed David’s approach:

(It’s) not to say Holzapfel’s curriculum doesn’t meet those standards: he’s just come up with his own way of satisfying them.

Each year his students read the epic poem “The Odyssey” and memorize the first stanza of Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” in the original Middle English.

“Those kinds of things don’t show up on [standardized] tests,” Holzapfel says, “and yet they’re the things kids remember and the things kids value. It becomes a part of them.”

Holzapfel says he takes issue with guidelines and standards that compartmentalize subject matter.

‘”When we’re studying astronomy we’re also reading Ray Bradbury. Everything is related to everything else. And the strictures of, ‘Well we can’t talk about math or we can’t talk about science while we’re looking at art’ is just silly. If you present the same material in as many different ways and through as many different lenses as possible then you just increase the chances of creating understanding.”

Susan Calabria, of the Brattleboro Musuem and Art Center (BMAC), was among those who recommended David to the Vermont Humanities Council for the award. As the Education Curator of BMAC she has worked closely with David and his students over the years. Susan wrote:

My first introduction to David was in my early years at the Museum (c. 2002-2003) when he participated in a VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) symposium at BMAC. His excellent presentation – which I saw him do in his classroom with students in ensuing years – was on extending VTS to support a geometry lesson. He used a projected imagine of an M.C. Esher print as a starting point…

David was one of the first in our area to incorporate the VTS method into math, literacy, history, and science projects.

Susan spoke at length about how David took VTS into field studies with his students, combining art and science. David emphasized the role of field research in his remarks to the Council:

Field research is one of the active muscles of the humanities and is a cornerstone of learning through all the grades at the Marlboro School. Successful field research takes time and dedication, a tremendous amount of planning, support and trust. And did I mention time? The temporal aspects of learning seem rarely considered by policy-makers and yet we all know that those topics to which we dedicate time are the topics we truly know;  this is immersive learning.  But, to quote educator Ron Berger, “Today’s pressure is toward surface coverage of content to prepare for high stakes tests. It’s growing more difficult to give students the opportunities to use their minds well as critical thinkers, to work as historians, scientists, mathematicians and writers.” There is simply not enough time for engaged learning within our curriculum-tweaking standardized test-taking mindset.  Is it any wonder that too many students seem disconnected and are bored in school?

In a press release announcing David as the recipient of the Humanities award, VHC celebrated his work in the field:

The learning journey of Holzapfel’s students goes well beyond the classroom. A major component of his sixth-grade classes is a week-long field research trip to New York City, the cornerstone of a year of study that includes a focus on immigration to America as well as students’ independent study projects. Students visit Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum and take part in other activities that illustrate the immigrant experience. Holzapfel carefully prepares students for their independent studies, which culminate in New York with students interviewing people such as a member of the New York Stock Exchange, Central Park’s landscape designer, a curator at the Museum of Natural History, a stage manager at the New York City Ballet, as well as local pedestrians.

photo: Pam Burke

NYC field research trip; photo: Pam Burke

“The NYC individual field work is demanding,” David admits. “Students and staff work through topic selection, pre-field work research, field work involving interviews of professionals in the study area, investigation of primary resources, collation of field notes and integration of that information with the classroom research, a final report, the generation and performance of a multi-media presentation with no established time-frame and finally, a parent-community presentation of approximately 7 minutes. That’s complex. An inch wide and a mile deep. But it’s worth the effort because when it’s done thoroughly, it engenders a true sense of accomplishment: Kids are proud of the work they’ve done because it was complex, multi-directional, and deep; and teachers are proud because they’ve led students through an authentic experience.”

David noted the challenges and rewards of field work in his remarks to the Council:

Field research is hard work for educators in the current climate. But I believe that for all those involved in direct education, students and teachers alike, nothing builds a positive sense of purpose and confidence better than the accomplishment of a difficult task done well.

"the web of life"  photo: P'tricia Wyse

“the web of life” Woodford State Park
photo: P’tricia Wyse

 

Carol Berner, who serves on the faculty at Smith and Antioch colleges in the education department, recently had the opportunity to work closely with David in her role as Regional Coordinator of River of Words. She joined David and his students at Hogback Mountain:

On this first encounter I was struck by the intensity with which David’s students were immersed in their nature study. They were proud of their plots, skilled at observing, respectful of each other and nature, familiar with the names of particular mosses and trees and welcoming of a newcomer.

Through sustained focus on a particular place, over time, and with expert guidance students discover that learning takes time and happens in community – not only the community of the classroom but also of the forest. These 5th-6th graders entered into a relationship with their study plot that taught them how to observe, imagine and articulate interconnectedness with the world. We all learned how to “think deeper” and “look at things in different ways.” The magic of this kind of learning is captured in one boy’s concluding reflection: “And it was peaceful.”

A sense of belonging lies at the heart of David’s approach to teaching and learning.

In his remarks to the Council, David touched on the importance of place-based education:

In addition to deep, active learning, field work instills in students a sense of place. Meaningful interactions with a location and a subject matter and work within a community engenders in all of us a sense of belonging, of connection.

Local interviews

Local interviews

In her recommendation to the Council, Principal Francie Marbury highlighted David’s community history project, Work in Marlboro:

Over the course of several years David’s students have interviewed Marlborians who live and work in town. These interviews are archived digitally with the Marlboro Historical Society and create a rich record of this eclectic and colorful community. Interviewees have included the road foreman, artists, college professors, builders, bus drivers, and town officers.

“Teachers like Swenson Award Educator David Holzapfel are our civic heroes,” writes VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “The influence of such teachers on their students never ends,”

Principal Francie Marbury echoed this praise in her recommendation with this quintessential anecdote about the lasting effect David has on his students:

Imagine – school is out for the day and all is quiet as a lanky adolescent walks purposefully down the hall and up the stairs to David’s room. He’s come to check in, fill David in on high school life, and reminisce about his 6th grade field research trip to New York City.

David’s high expectations for his students, his wry sense of humor, and his passion for the material he teaches result in his being the teacher students remember long after they leave Marlboro School.

In his remarks to the Council, David credited his Alma Mater, Marlboro College, for teaching him “that sustained focus in an area of study broadens and deepens the pleasures of learning.”

It is this dedication and delight I strive to impart to my students.

David Holzapfel, captured by a student, Cape Cod Field Research trip

David Holzapfel, captured by a student, Cape Cod Field Research trip

(Note: David Holzpfel began teaching a Marlboro Elementary School in 1990. He’ll retire this June after 25 years in the classroom.)

(this article was first published in The Cracker Barrel, Deerfield Valley News Winter/Spring edition, 2015. Thank you to the The Commons, Brattleboro, VT for sharing photo/text.)

 

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a winter companion

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morning journal entry

When we first moved to Marlboro, in the winter of 2000, just after the baby was born and my mother was taken, it was the birches who soothed me–how they stood together–tall and thin and papery white.

But now I find my heart drawn to a single beech.

She stands out my window, in the east, beside the stone wall, ankle-deep in snow.

Her bark is almost chocolate and her lower branches cling to their leaves, aged to perfection–a tender blush–reminding me of spring.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2015 in Seasons, VT Poetic, Winter

 

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One Voice~from Vermont to Paris~and the world

When they ask me at the Post Office if my package contains anything dangerous, I never know quite how to answer. It contains books, and if a book isn’t dangerous, then why was it written?
~Karen Oberst

charlie-hebdo

If the Native American saying is true–that it takes a thousand voices to tell a single story–then maybe a mother’s voice from the backroads of Vermont can lend something to this story of free speech.

I entered the conversation with a tweet because I didn’t know what else to say:

12. Terrorist. Paris. Satire. Press. Cartoonists. Religion. Fanaticism. Freedom.
Not sure which point is the sharpest.

Later, I shared a Rushdie quote:

The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.

He should know. Remember?
I remember because I was 25 at the time–coming to terms with my own mortality–and feeling particularly unnerved at the thought of a man with a price on his head for writing a book.

A book.

Later, I became a writer myself–a memoirist in fact–which brought me face to face with the threat we authors pose. I shouldn’t have been surprised. As a child, I was sent to my prison often–my room–for my mouth. Spanked. Slapped. Silenced.

I grew up passionate about voice.

So passionate, that speaking truth became more important than saving face, or staying safe or even being understood.

Then I had kids.
Fast forward to this week and an argument with my youngest. He’s 14. At times infuriating.

Instead of anger, I resort to sarcasm or mockery. This enrages him. I mock more in defense.

Both my sons tell me that my mockery makes them livid.
I listen to them, and wonder why I do it.
I never used sarcasm and such as a teacher. I knew it was toxic, particularly for adolescents.

I probe a bit and discover that underneath the mockery is my fierce need for boundaries and non-violence.

“I don’t want to give it up,” I tell my husband.

He reminds me that mockery and power share some poignant history for me. We recall the time, when at 18, I stood up to my father’s tyranny by mocking his orders. At his 6 foot 4 to my 5 foot 2, mockery was my only weapon.

He knocked me to the floor.
Three times.

I don’t see the world in good and evil; and so what I’m trying to understand is what possesses three men to bring automatic rifles into an editorial meeting to execute cartoonists.

But then I remember that even my mild-mannered husband has been provoked to violence by words. How as a boy, he once said to his mother: “Words hurt more than hitting.”

I’d like to figure out how to set boundaries with the men in my life without mockery, how to engage them in what really matters without provocation; but the bottom line is that I can do both–mock and provoke–without giving permission to violence.

“Free speech is non-negotiable,” tweeted the organization Index on Censorship.

“Allahu Akbar,” God is great shouted the masked intruders.

Respect for religion has become code phrase meaning fear of religion,” writes Salman Rushdie.

“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device,” sing the Eagles.

I’m developing a deepening appreciation for satire. For its comic relief. For the way it softens the unbearable. Illuminates the densest of matter.

I think maybe humor is the path to the future.
But only the humor that I like.

“Humor that offends absolutely no one is not humor,” writes Andy Borowitz, about Paris.

I’d never heard of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo before today, and I doubt that I would appreciate the tone of their work.
But I am in the middle of reading Salman Rushdie’s, Haroun and the Sea of Stories to my second son; and when I delightfully discover that this longtime favorite has been selected by Vermont Reads as the state book of the year, I dispatch a digital copy to my sister and her family who are living in Cambodia as missionaries.

Now I cringe when I read what Rushdie has to say about yesterday’s tragedy, imagining how those words would feel to my sister and her husband. Not necessarily the disrespect part, but the “medieval form of unreason” part:

Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.

I imagine he knows what he’s talking about, given that the Ayatollah of Iran put a fatwa on him, but I also know that the heart of those in love with the Divine can be pure; but maybe that’s different than religion.

BBC presenter Simon Schama tweets: “Satire was the father of true political freedom, born in the 18th century; the scourge of bigots and tyrants. Sing its praises,” and I think he’s right, but maybe now we need a mother of freedom too. Both fierce and gentle.

Mothers talk to your sons.
Men give your women voice.
Children, demand it.

“They thought that the bullets would silence us,” spoke Malal Yousafzai of Pakistan, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. “And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices.”

May our voices join to tell this story and make it new.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2015 in The World & VT

 

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Let Your Yoga Dance~into the New Year!

Kelly Salasin:

Kripalu YogaDance in Southern Vermont!

Originally posted on Kelly Salasin:

Dance into Winter with a community of WOMEN welcoming the Dark, the Light, and Everything in between.

Skill & experience soooooo not relevant. Letting go, relaxing, and being who you are–on any given night–most WELCOME. Gently-guided. Intuitively led. Divinely held. Irreverent. Sacred. Whole. (With a little CHAOS thrown in.)

Let Your Yoga Dance Winter Session Details

Who: Women–with Kripalu-trained YogaDance instructor, Kelly Salasin

What: 90 minutes of music, movement & meditation through the chakras

Where: Southern Vermont (Rte 9 in Marlboro)

When: Tuesdays Evenings (6:30 to 8:00 pm)

How
: Barefoot, in clothing comfortable for movement; without any concern for skill or ability

Cost: $123.45 for the 9 week session
Drop-in, when available: $21.

Contact Kelly for more information

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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Who was Eric Garner?

It doesn’t matter whether you live in New York or Missouri,
Whether you’re “black” or “white,”
Whether you’re Conservative or Liberal…

When you hear a man say, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,
you feel compassion.

And in your compassion, there is some space, even the tiniest of spaces, that says:

Something is wrong here.

When you watch him die–there on the sidewalk, outside a convenience store, while a friend films the scene, it doesn’t matter whether you saw him as a man or a black or a father or a criminal–you feel grief.

And in that grief, in the space that comes before pointing fingers and assigning blame, you hear:

There’s another way.

Together, we must find it.

Because really it doesn’t matter who we think Eric Garner is, it matters who we are.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in The World & VT

 

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Voter 411: Mid-Term Elections

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Posted by on October 27, 2014 in Occupy, The World & VT, VT Community

 

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that time in August…

10450769_10152631768798746_8326396009489492599_nOur oldest’s birthday has always marked the shift in seasons.

The rain comes, as it did yesterday, and then suddenly autumn whispers.

The breeze at the pond is too much for adults to swim, and the boys fall asleep earlier than they have all summer.

My husband and I finish a movie before 10, and after we turn off the tv, we notice light falling across our just finished floors.

Out the kitchen window, we spy the moon, perched between the evergreens–our trees–out our window.

We closed on the house today… and it seems to us that the moon is offering her approval.

Casey steps out on the porch–something he’s always dreamed of–and I join him there to say goodnight to the stars in the silent sky.

Just then, music comes screaming across the pond…

“I believe in miracles, since you came along, you sexy thing, you sexy thing…”

(We built our home on the same dirt road as a summer camp.)

I want to resent this intrusion, this robbery of perfection, but I always liked that song, sang it all the way down to Key West when I was 12.

There’s something funny about disco music playing across from our home in the woods. Serenity and dancing. The sublime and the mundane. It fits our family. Reminding us that miracles abound.

(kelly salasin, 2005)

 
 

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