PLaYing with DaVid

PLaYing with DaVid

I think my parents suggested fiddle because there was this insane teacher named David Tasgal. He was kind of nuts, but he had an amazing ability to communicate music to little kids…. He was definitely an inspiring figure for me, not only musically, but also because he had this slightly cracked sense of humor.
He had this deadpan vibe that I thought was hilarious.
~Sam Amidon


play |plā|

  • engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose
    • amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretense
    • (play with) fiddle or tamper with: has somebody been playing with the thermostat?

I never thought about David’s age before, but if I had to guess, I’d say early sixties, which is why I dismissed the news that a 72-year-old man was struck on his bike on Bernardston Road in Greenfield, Monday afternoon.

David has been a part of the Marlboro Elementary School family in Southern Vermont for over a decade. His quirky, fun-loving approach makes this classical instrument accessible to all kinds of kids; and his death this week leaves our school family aching–especially as I imagine all those young children–with their tiny violins–waiting for him on Tuesday morning, ready to play (and I mean play.)

A list of David’s original compositions for the violin lends insight into his heart for children, while revealing his characteristic playfulness:

David's books
David’s collection of music instruction books.

Blast Off,
Marching to the Practice Room,
The Tough Cat,
Goldfish Variations,

Cha Cha Cha Cha,
The Rabbi Dances with his Dog
Bingo Suddenly Meets Mozart

My youngest son, Aidan, who studied with David from 1st through 8th grade, believes that one tune in particular had a handful of title changes over the years: Song for a Pet Who Died became Song for a Pet Who Ran Away became Sad Clown Fish became The Lonely Fiddle–all in attempt to make the children less sad.

Aidan also marveled that David could compose a tune such as The Duck Song–from a single note–and still make it “interesting and satisfying.” As a parent and a teacher, it was particularly pleasurable to see so many children, of all ages and skill levels, play together, and David’s unique approach made that possible.

David swept in for school events wild hair and wild shirts, and then began without fanfare, keeping the focus on the violinists, while enthusiastically accompanying them on piano. In fact, it’s at the piano that I remember David best. I loved the mornings when he’d arrive a bit early for lessons–at the tail end of All School Sing–and then slide his way onto the piano to add pizzaz to our last song.

On the evening after David died, I entered the school auditorium to teach yoga, but felt his presence so strongly that I could barely begin my class. To soothe myself before I left, I placed a small light on the piano to sit shiva with David’s spirit through the night.

We lit a candle at home that night too. Our older son, Lloyd, 20, who was in David’s very first class at Marlboro recalls how perfectly David tailored lessons to engage him and his more sports-oriented peers:  “At one point, he gave us percentages so that we’d compete with each other,” Lloyd recalled.

Aidan was uncharacteristically quiet as his brother reminisced. Aidan graduated from Marlboro in June, and on that night he tucked a small gift aside–a bar of soap–his favorite because of its crazy colors and textures and how he gets to slice it to size–and especially because of its name: Dragon’s Blood. He thought David would like it too.

Aidan gave himself whole-heartedly to music during his years at Marlboro and has continued on at the  highschool just as enthusiastically; while Lloyd just about gave up on the violin in Junior High.  At the time, I drafted a parenting piece entitled: The Violin Wars, which alas, I never finished, until now…

Our boys playing together, many moons ago.
Our boys practicing together, many, many moons ago.

The Violin Wars

My 13 year old sits slumped behind me in an arm chair in my office while I blare Dave Matthews, Ants Marching and then Last of the Mohicans–two “cool” songs with engaging strings that I hope will entice him to play along and reignite his lost passion.

The violin sits on his lap.

Things between them almost ended–abruptly–two weeks ago, though truthfully, they’ve been on the rocks since Lloyd was about 10–the time of the First Violin War–an apocalyptic parenting moment–complete with yelling and threats and stalemates–followed by the stark realization that I had crossed the beginning of the end of my role as commander and chief.

Lloyd with his first set of strings
Lloyd with his first set of strings

But a deeper truth is that Lloyd and the violin have been together forever, into their ninth year, and they courted even before that. As a toddler, Lloyd offered rapt attention to any string music he came across–live or recorded–contemporary or classical; and as a preschooler, he brought the same toy guitar to show and tell every Friday, while truly longing for a violin.

When we finally found a toy one to match the guitar, he was at first delighted, and then quickly disappointed with its inferior sound. He insisted he needed a “real one,” but as neither my husband or I were musicians, we didn’t know how to go about that for such a small child.

One afternoon, while walking down Elliot Street in Brattleboro, however, Lloyd pointed to a sign above the sidewalk–with a picture of a violin–and said: “Let’s go up there.”

We climbed a set of steep stairs, and entered a small shop where violins–of all sizes–hung from the ceiling. I felt like a fish out of water, but Lloyd looked up in wonder. Reverent. Riveted.

The shopkeeper came around the counter, took out a tape measure from his apron, and sized Lloyd up.

Lloyd in kindergarten
Lloyd with his first “real” violin.

“Come back in a year,” he said.

Lloyd was devastated.

But when he entered kindergarten that fall, something magical happened: the school instituted a pilot program with the Brattleboro Music Center and Lloyd came home carrying a case with the real thing inside.

Despite his passion, Lloyd was not a virtuoso, but he stuck with it, year after year, and so did the school–deciding to continue the program until the fourth grade when children could begin traditional band instruments.

Many of Lloyd’s peers gave up the violin in favor of a flute or a trumpet or a drum, but not Lloyd; he kept playing until he was the only one holding a violin, which is where we find him now, at the beginning of 8th grade:

“I want to quit,” he says. “I can’t take it anymore.”

But he isn’t resolute. He is miserable. Torn. Angry and frustrated. Feeling betrayed, by himself.

I’m not sure how to help.

Our tempers mount.

With so much at stake, I feel the Second Violin War coming on, but now I am a wiser or at least less foolish parent, so I suggest we reach out for support. I quickly compose an email to dispatch to family members–cousins and grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and regular ones too.

The replies flood in.

Do what you want, says one. You can always pick it up again.
Stick with it, says another. You’ll never pick it up again.

With each response, Lloyd feels tossed about–first one way; then the other. In the end he does. Stick with it. But half-heartedly. And once in high school, he leaves it behind, while watching his little brother, 5 years his junior, follow in his footsteps, sticking with violin, through the 8th grade, but so whole-heartedly that it inspires Lloyd to pick it up now and again… “just to see how it sounds” (and to see if he can still play better than his younger brother.)

Lloyd is grown now, a man of 20, and to our surprise, he recently called to say: “I think I want to start playing again.”

We don’t know what will come of this spark, but it warms us, particularly in its timing.

We attended David’s funeral together. No one even balked at the suggestion. Not Lloyd who was leaving that afternoon on the train for Burlington. Not my husband who had to arrange coverage for his classes. Not Aidan who was… well… 15.

The music was exquisite. The service solemn and playful and irreverent. At one point, a handful of children came forward to play some of David’s pieces for beginners. I nudged a reluctant Aidan to join them. He sat firm in his seat until he saw another same-age peer, across the room, move toward the altar.

Aidan playing at the last concert with David at Marlboro Elementary.
Aidan playing beside a younger peer at the last concert with David at MES.

Aidan swiftly brought the violin case, hidden between his knees, to his lap, and as he did, I felt the collective attention of all those who shared the private mourning space around us.

We watched transfixed as he opened each latch, and carefully lifted the instrument from its bed, and then there was a palpable embrace as he approached the altar on our behalf.

When the children began the last of three pieces, we were invited to hum along, after which we accidentally broke into the applause we had held inside for the soloists who had so stirred us earlier.

As Aidan rejoined us at the end of the pew, I turned toward him to mouth the words: “Thank you,” just as he locked eyes with mine, nodding his head, offering the same, not once or twice, but a handful of times: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you…”

The sky was a stunning blue as we exited the temple doors that afternoon; the surrounding streets lined with the cars of those who came to grieve David’s departure–students, colleagues, family, friends.

As we walked, Lloyd spoke to me of the music–of the viola solos–played by loved ones.

“I could barely breathe,” he said. “I couldn’t remember how.”

Temple sky over David's Send-Off
Temple sky over David’s “Blast-Off”

David Tasgal

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To find out more about David’s approach to teaching violin, or to purchase his curriculum, see his website: Strings Fun and Easy.

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A Village, Its School, Its Community

A Village, Its School, Its Community

(This is part of a series dedicated to our  local elementary school–the heart of our community–on the occasion of my last child’s graduation… count down–two weeks!)

Caroling, another Marlboro Elementary Tradition 2014, Junior High, Whetstone Inn

As an army brat and the oldest of eight children, I’ve seen my share of school performances–in places near and far.

Add to that the decades as an elementary teacher and you could say I’m a school concert officianando. (Lucky me!)

And just in case your experience is more limited than mine,  I’m here to let you know that Marlboro Elementary School (MES) events are by far the cream of the crop.

I saw my first MES performance in 1994 at Marlboro College, and felt the first quickening of my first born right in the Whittemore Theatre, aisle three, center left.

A handful of years later, that same child was on the stage exposing his belly to the audience in a kindergarten performance that was well past his bedtime.

The following year, he was in the “orchestra” sounding percussion for his class play beside his best buddy.  After watching the sword dance, Timmy leaned over and whispered to Lloyd: “How will we EVER do that?!”

A couple feet later with deepening vocal fluctuations, there they are, teenagers, dancing in the dark, with glowing sticks.

If Marlboro’s Holiday Concert isn’t your idea of a fun night out, it might help to look at it through the eyes of an anthropologist.  The rites of passage steeped in the curriculum that music teacher Charlene Morse offers, matches that of those tight knit cultures we admire.

From the enthusiastic participation of the primary room to the grumbling of the junior high, it’s all good–the stuff of coming of age in a strong community. The Youngers look up to  the Olders, and the Olders look up to the Alumni–who voluntarily return to the place they once couldn’t wait to leave.

There is Joseph, a Marine, standing on the stairs beside his fifth-grade teacher, David Holzapfel.
His brother Jesse is back on the stage playing drums.
There is Harry speaking to the audience–channeling the love of our community–to MES graduate Jesse Lopata at Dartmouth Hitchcock.
There is baby Chloe toddling now and there is baby Dylan, speaking!

Families who haven’t seen each other since summer days at South Pond reconnect, sharing snow and power-outage woes with continued offers of help.

Recent MES graduates linger in the lobby and the whole Reichsman family traipses by with equipment in their arms.

Winter is upon us and once again the pot of our community is stirred.

(Kelly Salasin, December 23, 2008)

the little school that could…

the little school that could…

From Vermont to Monteverde


Field Research has been the cornerstone of this little school in the Green Mountains of Vermont–at the grassroots level within its small flourishing community–to the State Capital and the Nation’s Capital–to the Atlantic coast and the shores of NYC–and finally to Central America–in its capstone work for graduating students.

rohrzagcps9efiv5jbtrThis spring research trip for 22 Junior High students centers around the question: Vermont to Monteverde, How are we connected?  To unravel this question, 7th and 8th graders have been studying international trade—focusing on coffee and tourism—and the influence of human behavior on local and global ecologies.

“Schools have always tried to foster responsible citizenry, and more than ever we must consider what it means to be a global citizen,” says Principal Francie Marbury. “Our middle school curriculum fosters global awareness through culture, economics and ecology. Students learn learn basic skills, and prepare for their the future in the best way—by being actively engaged in real world problems and solutions.”

Classroom teachers Rachel Boyden and Tim Hayes outline the educational components of the field research trip to Costa Rica:

  • Practice of Democracy:  Students make real decisions about the classroom, fundraising, and the parts of the curriculum using a government they chose.

  • Spanish Language:  Nothing makes a foreign language more relevant than traveling. While in Central America we will be visiting schools and using the language skills we have been developing in class to get to know the people and places of Costa Rica.

  • Social Studies:  From an understanding of world trade from the Silk Road to the Atlantic Slave Trade, we look specifically at the economics of the coffee & tourist trade as they connect the United States and Costa Rica.

  • Ecology: Due to global warming and deforestation in the lowlands, the montane cloud forests of Monteverde are particularly vulnerable with numerous rare species threatened. This illuminates the unintended impact of human activity on ecosystems–a theme for ecology our classes.


For many students, this will be their first time out of the country or their first time on a plane. Some will credit this journey for shaping a lifetime of world travel and study. Others will mark it as their single trip abroad. ALL will return home with a broader perspective of the world in which they live and a greater sense of what it means to be a global citizen.

With 2 months left to go, the students have already raised close to 75% of the overall costs, enabling all students to participate regardless of ability to pay.

Find out more about the the little school that could… and its fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.
AND pass it on!

David Holzapfel: Vermont Humanities Educator of the Year

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.)

Cows, connections & caring–in Vermont

Cows, connections & caring–in Vermont

Twenty years later and Vermont is still giving me warm fuzzies for things I didn’t even know I cared about–like politics or energy or something called a “heifer.”

Last month at the River Garden was just one of those times. Students from area schools gathered for a mid-point check in on their science projects for the upcoming Neighborhood Energy Science Fair, sponsored by the Strolling of the Heifers.*

Executive Director Orly Munzing addressing students.

Executive Director Orly Munzing, who founded the Strolling, was on site to address the participants as they prepared to have their work reviewed by science professionals. She told these young innovators that their passion for energy science would help define the future of this planet, and as such, they would serve as ambassadors–educating others, even adults, especially adults. (I got chills.)

I’m only just beginning to comprehend the full scope of what has transformed (in my mind) from a novelty parade into a movement, experienced closeup through my children, who insisted on going to that first “cow” parade in 2002.

A decade later, one of those children is among those enthusiastically preparing an entry for the science fair.

My son Aidan, 13, has been working with peers, Leander, 12, and Cyrus, 10, on a project they began shaping last winter at their elementary school. After School Program Coordinator Emily Wagner worked with regional educator Lisa Holderness from the Vermont Energy Education Program*(VEEP) to engage students who were interested in energy science and who might like participate in the Strolling’s Neighborhood Science Fair which they were helping to sponsor.

It’s exactly these kind of opportunities that create the warm fuzzy feeling that Vermont so freely offers; and its the conscious connections behind those fuzzies, so richly interwoven, that make it hard to know who to thank for making Vermont such a caring place.

But I’d like to try, simply as an exercise in appreciation and recognition:

Was it the Strolling of the Heifer Parade, and the accompanying events that ignited an interest in sustainable energy for my son? Was it the after school seed-growingscience programs, partially funded by the VT Agency of Education, that flamed that interest? Was it his teachers at Marlboro Elementary who, year after year, emphasized experiential, place-based education, capped by independent research, followed by field study abroad and at the Nation’s Capitol with opportunities for social activism? Was it the accessibility of government officials, like VT Governor Peter Shumlin and Senator Bernie Sanders, which so empowered him? Was it our neighbor, Gary MacArthur, who installed our hot water solar panels? Or was it my husband and our community who raised the energy-efficient home in which we live? Was it our grocery store–The Brattleboro Food Co-op whose mission includes outreach and education–connecting food, people and place? Was it the unique community of Brattleboro itself, known for its activism, art and engagement and the enthusiastic support of that by local businesses? Or was it something even simpler, like the hatching project in my son’s kindergarten classroom, or the visit to the local farm in first and second grade, or the creation of the school garden in third and fourth grade–each supported along the way by educational grants from the Strolling of the Heifers?

You’ll have to ask Aidan and his friends, Leander and Cyrus, why they devoted week after week of their free time to a project that even their parents don’t fully comprehend. You’ll find them Saturday, after the parade, on the Brattleboro Commons, as part of the Slow Living Expo, at the center of the Home Energy Village where the first annual Neighborhood Energy Science Fair takes place!

~kelly salasin

Students meet with science professionals at the River Garden in May.

sothLogo1*Now in its second decade, the Strolling of the Heifers has grown from a small-town parade (of cows) into a regional movement with year-round programs and events. The Stroll has expanded its horizons to include not only sustainable agriculture and food systems, but other aspects of local economic sustainability, highlighted by a three-day Slow Living Summit which opens tomorrow, June 4th, 2014. The parade and fairgrounds take place on Saturday, June 7th.

VEEP (Vermont Energy Education Program) is one of the sponsors of The Neighborhood Science Fair. Founded in 1979, their mission is to cultivate energy literacy among Vermont students. “Students who understand energy and how it works will make more informed choices about energy use and inspire others to do the same.”

VEEP_WPlogo4An Energy Literate Person Knows:

  • What our energy resources are and how we utilize them
  • The many ways electricity is made and the advantages and disadvantages of each
  • Why it is important to use energy wisely and how to do so
  • How government policy effects our energy choices

An Energy Literate Person Chooses:

    • To use energy wisely, recognizing the impact of their choice on climate change, our environment and our economy
    • To share their knowledge and inspire action and learning in others

To schedule a free in-class presentation, or learn more about VEEP’s standards-based curricula and ‘hands-on’ science methods, visit

The Annual Cider Press & PIE Sale: a Marlboro Tradition

The Annual Cider Press & PIE Sale: a Marlboro Tradition


photoThe annual Cider Sale takes place this Columbus Day Weekend (Saturday, October 8th & 9th)  on the green at Marlboro North– at the junction of Route 9 & South Road in Marlboro, Vermont; right next door to Applewoods studio.  Look for the large white tents & families at work–pressing fresh cider as you watch!

Also for sale under the tents: Grafton Cheddar,  homemade apple pie, and other locally baked goods.  Enjoy a cup of hot mulled cider & a slice of homemade apple pie with a side of cheddar in the sit down “cafe” or take jugs of cider home with you for drinking or freezing. (Cider freezes well as long as you leave some space in the top of jug for expansion.) Whole pies for sale too!

The historic town of Marlboro sits just a few minutes west of Brattleboro and east of Wilmington, Vermont on the main thoroughfare across the state: Route 9 (aka. The Molly Stark Trail.)  The Cider Sale has been a Marlboro tradition for 35 years, raising funds for education. This year’s fundraiser benefits the Marlboro Elementary School Junior High Class with Spring 2015 their field studies in Costa Rica!

Who: Everyone! Locals, visitors, families, (even busses–with care to parking.)

What: Marlboro Annual Cider Sale: fresh pressed cider (while you watch), apple pies, cheddar cheese & more!

Where: On the green at Marlboro North, Route 9, Marlboro, VT, Next to Applewoods Studio.

When: Saturday & Sunday, October 8th & 9th, 9am-4pm.

Why: To benefit educational field study for students from Marlboro Elementary School.

How: Community powered!


Disturbing the Peace

Disturbing the Peace

 “My hope is that you will disturb the peace by devoting some or maybe all of your life’s work to protecting and expanding the greatest invention of human kind-the art of self-governance based on social justice.”

Tim Kipp, Department of Social Studies, Brattleboro Union High School


Disturbing the Peace – an Address to the Class of 2013

(shared with permission from the author)

“Parents, faculty, education officials, guests and the Class of 2013, I am delighted to address you on this exciting occasion. This is a particularly poignant moment for I am graduating as well, albeit it has taken me 39 years.

And as I have had the pleasure of teaching many of you, let me briefly relish the idea that I now may be able to have the last word, something that seldom happened in my classroom.

I will rely on insights from some of my favorite thinkers and take this opportunity to humbly offer some advice and be somewhat indulgent by reflecting on a lifetime of teaching.

I have titled this address “ Disturbing the Peace.”

Over sixty years ago one of my heroes, Ammon Hennacy, was arrested for refusing to pay his taxes because so much of our money was allocated for war and the development of nuclear weapons.

Ammon was one of the most frequently arrested activists in the peace movement in the 1950s and 1960s. At one of his hearings for tax resistance, the judge said, Ammon [they were on a first name basis by then] I am citing you for non -payment of federal taxes and for “DISTURBING THE PEACE.”

With a quizzical look of consternation Ammon protested, “Judge, I am not disturbing the peace! All my efforts over a life-time have been devoted “to disturbing the wars.” The judge was not impressed and sentenced Ammon to 60 days.

Ammon was an activist for peace and social justice with the Catholic Worker Movement. As a radical pacifist who refused to allow the government to define whom his enemies may be, he resisted US foreign policies that became and still are essentially a “permanent war for permanent peace.” [Gore Vidal]

As many of you are well aware [some I suppose painfully so]- my life ’s work as a teacher has been animated by a compulsion to teach you to become activists for social justice, be it local, national or around the world. I have sought to have you see history, political science, and law in the context of the vital struggle to transform our political economy into an authentic democracy.

Howard Zinn, another mentor, taught me to search for a “usable past.”  How can what we learn in the classroom be a model for our future? Sure, “antique history” certainly has intrinsic value but lacks relevance and immediacy. I have always wanted more from the content.

John Dewey, the great progressive philosopher and educator from Vermont believed that the most effective education requires a good dose of empirical or experiential learning- he saw a natural continuum of reading, doing and reflecting.

What an exciting context from which to learn. Sometimes in one of my more ironic moods I feel that the imperfections of our political and economic system were developed so social studies teachers and the general public could hone their skills to be more effective actors in a democratic society. This may cause us to pay attention and enable us to have more relevant lives.

Using Ammon Hennacy’s admonition as a metaphor, my hope is that you will disturb the peace by devoting some or maybe all of your life’s work to protecting and expanding the greatest invention of human kind-the art of self-governance based on social justice.

Compared with you, growing up I had it much easier… I developed my values and ideology in the caldron of the 1960’s with the swirl of movements for civil rights, peace, women’s rights and the environment.

While it is myth that most young people of the 1960’s and 70’s were activists, mainstream media and conventional analysis had it, for better or for worse, that the majority of young people were devoted to some form of change from reform to revolution. Not so.

The publically held perception reinforced the myth of holistic activism and this myth became an ally for us in the movement and helped us attract more foot soldiers for the cause. These were actually times of optimism amid crisis as we truly felt that significant change could be won. Being an activist was “cool” in those distant days.

Your task today is more challenging. The public perception has changed and the corporate-dominated mainstream media has allowed reportage of movement activities to largely recede to the margins of the published and electronic world.

You have grown up in the most conservative times since at least the days of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. The modern conservative movement is more energetic and sophisticated in its drive to protect capital and prerogatives of the “haves.” Remember Romney’s astute 47 percent analysis? In fact he was correct from the far right’s perspective.

Activists today can be vilified, marginalized or satirized by elites in the political and media spheres. This modern era of the conservative is, of course, aided and abetted by a Supreme Court that has elevated property rights over human rights.

Starting with Reagan and extended by Clinton and perfected by Bush II, our national leaders have seen fit to demonize the government’s role in society. The mantra is –the government is the problem, not a partner in the solution. Fortunately, Obama has made some diminutive steps to counter the prevailing ideology.

Your task is much more challenging: not only are the problems more daunting but also we now have a large sector of the political world hostile to government involvement. Diminished for now is the healthy consensus that we are in this together and that government indeed does have an important role to play. The New Deal coalition that emerged from the crisis of the Great Depression and World War 2 has dissipated but it- can- be -rebuilt.

This contemporary phase of conservationism urges us to venerate the individual over the group, to see government virtues as limited.  Aren’t we a country of “rugged individualists,” a bunch of Horatio Algers thriving on competition to make us strong? Isn’t our system essentially a meritocracy where hard work is rewarded?

Sure, we all can value hard work and initiative-nothing wrong with this, but when Ayn Rand libertarianism becomes paramount, the ugly strains of social Darwinism can be manifest. Witness corporate behavior in the financial world- record stock market and banking profits with persistently high unemployment, witness the climate change deniers or listen to those opposed to making health care a universal right and not just a privilege. Think about the 1% vs. the 99% or more to the point the 10% vs. the 90%.

We can view the world and our place in it as an atomized experience that elevates the individual or we can strike a balance that places us in the larger social context that urges us to get involved and to give a damn.  We make these choices. Ammon, in another context, said he wanted to create a world where it was “ easier to do good.”  Think about it.

Noam Chomsky warns us to what any sentient being knows: we are faced with twin existential realities, both anthropogenic…yes… human-made in nature- global climate change and the scourge of war with its antecedents of class and skin color conflicts.

Today there is a galling political paralysis whereby power, party and class trumps citizens’ basic human needs. For those of us who are paying attention, we appear to reside in a Kafkaesque world where our leaders are mind-numbingly complacent or don’t have the political backbone to foster real change to save our planet. “We have carneval barkers masquerading as leaders.” [Frank Bruni]

While we remain the “richest” country in the world, compared to the other advanced democracies, we can lament having the highest rate of childhood poverty, the widest inequality gap, the highest rates of incarceration, the most gun deaths, and being the largest consumer of the world’s resources, including of course, petroleum.

Our idea fix on petroleum has us going to war to protect “our” national security, i.e. access to oil that we will consume at greater rates, which will ultimately threaten the globe.

Our military, larger, by some accounts then all others combined, enables us to be the cops of the world, where we are leaders in the number of countries invaded and the number of governments overthrown. We have substituted drones for diplomats. All of which has made us a prime target for the lunatic fringe of terror.

What an age in which to be cynical, it’s so easy! The challenges before us can indeed leave us cynical and psychically numb simply preferring to collapse on a couch of apathy. Perhaps every age induces cynicism?

Today you can get your news in the form of entertainment devoid of any serious analysis or real perspective. You can watch Stewart and Colbert and see the world as an endless comedic plot line or you can let the likes of Fox [Faux] News and bile-filled talk radio of the right and the left fill you with quarter-truths and hate. Oh, so much freedom of expression and so very little freedom of thought! This is a toxic brew for cynicism and its logical consequences: insularity, resignation and inaction.

As I have often told you: doing nothing is a conscious choice. By doing nothing you will guarantee that the status quo will prevail. Your hypnotic life will enable the “peace” of business as usual to continue. If you are satisfied with how the world is then by all means do nothing and your expectations will be rewarded.

I am confident today that most students of the class of 2013 will not choose the hypnotic path. You are labeled as the Millennial Generation by popular writers of today. As with any of these rather superficial appellations there is always the negative and the positive descriptors. So you are described as a narcissistic bunch barely capable of looking beyond your own personal world.

My work with young people over the past 4 decades both confirms and challenges the narcissistic adjective. I think every generation can be so described. While economics, technology and culture can mediate behavior; I believe most people want to help their neighbors.

I have seen kids commit to changing the world; to seeing well beyond themselves. This class is no exception. There are activists among us whom I will never forget, who will carry on long after BUHS. Interestingly a new study by sociologist, Helen Fox, finds today’s youth are more progressive than we were in the 1960’s. They have a more global and philanthropic outlook than previous generations.

To quote,

This generation is more accepting of full human equality than any other generation in history. Interracial dating, gay rights, gay marriage: all of that seems normal to them.

Remember the crucial role played by young people in the Obama elections? Ask my students who volunteered over 600 hours in the last election.

You tend to be less confrontational then we were but no less ardent in you views. Less confrontational? I am not sure if this is a positive but of course this is coming from someone who still occasionally goes to the barricades after nearly 50 years.

You know knowledge is like manure… it only really works when it is spread around.

So how will you use you current and future knowledge?

Will you listen to the words of Noam Chomsky who tells us “knowledge is not enough”? Will your knowledge turn to action or will it sit in a steaming pile warming one small space on earth?

My teaching will have been in vain if the good people before me remain silent in the face of injustice.

My teaching will have been in vain if you only come away with a deeper critique that leaves you in stasis.

Will you “disturb the peace?”

The great Brazilian activist-educator, Paulo Freire, said the purpose of education is to develop a critical consciousness that will challenge oppression. His was a secular “liberation theology”’ for poor people of Latin America, and the world for that matter.

In Conclusion:

I wonder who you will be in 4 years, in 10 years, and for the rest of your lives. There is greatness here and it will mature into a powerful force if you cultivate it. Will you disturb the peace of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and imperialism?

Will you live a life larger than your own happiness?

May you hold to the world-view of the eminent theologian, Abraham Heschel of being a “pessimist of the intellect and an optimist of the will.”

During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Franklin, ill of health, sat and listened and only spoke a couple of times during the debates. As the proceeding concluded he struggled to his feet to address his fellow “disturbers of the peace”:

For months I have spied that sun carved high on the back of General Washington’s chair. I have wondered whether it is a setting or a rising sun and… I now know it is a rising sun.

So disturb some peace for social justice…

have some fun doing it …

and trust in your own fallibility.”

Tim Kipp, Vermont, June 2013