Student Review: One Way VA Builds Community

Dr. Jennifer L. Zaccara
Hiking up to Chivers, hearing the crunch of the gravel on the secret walkway between Chivers and the parking lot, I walk with Lisa McNealus ’79. “I always like taking this path because the pine smells so good,” she says. I was just thinking the same thing.
Inside Chivers, all of the faculty are gathered around circular tables about to stare at a screen set up in front of the fireplace. The deer antlers hang prominently over the scene, casting a woodsy glow on this huddled community. Why are we here for a marathon meeting that will last from 1 to 5 p.m.? We are here to share our understanding of each student and to find ways collectively to make his or her experience at Vermont Academy the best that it can be.

Taking the time to share this with you seems all important. So many times, families do not know how we convey information internally or how we whip up the stew of knowledge we have about every student. Some of what is shared has to do with academics—in fact most of it does—but we all relish the tidbits of details about a student’s evolving interests, struggles and triumphs, decisions and choices.

These bits of information come from dorm faculty, advisors, coaches, and faculty who just happen to be at the right place at the right time to capture a significant moment in a student’s life. We all share those snapshots readily. As we go through the entire roster of the school, each class dean adds notes to his or her record and to memory so that next time the deans meet with a student, they are full of knowledge about the little things that matter. For my part, I keep a master book of every student, and notes that help me to remember the details as well.

The meeting ends at around 4:45 this time. Susan Schmitt reminds the faculty about the upcoming girls’ varsity soccer game for the semifinals the following day, and Sara Baldvins invites faculty to come to a restaurant in Chester to have a meal together. There has been a lot of grading and comment writing, and yet the faculty will be there, tired as they might be, to settle in and enjoy each other’s company in Chester or at Robin Patch’s house for cheese and crackers and a crackling fire.

This is one of the windows in on how we do it. This is how community is made and nurtured at Vermont Academy, where we go beyond traditional boarding school community to create something much more like a family.