First-year highlights: 2014-15 was my first academic year at Vermont Academy (VA) and I loved it. I have been teaching in high schools and colleges for the past 20 years. My first year at the Academy was my favorite in teaching for three main reasons that distinguish VA from other institutions where I have taught: the students, the teachers, and the administration.
The students at VA graciously support and encourage each other in a way that is touching and a bit surprising for me. There is an inherent family structure here that permeates the student body—in the classroom, sports, and at community events. They really want what is best for each other. It's pretty incredible to witness and be a part of. The faculty functions in this way as well.
When we discuss the successes, challenges, or obstacles of any given student, I can honestly say that every member of the faculty is supportive, caring, and engaged with that student. This was a very pleasant surprise for me. The administration too is extremely supportive of its teachers, as well as students. The Deans listen to suggestions and allow teachers to do what they know is good for their students in their classrooms. At VA, we ALL share a common vision, and we ALL share the responsibility to get there.
Your department’s strengths: The strengths of the Learning Skills (LSK) staff are tenacity and diversity. I am constantly impressed by the can-do attitude each member of the LSK staff exhibits to any request. No academic challenge is too daunting. As a staff we are committed to student success. Each learning specialist meets and exceeds my expectations. They go above and beyond for their students every day. I have seen learning specialists follow students to class. I have witnessed them go to their dorms! I see them set up personal incentives with charts, personal time, rewards – whatever it takes. I have witnessed great patience and redirection of energy. The LSK staff is also incredibly diverse in the areas of expertise it possesses. We have learning specialists who can help students with all of the subjects taught at VA—and there are A LOT of courses here! Chemistry? Statistics? Physics? AP Psych? LSK has experts in all of these and more!
How LSK serves its students: We work with one third of the population at VA. We have two main goals for each student: develop academic confidence and become a self-advocate. Some students who work with learning specialists have diagnosed learning disabilities and others do not. Almost all students who use the learning center are developing their academic confidence—the ability to approach any given academic challenge knowing how to interpret it, scaffold the steps involved in completing it, and follow through with closure. We also promote self-advocacy. Our vision for every student at VA, in the learning center as well as the entire student body, is to be successful and independent in college and beyond. Learning specialists work with individual students to develop strategies to navigate the labyrinth of college-level courses and expectations.
LSK changes on the horizon: We are seeing more students coming to us with challenges in executive function; the ability to organize and retrieve information. I think that our staff will be exploring more and more options to help students who present with this particular need. Plus, those strategies will be helpful for all students at VA. In fact, many faculty members have incorporated LSK suggestions for a specific student into a strategy for their entire class. Our teachers realize that by differentiating their instruction, as well as their assessments, they will get a better result from their students—one that shows mastery of learning outcomes more authentically than by only having one way to do things. I would like to increase the role and expertise of our learning specialists into the general education classrooms more, possibly creating classroom partnerships. We are very excited here at VA for the new interdisciplinary STEM program...I definitely see a role for LSK there.
When you’re not at VA: Last year I was always at VA! :) This summer, I was able to travel and read for pleasure. I also really enjoy playing music. I am in one band now, and I am always looking for opportunities to play with other musicians.
“I like working with Ms. Schmitt because she is always there for me whenever I need her, no matter how busy she might be. She always takes time to make sure I fully understand the material for all of my classes, and she can always find a way to explain to me how to do math problems that I thought I couldn't do. After I leave one of her sessions I feel a lot more confident and capable of doing the problems that I struggled with before seeing her.” – Tinga Adiang ’16
“Ms. Schmitt’s close relationship with students makes them much more inclined to ask for help if they need it. She puts students first. On multiple occasions I’ve walked through LSK and seen her helping students put finishing touches on their papers instead of going to lunch.” – Patricia Whitehill ’16