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News From Keri Gelenian

March 19, 2014

Dear Rivendell Families,

In advisory at the beginning of the year, students wrote responses to four questions:

  • What is community?
  • What is great, unique or special about Rivendell?
  • How do you contribute?
  • What holds you back?


Mary Rizos and Jenny Ellis took every response and fed them into a computer program that prints out the information in a unique pattern and increases the size of responses based on frequency. Frequent responses are bigger and bolder than less frequent responses. The information from this activity has been hanging in the café on four, 5' x 3' banners since the second week of school.

The day after the posters appeared in the café, students crowded around looking for their particular answers to each question. Now, we all walk by the posters without giving them a second thought.

I decided to devote some time to reflect upon what students had to say about the questions. People working together is printed in big bold letters on the poster about community. Other significant words were help out, support and advice, friends and neighbors, accepting, understanding, everyone contributes ideas, and care about each other.

Small and freedom stand out on the poster about the "What is great about Rivendell?" question. The other frequent words were voice, creativity, innovation, sports and activities and academics.

By far the largest response to the question about contributing was By helping others. This was followed by community service, being positive, listening to others, I don't know and I don't. Any way I can and giving everyone's ideas a chance were great individual responses on this poster.

The students' responses to the question about what holds them back mostly opposed their answers to the other three questions. The top responses were People followed by Nothing. Many of the less frequent responses specified how "People" held them back. The issues with other people were negative people, mean people, people who judge, getting judged, people who don't contribute and people who don't listen. The poster also identified issues more internal to the individual who was responding: not knowing if I am right, not speaking my feelings, laziness, and lack of motivation. The responses to this question reflect what still seems to be on our "to do list."

Reading these posters again so carefully has made me realize that the students predicted what we have all experienced so far this year—people working together, helping out, being positive and receiving support and advice. I would also concur that the levels of creativity, voice and freedom are higher than ever. As a group we are demonstrating higher levels of responsibility, respectfulness and trustworthiness than I have seen in my previous three years at RA.

In looking at the questions and responses again, I believe that students were thinking more about the social atmosphere at RA than the academic atmosphere. But because student learning is the number one purpose of RA, I started to think about what it would mean to maximize freedom and voice in the learning process. I wondered how students would respond to four slightly different questions:

  • What is a community of exciting learning?
  • What is great, special or unique about teaching and learning at Rivendell?
  • How do I contribute to the develo p.m.ent of a rich and exciting learning environment?
  • What diminishes my ideas and creativity?


I believe that the students' excellent perceptions about community strength, uniqueness, contribution and hesitation would be equally keen if we focused their attention on the process of teaching and learning.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

March/April 2014

 

News From Keri Gelenian

February 25, 2014

 

Dear Parents and Guardians: 
March 12th - 14th will be final exams days for the second trimester for 9th -12th graders. These exams will count for 15% of the students' trimester grade. All 9th - 12th grade students are required to take exams unless medically excused. Seventh and 8th graders will not be taking final exams, but their daily schedules over these dates will be affected by the exam schedule. A rough outline of the schedule follows and a more detailed breakdown of the schedule is included in this packet.

 

  • Wednesday, March 12th
    • 9th – 12th Grade:
    • Block 1 Exams in the morning from 8:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
    • Block 4 Exams in the afternoon from 12:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
    • *River Bend students will follow their regular schedule, except that the afternoon students will leave RA at 10:50 a.m.
    • 7th & 8th Grade will follow a modified Wednesday schedule.
    • All students will be dismissed at the regular scheduled time: 2:50 p.m.
  •  Thursday, March 13th
    • 9th – 12th Grade:
    • Block 2 Exams in the morning from 8:00 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. Block 5 Exams in the afternoon from 11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m.
    • *River Bend students: morning group follows their regular schedule; the afternoon group will be excused from the program to take exams.
    • 7th & 8th Grade will follow a modified Thursday Schedule.
    • All students will be dismissed at the regular scheduled time: 1:45 p.m.
  • Friday, March 14th
    • 9th – 12th Grade:
    • Block 3 Exams in the morning from 8:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
    • Make-up exams in the afternoon from 12:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
    • (Make-up exams for medically excused students must confirmed by the student with individual teachers.)
    • *River Bend students are excused from their program to take exams.
    • 7th & 8th Grade will meet Block 1, 2, 3, & 5, followed by lunch at 11:55 a.m.


All 7th-12th grade students, except those requiring make-up exams, will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. 
At 12:30 p.m., two express buses will leave Rivendell Academy:

  • One headed east on Route 25A will go all the way to Warren, dropping off students at normal stops along the way.
  • One headed west on VT Route 5, Route 244 and Route 113 stopping at Samuel Morey Elementary, Westshire Elementary, Vershire Town Center and for students with stops along that route.

In addition to the express buses, end of the day buses will run as regularly scheduled, leaving Rivendell Academy at 2:50p.m.

 

High school students will not be allowed to leave the exam room until the end of the exam period and should have something to read in case they finish their exam early.

 

High School students will be permitted to leave school after completion their last exam of the day, arrive at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday or 10:40 a.m. on Thursday if they do not have a morning exam, or be excused from school on Friday if they have no exam, with a signed parent permission form (see last page of this packet).

 

Students who do not have any make-up exams are expected to leave Rivendell Academy by 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 14th. This does also include 7th and 8th grade students.

 

Students are expected to make-up any missed (medically excused) exams on Friday afternoon, March 14th.

 

Sincerely,
Keri J. Gelenian

 

News From Keri Gelenian

Dear Rivendell Families,

Half the school year vanished! We started off with great student energy, and that positive feeling has continued. Students treat each other with respect and often display a sense of caring for one another. This isn't to say life is perfect at Rivendell. Negative behavior happens and we deal with it through discussion and clear expectations for positive change.

Academic Concerns and Learning Expectations

Academic concern notices will arrive soon. These are meant to be a wake-up call for students who are failing classes at this point in the trimester.

This newsletter includes a guide that clearly explains all sections of the grade book page that we are now using as our academic concern notices. This is the same format you will see in the parent portal when checking on grades. I will be sending out a document entitled "Learning Expectations, Grading and Project-Based Assessment". This paper outlines how we assess students. The biggest change, and it will now be evident in teachers' grade programs and report cards, is a Learning Expectations designation for projects that correspond to the Rivendell academic, civic and social learning expectations (LE). The RA learning expectations are:

  • Read, comprehend, analyze, and critique a variety of media.
  • Demonstrate effective problem solving skills in a variety of disciplines.
  • Communicate effectively for a variety of audiences and purposes.
  • Demonstrate cultural awareness and an understanding of national & global interconnectedness.
  • Apply mathematical analysis in a variety of situations.
  • Be a positive contributor to the community.
  • Accept individual responsibility & awareness of social context.

Whenever a teacher has a significant project assigned for a class, the students' performance is tracked in two ways. First, the teacher will assign an overall percentage grade in the grade book as he or she normally would. Second, the teacher will designate in the grade program one or more LEs reflected in the project. Teachers use rubrics developed for each learning expectation and score the students' performance in each LE. The scores range from 4 (exceeds expectations) to 1 (significant improvement needed). Projects then become part of students' E-portfolios and are the basis for discussion of students' learning at three way conferences.


Statement of Core Values and Beliefs—January 27th

The Academy started a process to develop a clear statement of our core values and beliefs. Kirsten Surprenant is leading a committee that includes Nancy Hall, Christina Robison, Michael Galli, Mary Rizos, Rachel Sanders, and Jenny Ellis. The committee has created a process that includes all Academy staff, all Academy students in advisory meetings, and Rivendell family members. On JANUARY 27th the faculty committee will lead family members and students through a process to help develop the Statement of Core Values and Beliefs. We will send out more notices about this work and the process.

Good News

The Robotics Club held an evening scrimmage with Thetford in our new Workshop space (the old stage in the West Wing). Thetford came with a big crew and the room was packed with robots, equipment, and pizza. The $15,000 grant from the Byrn Foundation has helped Doc Browne take a significant step forward with the club. We now have four robots preparing for competition.

Before Winter Recess, Ms. Hall and members of the Leo club went to Glencliff Home to wrap presents.
The student government held its annual holiday assembly before the break. Rivendell's own Staff Infection and Rivendell's chorus provided the music. Student Government piloted a unique approach to the raffle. Congratulations to Chris Gendron for winning what most would consider the grand prize. Cheryl St. Pierre and Laura Wheeler led the dancing.

Mrs. Keefer's 10th grade advisory is planning to help staff the Orford Senior Center lunches every Tuesday.

Moriah Ludwig is back from the Mountain School. Welcome back Moriah!

The indoor track team members are doing well on the Thetford team. The team includes Andréa Haehnel, Kayla Gould, Christian Parenti, Sam Emerson, and Liam Fleming.

Will Gardner, Heather Dexter, Zachary Dexter, Elias Adams, and Will Ussler are on the ice for Rivendell.

Dametres Perry spent part of the winter break in San Antonio, Texas to attend the National Underclassmen Football Combine.


THANKS

Thank you Judy Siemons for the donation of yet another beautiful quilt (her 8th!) for the senior class fundraiser. The 2014 French trip received a $1000.00 donation. Orford resident Michael Collins donated two SLR cameras and lenses. We received a $10,000 grant from the state of Vermont to develop our internship programs. Thanks to Jeff Winagle for the beautiful, handmade display in the gym for the basketball roster.

Academic Performance By the Numbers

The charts and tables below give an overall picture of how students did at the end of this first trimester compared to the first trimesters in the previous two years. The tables show the number and percentage of students' GPAs in the entire school in 5 points intervals. What this shows is that:

  1. Our students are doing better at the high end than in the previous two years: 55.45% of our students have GPAs between 100 and 85 compared to 51.19% (2012) and 52.16% (2011).
  2. The percentage of students with GPAs in the middle has shrunk: 28.71% of our students have GPAs between 84.9 and 75 compared to 34.6% (2012) and 33.96% (2011).
  3. The percentage of students with GPAs at the low end has increased: 16.84% of our students have GPAs between 74.9 and 55 compared to 14.22% (2012) and 13.68 (2011).
  4. The percentage of students with GPAs below 70% is slightly better than last year and .33% worse than 2011-12.

February/March 2014 Newsletter

News From Keri Gelenian

November/December 2013

Dear Rivendell Families,

It continues to be a busy and engaging year at the Academy. The 28 students visiting from Saverne, France arrived on October 15th. The host parents and Ms. Keefer deserve applause for all the work that they put into this very special Rivendell program. Our exchange program benefits greatly from Ms. Keefer's commitment to building long-term relationships between the kids, families, and teachers. In less than two years, the students spend approximately four weeks with each other. Ms. Rizos is busy with fundraising for the spring trip to Peru. She was recently awarded a large staff-development scholarship from Dartmouth which she intends to use to do a preliminary visit to Peru over the February break. The international experiences of the Academy faculty add a unique and important dimension to our school.

Our soccer and cross-country athletes had great seasons. Both boys and girls teams were competitive through the quarter and semi-finals. Liam Fleming placed 8th in Division III. Rivendell also had five students on Oxbow football teams. The Athletic Leadership Council ran a successful Red Cross Blood Drive in October. A big thanks to our coaches, parents,and Athletic Director, Bob Thatcher, for keeping everything running smoothly during the fall sports season.

Student government officers, Josh Marshal and Megan Perkins, presented a plan to address the Thursday lunch-time traffic jam caused by a combined all-school lunch. By working with Mr. Galli and talking to teachers, they presented a very slight change to the faculty that extends the lunch by shaving two minutes off several blocks. Their plan was simple, well-researched, and maintained all the important elements of our current schedule. It received a unanimous vote of approval from faculty.

Our three-way conferences ran smoothly. As we continue to develop our electronic portfolios, the conferences will become more valuable as a place for students, advisors and parents to discuss students' accomplishments and goals for the future.

This trimester we changed the format of the academic concern notices by mailing out the grade reports from teachers' electronic gradebooks. All parents of students with failing grades received reports showing grades and missing assignments, and these reports have also been extremely useful to me in working with individual students. We will send these out twice next trimester.

Congratulations to Doc Browne and the robotics team for receiving a $15,000 grant from the Byrne Foundation. The team has set up the "field" in the new "workshop" space in the west wing. Their first tournament is November 23 inConway, NH.

Each year, I have been tracking the number of failing grades and number of students with failing grades at the midpoint and end of each trimester. I have also converted the raw numbers into percentages to account for changes in enrollment. The chart below shows that the number of students with F's, which is particularly disappointing at midtrimester this year:

nov-dec newsletter2013

To better understand the high numbers, I went through 50% of the grade book reports of students who receive one or more F's. From looking at the reports, the primary cause of low grades was a lack of follow-though on assignments and opportunities given by teachers to improve grades. There were very, very few students with a failing grade that had done all assignments, had taken opportunities to do extra credit assignments, or had retaken tests. In other words, students were not failing because they couldn't do the work. On the contrary, these students had high grades on the work that they had turned in. Some students are not good test takers; this was clear from examining the grades of several students. Yet, the pattern for this particular sub-group was that they had not done test preparation work that counted as extra-credit or allowed them to retake a test if they did poorly on it. (The idea with the test prep approach is that students who try to prepare for a test but do poorly deserve a second chance.) My general conclusion is that too many students are not following through on enough of their work. If they did all their work and took advantage of opportunities to retake tests, their grades could easily be in the 80's in all classes.

There were 147 students who did not receive a failing grade. I did not look at their grades. My hunch would be that the major difference between most of these students and those that receive F's would be that they did nearly all the assignments and their test scores were slightly higher (as a result of doing all their assignments).

Teachers and parents can't do the work for students. Students have to find their own reasons for success. I asked one senior who had struggled with grades in 9th grade why he had so dramatically improved his performance in school in 10th grade. His answer was simple: "I wanted to get good grades so I could go to a good college." The point here isn't that he wanted to go to college. The point is that he made up his own mind to improve, and he did. Academic support, Visions homework help, working in the library with Mr. Reichert after school—none of these supports has really made an impact in reducing failures. Change starts with a decision to see the future and take a step, however small, to make it so.

Parents and guardians that receive report cards with failed classes should assume that the pattern of not doing work will persist during the second trimester. If you want more contact with teachers, call or email and use the grade portal. I will ask teachers to send out emails or call more frequently, but they cannot be burdened with the task of monitoring daily work for every student.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

 

News From Keri Gelenian

October 2013 

Dear Rivendell Families,

Congratulations to all Rivendell students for the high level of engagement, independence and leadership that they have demonstrated this year.

Students have embraced the advisory program that staff worked tirelessly to put into place. When I walked into Ms. Barsamian's morning meeting one day, the entire junior class and their advisors were discussing complications surrounding a fundraising event. The level of student focus, collaboration, and problem solving was exemplary. In a short time they had worked through the issues and had all the necessary information needed to make a wise decision. I believe that the effectiveness of the group that day was a reflection of the other purposes of morning meeting—learning to listen, share appropriately, develop a positive group identity, support others, and seek to help when needed. These skills are developed further in advisories where we work on projects to develop character, community, and scholarship. Students are currently developing their personal learning plans and building their electronic portfolios. Each advisory has also taken on a service project for the year.

Some reflections on students
Our senior class is an outstanding group. They are thoughtful leaders in the classroom, on the soccer field and in the community. Every student in the school benefits from the quiet leadership they demonstrate each day. Besides the collaborative skills I witnessed, the juniors have also shown us that three of them can keep four balloons in the air longer than any other class in the school! Their level of seriousness with the NECAP testing this week was outstanding. They have matured into thoughtful and responsible individuals. The sophomore class has continued to develop their confidence and ability to take on major responsibilities. As demonstrated by their recycling work last year, they are especially reliable. The ninth grade is made up of solid individuals who know how to work together. This is an unbeatable combination. The word dynamic comes to mind when I think about the 8th grade. They exude energy, ideas, and laughter. The 7th grade has proven to be ready, willing and able to jump in and get going. Within days it seemed as though they had all been going to school together for years. They showed up en mass at the homecoming dance. All this is to say that we are very, very lucky to have such high quality students at Rivendell Academy.

Trust the students
Last year's student government left us with a challenging idea: Around the theme of survival, give Rivendell students summer reading books about individuals facing severe social and psychological difficulties. The student government wasn't worried about adult opinions or concerned with challenges we would face in building a positive educational experience for students when they returned to school. They made us think and dig deep for ideas. They also helped us by including Carmen Tarleton's book, Overcome. They knew there was a good chance that Carmen could be our main speaker. Carmen's hour with us was magic. We also had help from Peter Tse and Robert Bryant. Students also came up with the idea of the survivor's garden for the main community event. Each student honored a "survivor" in their lives on a 6x8 card, and we hung the cards between the maple trees on the green in Orford. It was a powerful installation. Again, we have our students to thank.

Good things build on themselves
Two of our alumni, Mariah and Cassondra Gray, came back to Rivendell the day Carmen spoke. The Valley News selected a photo of Carmen hugging the girls for the front page. The girls shared their story with some teachers and the theme of survival became less abstract. As a school community we were compelled to try to do something to help Mariah and Cassondra meet some of their immediate expenses related to housing, gas money, counseling services, jobs and/or education. Students again took the lead. With one volunteer from each advisory and a weekly meeting, we were able to organize a complex and successful fundraising event.

Academics and Extra Curricular Activities
Our mid-trimester grades close on October 4th and will be mailed on Tuesday the 8th
In August we received three congratulatory letters from the state of Vermont. The first letter acknowledged meeting Annual Yearly Progress for all groups of students. The second letter congratulated us for improvements of more than 10% in reading or math and the third congratulated us for scores 15% to 20% above the state average. This year we broke up our NECAP testing into four ½ days, October 1st and 2nd and 7th and 8th

Scott Calhoun, Nate Eastman, Josh Marshall, Richard Otis, Ryan Fauci, and Maxwell Green are taking advanced math courses at Dartmouth. Hanna Rockwell is completing an LN course at Lebanon College. Moriah Ludwig is attending the Mountain School this fall.

NECAP Science Scores were almost at the level of last year. Two to three students moving from level 2 to 3 would have made all the difference. The scores do demonstrate the consistency we are looking for. We are very pleased to have hit the lowest percentage of Level 1 students in three years.

NECAP Science

  Level 4 (high) Level 3 Level 2 Level 1 (low)
Rivendell 2013 3% 35% 53% 9%
State 2013 2% 30% 43% 26%
Rivendell 2012 0% 40% 47% 13%
State 2012 0% 31% 42% 25%
Rivendell 2011 0% 5% 53% 43%
Rivendell 2010 0% 17% 67% 17%

With the establishment of functioning advisories, the Academy is transitioning back to three-way conferences. Our conferences are Friday, October 11th. Rather than moving around to different teachers, parents or guardians and the student will only meet with their student's advisor. Students will focus the conversations on their personal learning plans, community service and reflections on their academic progress this year. Advisors will discuss e-portfolios and observations of the quality of each student's participation in morning meeting and Tuesday advisory meetings. Each advisor is responsible for sending home information about scheduling a 30-minute meeting. If the information has not reached you, contact your student's advisor directly.

You should have received student's mid-term grade reports before Friday, October 11th. If you have concerns about grades, please contact those teachers directly via email or a phone call. The three-way conferences will not focus on student grades.

Rachel Sanders has started a SMART team at the Academy. SMART teams ... delve into the molecular world, explore science as a process and not just a collection of facts, and work closely with a researcher to understand and model the structure-function relationship of a protein the researcher studies. After designing and building a model of the protein using Rapid Prototyping technology, SMART teams create an oral presentation explaining their work to a lay audience and a poster which is presented to a scientific audience. For more information, see the Center for Molecular Modeling web site: http://cbm.msoe.edu/stupro/smart/

We instituted "Green Cards" (to be renamed Eligibility Cards) as a way to better monitor extracurricular eligibility. Students must come to the office, complete a card, have Bridget Peters check their records, and get the card signed by her in order to be eligible to participate in an activity. The cards are then given to the coach or activity leader. The cards have proven to be the most effective method we have tried in order to monitor eligibility. This will be done at the start of each trimester.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

October 2013 Newsletter

 

 

News From Keri Gelenian

Summer 2013

Dear Rivendell Families,

I hope that everyone has had an enjoyable summer. I would like to welcome all the family members of our new 7th grade class, especially the families from Warren who will be joining us this fall. For all our families, but especially for new Academy families, please know that our goal is to provide the best education possible for your son or daughter. If you have a concern please contact us immediately. The sooner we know about your concerns, the sooner we can work together on a solution.

The Summer Academy and SummerScapes have just concluded. The Summer Academy was a new program for 7th and 8th grade students. I would like to thank Chris White, Tracy Nathan, Tim Alvarenga, Willie Johnson, Amber Brooks and Autumn Brooks for all their hard work making this new program a success. Check out the website to see the students' work – click on the link for "Rivendell Academy Survival Summer." I would also like to thank Tammy McQueen and her amazing staff for putting together another excellent SummerScapes program for our students of every age throughout the district.

The first day of school, August 26th, will be here before we know it. Our traditional potluck barbeque to kick off the school year has been moved to the first week of school – Thursday, August 29th from 5:30 – 6:45 p.m. You will receive more information about that shortly. I hope everyone has time to squeeze in a few more fun weekends. We have been planning for the start for the 2013-2014 school year since last spring and have a number of exciting new ideas planned for this year.

New staff:
Cindy McLaren is replacing Kris Widmann as our 7th and 8th grade counselor. Cindy has an MA in Social Work from UNH and has 12 years of experience as a counselor in elementary, middle and high schools. She has directed the Student Assistance Program for a high school for nine years, coordinated homeless student programs, provided drug and alcohol counseling and family counseling, written grants, and advised a Students Against Destructive Behavior group. For three years she was the case manager in an adult mental health center. She comes to us highly recommended, and we are thrilled to welcome her to Rivendell Academy.

We are currently involved in a search for an English/Humanities teacher to replace Mr. St. James and an atten-dance secretary to replace Mrs. Murphy. We were sorry to lose Mr. Dubois in the special education department. Because of the low number of special education students, he will not be replaced next year. Mrs. St. Pierre will continue working with some 9th grade students.

Focus on student learning:
Teaching has historically been an individual effort. The general trend has been for about 50% of all teachers entering the classroom to leave within five years. Our society rarely acknowledges the intellectual and emotional demands of teaching. Given the demands of teaching we cannot afford to keep it an individual effort. Our integrated social studies and English courses and math and science courses have started to get people planning together and teaching together.

Our number one purpose is to develop students' intellectual abilities. We want students to think critically and express themselves clearly and effectively about the important concepts within each of the courses we teach. Starting in the third trimester last year, I spent a great deal of time in classrooms working with teachers on curriculum and instruction directed at expanding students' capacity to think for themselves, enjoy the process, and develop confidence in what they know and can do. As a result of that work, I wrote two documents to provide a starting point for deeper discussions and innovation concerning curriculum and instruction.

This deeper work on instruction will build on successes indicated by our NECAP scores last year. If the science tests come in as strong as the 11th grade math, reading and writing scores, we will have had strong scores in every area; something that hasn't been accomplished in at least four years. We'll know in August. Our next goal is to try to do a better job supporting our struggling students. We still have too many students failing classes each trimester and far too many students with multiple F's.

Summer reading and a change in attitude:
For this year's summer reading, student government selected books that reflected the theme of survival. The main characters in many of the books not only endure difficult circumstances but regain their place in the world as whole human beings.

When I came to Rivendell three years ago many students complained about the summer reading. At our awards assembly this year, I asked if any students had finished their summer reading books. At least six hands went up. I believe the negativity has changed because of the brilliant idea of student government members two years ago to organize the reading around a theme and offer student choice. The summer reading is now a community activity used to start the school year together.

Advisory and electronic portfolios:
We have made minor adjustments in the schedule to allow for a short morning advisory every day. Our classes will remain 65 minutes. We will have a full 25-minute advisory meeting every Tuesday.
As part of advisory, students will be required to develop electronic portfolios for major projects in all classes. These portfolios will be a vehicle to support each student's growth and development while at RA, and it will be a place for students to present their work to peers, other teachers, parents and community members. Especially for juniors and seniors, the portfolios will be useful as students look for jobs, apply for scholarships and apply to college and technical schools.

Other new developments:

  • Doc Browne is offering a robotics elective based on the same hardware used in the regional and national robotics classes.
  • The fencing club is ready to be launched this fall.
  • Work in the West Wing (gym, hallways, offices and classrooms) is progressing smoothly thanks to Gary Collins and the contractors.
  • The Athletic Leadership Council will start their first full year of work. The ALC was formed last year to involve athletes in service and leadership activities in the school and district.
  • Mademoiselle Keefer is making plans for the arrival of the French students.
  •  At present, seven students from Warren will join our 7th and 8th grade classes, one exchange student is coming from Germany, one homeschooled student is entering high school classes and one freshman has transferred into the district.

Get ready for a great school year.
Best,

Keri J. Gelenian
Head of Schools

 

August 7, 2013

Dear Rivendell Academy Families,
The yearly NECAP testing is linked to a goal set by the state of Vermont. Any school that does not meet a pre-established target (Annual Yearly Progress or AYP) in reading and/or mathematics for two consecutive years becomes designated as a school in improvement. Furthermore, the AYP target increases every three years. The ultimate goal is for every student to test proficient in reading and math.

The Academy did not hit the AYP target in mathematics in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, designating us as a school in improvement. The upcoming school year is our second year of school improvement. Because this is a multi-year process, we remain identified under the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) accountability system. If we meet the AYP targets again this year, identified status will be removed.
Armando Vilaseca, the Vermont Secretary of Education, has sent us letters of commendation indicating:

  • we have met the AYP targets for last year and
  • the percentage of all our students in the proficient or above category for NECAP scores in both reading and mathematics is 15% - 20% above the state average.

Our scores put us in the top 10% of all schools in the State of Vermont. Over the past two years, we've made changes that have helped us address improvement status. Among the changes, we have integrated mathematics and science in grades 7 and 9 and hired new faculty. More significantly, our improvements are not a result of "teaching to the test." Rivendell teaches students to think.
Parents can monitor students' grades on the parent portal and contact the school immediately with concerns about your son's or daughter's performance in any subject. Parent communication is always welcome.

Sincerely,
Keri J. Gelenian
Head of Schools

 

Spring 2013

On April 30th, Ms. Hall, Ms. Widman, Mr. Galli, and I had the pleasure of bragging about our students at a meeting of Warren families interested in sending their kids to Rivendell. Representatives from other schools talked about school programs. We talked about the quality of Rivendell students as friends, learners, leaders, helpers, and problem solvers.

We stressed that we know our students well. Knowing the students is the starting point of all education. Strong programs begin with seeing the whole student and building the learning environment accordingly.

We have made progress in developing an ethos of respect and responsibility at RA, but I also know that we have work to do. There are students in the school who feel isolated. I know that pockets of bullying and harassment ebb and flow.

Porter Miller, an Orford educator and consultant, spoke at the Academy recently about human potential—seeing risk as an opportunity for growth, being fearless in the face of failure, and using setbacks as opportunities for finding new paths. I would argue that reaching for greater potential develops from a strong sense of personal responsibility, being accountable for your actions, gaining respect by not disrespecting others, and seeing yourself as a choice maker who has control of your destiny. This is a difficult path. It means not playing the victim, casting blame to avoid admitting your contribution to a problem, making excuses or rationalizing your behavior.

In thinking about responsibility, two types became clear to me: one involves taking positive action and the other involves resolving a problem or conflict. The work of Ms. Rizos and the 9th grade class with their plastic bottle recycling program reflects the first type of responsibility. There wasn't a direct conflict or breach of trust.

People saw an opportunity to do some good, and they took action, which helps the environment and saves the school money. It might also make money for the trash company.

The other type of responsibility involves a conflict of some sort—disrespecting someone, not following through with a commitment, putting someone in harm's way, etc. Negative emotions are triggered. In these cases people often lose sight of long-term negative consequences because their view is clouded by short-term payoffs (prestige, safety, maintaining status). These situations tend to have the greatest negative impact on self, others and the social environment.

At the Academy we have been building the first type of responsibility, filling a need, by encouraging student voice and empowerment. Student government's role in planning the summer reading program or the work of the entire school in raising money for Leukemia research through the Pennies for Patients campaign are examples of the first type of responsibility. 

Addressing the second type of responsibility is much more difficult. No one wants to admit they have done wrong, even when the negative consequences weren't intended. These cases trigger self-defense strategies of blame, excuses, or rationalization kick in. These self-protecting behaviors are negative at two levels. At the first level, the person escapes earning back trust, respect, freedom, self-worth or forgiveness. Even worse, the selfprotecting behavior makes it nearly impossible for the person to learn to behave differently in the future and change what might be a negative pattern. In another iteration of this type of behavior, a person or people form a negative judgment about someone without discussing it directly with the person or other people involved. The judgment can easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy or scapegoating.

At the Academy, we have been dealing with this more difficult type of responsibility issue by investigating situations, interviewing people, observing situations, describing situations, and writing contracts that attempt to get people to respond differently to circumstances that cause them difficulty. We attempt to listen. Sometimes we bring people together to talk it out. When the behavior has a significant negative impact on self, others, or the community, we take more immediate action, which usually involves removal or a referral elsewhere.

Positive change begets more of the same. The support between the boys' and girls' soccer teams is better this year than it was last year. I would hope that next year the mutual support is even stronger. A year ago student government complained about the summer reading, but they also took responsibility for making improvements.

This year's government made even more improvements. Two years ago students' complaints about the TIPS program led to the creation of an internship program that students like. A parent call recently helped to improve a bad situation.

Yet we still need to do more to develop a community where more people understand that taking responsibility helps everyone achieve goals that are important to them. As I have tried to do in this article, we need to articulate a philosophy of responsibility. We need to develop simple ―assignments‖ that hold people accountable for solid evidence when making allegations. We need to call out behavior that supports a culture of complaint rather than a culture that supports investigation, dialog, listening, ideas and actions that test solutions. We have come a long way, and we have some miles yet to travel.

Some Recent Happenings at Rivendell:

  • Congratulations to junior Richard Otis for being one of 25 students, nation-wide, to receive the prestigious Lenore Annenburg Scholarship, which provides full tuition and room and board to the student's college of choice.
  • 6th, 8th and 9th grade Warren students visited. We hope all of them join us next year!
  • The French trip was the best ever. (Student drinking reflected the sort of issue that prompted my discussion of responsibility. The two students who stepped forward reflect the level of responsibility that we feel all students should work to achieve.)
  • Doc Browne and the Robotics Team took a second place in their first competition.
  • Ms. Sanders and Doc Browne led the first ever southwest national parks trip. The group hiked and camped in Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Mojave National Preserve.
  • Ms. Alden and Mr. St. James and the ―Hello Dolly!‖ cast have been working hard to prepare for opening night on May 16th.
  • Coach Thatcher, Mr. Galli and 8 Rivendell athletes traveled to Essex High School to learn how to start a student-led athletic leadership team.
  • Ms. Moffatt had the wonderful idea of purchasing a ping pong table for the café. Students and staff love it (especially Mr. Steckler and Mr. Newsted).
  • Any current sophomore interested in trying to receive a paid internship at CREEL next summer should see Ms. Hall for application materials.
  • Alex Rand made us all envious with his slides from his trimester abroad in Costa Rica though the CIRENAS program. A CIRENAS representative will be at Rivendell on May 21st to encourage students to apply for next year.
  • Thanks to all the Juniors and Junior Advisors for hosting an excellent prom. We had a great mix of students from grades 9-12.
  • Plans for the summer reading are underway.
  • We have developed a new structure for 7th and 8th grade summer school.
  • The Academy staff is working to design electronic portfolios. Thanks to Ms. Surprenant, Mr. Bardos and Ms. Martino for their hard work in getting this project underway..
  • The Yearbook is done and paid off. Ms. Barsamian and her staff are now busy on the Community Resource Directory.
  • The student government is making adjustments on Spring Fling to include some community service beyond the school.
  • We have made plans to upgrade computers at the Academy next year.
  • Academy teachers are working to improve the integration in math and science and English and history that we began this year.
  • Thanks to everyone who helped with fundraising this year, especially Lisa Hinsley with her tireless efforts on behalf of the 8th grade spaghetti fund raiser, Judy Siemons' generous contribution to the Senior Class Raffle and Heidi Peyton and Ariana's Restaurant for their contributions to making the Rivendell Abroad fundraising one of the most successful ever.
  • We are sad to lose three members of our staff at the end of this year. Ms. Widmann, 7/8 school counselor, has accepted a full-time position in Grantham. She has done great work for Rivendell. Ms. Murphy will be leaving the front desk in the office to pursue her interests in gardening, photography and accounting and to lend a hand at Ariana's Restaurant. Tom DuBois, Special Ed Case Worker & instructor, has figured out a way to combine hispassions for teaching and cooking and will become the Culinary Instructor at River Bend in the fall. We will miss his subtle sense of humor...and drum expertise at Winter Carnival!
  •  Congratulations to Mr. Newsted who is getting married this summer.
  • A number of Rivendell students are pursuing track & field this spring with great results:
  • Practicing with Thetford Academy's Track & Field team and in Rivendell colors, Andrea Haehnel, won her division with a 9' pole vault, beating her personal record by nearly a foot! Sam Emerson tied for 5th place in the high jump and 6th in the 100m dash at the Slater Invitational and Liam Fleming recently brought in a 2nd place in the 3000 meter.
  • Practicing with the Thetford Junior High Team and in Rivendell colors, Bodie Avery placed 3rd in the Relay Race and Owen Pelletier finished 1st in the Hurdles and Long Jump (15'4‖) at recent meets.
  • Practicing with Chelsea's Track & Field Team and dressing Independent, Senior Molly Pierson had the 3rd longest Shot Put in her first meet.

Thanks to everyone for their hard work and dedication this year!

Come to Rivendell...

Keri Gelenian (Head of Schools/RA Principal, Michael Galli (RA Dean of Students) and School Counselors Nancy Hall and Kris Widmann met with parents of Warren, NH students last night, inviting them to consider Rivendell Academy as their student's school of choice for the upcoming year.

As part of the presentation, parents enjoyed the attached video featuring Academy students and faculty inviting the Warren students to 'Come to Rivendell...."

Take a look!!!

News From Keri Gelenian

April 2013

Dear Rivendell Families,

What Can You, as a Parent/Guardian, Do To Help Your School and Student?

1. Support for the Robotics Club
Kerry Browne is starting a robotic club. He has ordered one robot and is applying for a grant for another. The club will need some things to be built. He might also need tools and someone to help with fundraising. There will not be a lot of activity for a month or two.

Goal: Provide a strong foundation for the club‟s success through building equipment and developing resources.

Resources: There is money for materials. Parents of club members will likely be interested in helping.
Contact Doc Browne at if you would like to help out.

2. Spring Musical - "Hello Dolly!"
Anna Alden and Silas St. James will be running evening practices for about two weeks in the spring and there will be two or three evening performances.
Goals: Develop parent support for the spring musical:
A. Schedule parents to provide meals during evening rehearsals.
B. Schedule parents to monitor students during evening rehearsals
C. Organize concessions.
D. Increase ticket sales by using community list serves and other social media to advertise the musical in the community.
E. Play an instrument.
Resources: Parents of student actors and actresses.
Contact Anna Alden at or Silas St James at if you are able to help.

3. The Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering Annual Open House,
Friday, April 19 from 5:30-8:00. There is no cost. Food is served. This is a wonderful event for all students, but especially those interested in science, engineering, computer technology, electronics and any sort of career related to building mechanical devices. http://engineering.dartmouth.edu/events/openhouse-2012/

Goal: Get at least 10 students, families, and several teachers to this event. Promote this event to the entire school.
Resources: We could get a bus or use school vans if we have enough students. (This would need to be planned well in advance as the event is over Spring Break.) We could see if science teachers would offer extra credit in science classes.
Contact Keri Gelenian at if you are interested

4. Baccalaureate
This pre-graduation event is run by parents of the graduating class. It is typically held at an area church on the Sunday before graduation. Contact Kathy Landgraf at for further information and to be connected with other parents interested in planning this event.

If you prefer, you can also call Nancy Murphy at 603-353-4321 x 124 to be connected with any of these staff members‟ voicemail.

News From Keri Gelenian

Dear Academy Families,

We had 91 students on the Honor Roll first trimester. Thirty students earned High Honors. We recognized honorroll students with an evening potluck in the Café. The food was great and students did a wonderful job presenting a number of special opportunities for Rivendell students. Thanks to all who attended.

This past spring, Rivendell families received a letter indicating that our math scores on the fall NECAP exam added us to the long list of ―improvement‖ schools in Vermont. I noted that the scores did not reflect the academic prowess of last year's junior class. My hunch that the juniors' science NECAP scores would vindicate them proved correct:

Level 4 (high) Level 3 Level 2 Level 1 (low)
Rivendell 2012 0% 40% 47% 13%
State 2012 0% 31% 42% 25%
Rivendell 2011 0% 5% 53% 43%
Rivendell 2010 0% 17% 67% 17%

Our challenge is to keep our scores consistently strong by focusing on more than test scores. Grades and performance follow expectations. We need to maintain high expectations. Rich curriculum develops understanding, enjoyment, and confidence. Projects, simulations, integrating instruction in math and physical science, multiple and varied forms of assessment, explorations of students' thinking in discussions, and a strong focus on literacy are all essential components of a rich curriculum in action. If we teach with these goals in mind, then our students will do well on whatever the next state or national tests look like. More importantly, our students will be able to use what they have learned.

Other Academic Issues

There has been a pattern over the past three years of a high number of failed courses at midterm each trimester. In general, the number of failed classes and students who have one or more F's drops by the end of the trimester. At mid-trimester this year, 29.82% of our students failed at least one class, and they failed 10.83% of all possible classes. At the same time last year, 28.57% of our students failed at least one class, and they failed 10.63% of all possible classes. Our goal for the year is to see the number of students earning one or more F's at the end of each trimester drop to around 12% (33 students), which should also significantly lower the percentage of failed classes.

There is no easy solution to this problem of student motivation. While the last two years have been focused on removing structural barriers to higher achievement (the schedule, curriculum, expectations, integration and staffing), the next two to three years will be spent developing students' sense of personal power to direct their lives and learning. A common misconception that some people are simply born smart and don't have to work hard erodes personal power. We all like some things more than others; everyone can make progress in areas that aren't their ―natural‖ interests; and ―smart‖ people work tremendously hard and often fail.

A current junior gave me some insight into the sort of change that improves student motivation. He said that he's grown as a student since 9th grade partly because he thinks classes have become more interesting. As an example he said that he likes the freedom of the honors challenge in chemistry. He explained that the students who elected honors in chemistry work as a team on the material with support from the teacher when they get stuck and they work at a faster pace than the rest of the class. What was really interesting was that he said that although they are working ―harder‖ (i.e. faster), the work doesn't feel harder because they are learning so much from one another.

Another case in point—because of integration of math and science in 7th grade, Mr. White and Mr. Steckler coordinated their topics: Mr. Steckler was teaching time and distance graphs through a project and Mr. White moved to that topic in the math book. Because of the coordinating curriculum in 7th grade, the students realized that the math book was incorrectly calling time and position graphs time and distance graphs. There is a significant difference. The students found other strange errors as well. This discovery and the level of thinking that students displayed developed out of our move to integrate the classes and develop a structure that allows teachers to work together.

The examples from chemistry and math reflect what I like to call intellectual integration, ideas coming together from different people and through different experiences that learners put together to advance their own thinking. A group of teachers in Cambridge, MA have been exploring ideas like this for a long time. Some of their work and ideas can be found at http://www.criticalexplorers.org/.

Fun, Character, and Success in Athletics

Congratulations go out to Coach Newsted and his Cross Country team. The girls placed 5th in the state and the boys placed 9th. Liam Fleming took a medal at State, placing 9th among more than 90 runners.
A referee summed up our soccer season in two emails, one sent to Coach Thatcher and the other sent to Coach Goodwin:

Bob (Thatcher)...the team played with a lot of heart and with great Sportsmanship... Please let them know that at least one official greatly appreciated their play, guts, attitude, and the way they supported each other no matter what was happening on the field. This is a team I will truly miss officiating as I always had these games circled on my calendar as events to look forward to. I know that not being on the winning side yesterday was tough for the crew, But I am equally sure they handled it with class—of course this comes from the top down—but nonetheless a credit to the boys."

Tim (Goodwin)...I am sure you and the team had hopes for another state title, so very disappointing. I did want to say that I enjoyed working your games very much. Your players clearly loved playing together and had a great chemistry on the field, never getting on each other, always in support and showed great respect for everything about the game. I am sure we'll start all over again next summer and I look forward to meeting the new players, but make sure the ones leaving know that at least one official will miss them!

Congratulations to the varsity teams and a big thanks to Jon Lester for coaching 7/8 girls, Tom DuBois for coaching 7/8 boys, Mel Emerson for his work with JV boys and Laura Haber for coaching JV girls.

9th grade Recycling

Rivendell Academy has been making progress with energy efficiency and recycling. Last year, Mr. Collins received a grant that refitted the entire school with energy efficient fixtures and lighting. He also purchased large recycling bins for paper and cardboard. This year, the 9th grade advisers and students have organized a plastic bottle recycling program. Students have outfitted the entire school with specially built boxes to collect empty plastic. They worked with Mr. Collins to find a way to get the bottles recycled. The Academy students have done a great job getting their plastic in the bins. Well done 9th grade!

Disc Gold Course Construction

Jon Lester's disc golf students designed and began building a disc golf course for Rivendell and the community. By the end of the trimester, they successfully installed the first three holes.

National Honor Society

On November 5th , the Academy inducted 6 new members into the National Honor Society: Junior Nathaniel Eastman and Sophomores Samuel Emerson, Miranda Garrow, Moriah Ludwig, Christian Parenti and Cassandra White. These new inductees join existing members: Seniors Stefanie DeSimone, Christian Knowlton, Sarah Landgraf, Meg McCormack, Christina Moreland, Ariana Murphy, Molly Pierson, Jack Steketee, Tala Wilson, Amber Wolf, and Stacie Wright, and Juniors Brandon Gardner, Andrea Haehnel, Josh Marshall, Richard Otis, and Megan Perkins.

Recruitment

On November 6th the Academy hosted forty-eight 7th and 8th grade students and four teachers from Waits River Valley School. We are actively reaching out to choice schools in the area to attract the type of deep thinking, energetic, independent learners who would flourish at Rivendell Academy. Student government members Tala Wilson, Jen Woodward, Christian Parenti, and Josh Marshall did a great job as guides, taking students to see eight different Academy programs. Scott Calhoun, Luke Bell, Megan Winagle, and Stefanie DeSimone gave excellent overviews of athletics and school culture.

Ski Thursday/Winter Activities Program

There will be no early release for the Ski Thursday/Winter Activity Program this year. All schools will dismiss students at 1:45 p.m. (the regular Thursday dismissal time).

The CSO will run their Ski/Skate program, as in previous years, on Thursdays from January 3rd through February 14th (the 14th being a make-up day). Academy students planning to participate in the Ski/Snowboard portion of the program must have registered with the CSO by November 30th. Those students will be dismissed at noon to catch the bus to the Dartmouth Skiway. Prior to departure, they must sign out in the office. As they will be missing their afternoon classes, they must arrange, in advance, for missed work and must remain in good academic standing.

The Academic and Bus schedule at the Academy for Winter Thursdays will be as follows:

  • The Warning Bell will ring at 7:55 a.m., as usual, and classes will begin at 8:00 a.m.
  • Each class will meet according to their regular Thursday schedule.
  • School will be dismissed at 1:45 p.m. and busses will run their regular routes.
  • The Late Bus will run as regularly scheduled.

There will be no Express Busses or 3:00 p.m. busses as there have been in the past.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Academy office at 603-353-4321.