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Students work to get Rutland on the right track - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Students work to get Rutland on the right track

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RUTLAND, Vt. -

It was not just a regular day at Rutland High School.

"A little bit freer than the usual school day," said Paige Prouty, a senior.

It was the daylong Global Issues Network conference. The aim-- for students to engage with experts and each other to take on economic, environmental and security issues that impact communities around the world.

Bee expert Bill Mares was one of 40 speakers meeting with groups of students. His talk was on the role of bees in food security.

Student question: Do you ever have the problem of your whole hive like dying from like parasites?

Bill Mares: Oh, sure... And it's a complicated issue.

The day is structured to give students in-depth knowledge and then time to work in groups to solve a problem, an intriguing prospect for Paige Prouty.

"We're talking about everyday life and the future instead of what's been going on in the past," Prouty said.

"So, you're taking your learning and you're seeing what the relevance of it is," Rutland High School Principal William Olsen said.

Olsen says hosting the conference has taken years of training and planning by teachers and students. The only other schools in the U.S. to host the Global Issues Network are in Washington and San Francisco. And he says the event is a big example of how learning is changing at Rutland High and at high schools across the state. New State Education Quality Standards and the transition to the Common Core are putting more emphasis on integrated learning, helping students tie different subjects together and develop communication, collaboration and other practical skills needed in the real world.

"You're talking about some of these big-picture, higher level thinking skills that ask you to take different areas, science and social studies for instance, and see how they work together, and see how you can address problems that are connected to both of those ideas," Olsen explained.

Students were taking on global issues at the conference, but a local one popped up for presenters and students-- Rutland's image. Recent media coverage of the state's-- and specifically Rutland's-- fight against opiate addiction struck a nerve.

"But what does The New York Times say? We're the heroin capital of the world, and there are some people in the city that want to buy into that," Rutland City Police Chief James Baker said.

Baker spoke to students about empowering change in Rutland, and getting buy-in from the community to bring down crime.

"The message is we recognize we have issues, we're trying to find solutions to those issues," Baker said. "And I think if you ride in our downtown and take a look at our downtown that will tell you that Rutland is an up and coming place."

Reporter Kristin Kelly: And why is it important for the students here to hear that from you?

Chief James Baker: Because I think they need hope, especially kids that may be at risk, kids that may be on the fence. Like 'all I hear is the negative stuff in Rutland, what's it matter what I do?' It does matter what they do. They're the future leaders of the city and it does matter what they do because we need healthy productive adults in another 15 years who are going to be leaders in our city."

Upstairs in one of the problem-solving sessions, senior Abigail Bizzarro led her group through a careful process, drawing out ideas to take on the drug problem. She was inspired by Sen. Patrick Leahy's recent hearing on opiates in Rutland.

"I've become a lot more aware about it," Bizzarro said. "When I was a freshman I didn't know anything about it."

The idea of more clubs to engage students with different interests became a focus, as future leaders used new skills to solve a global problem in their own backyard.

"There's a lot of good people in Rutland that are trying their best to make it a better place," Prouty said.

The Rowland Foundation provided three fellowships for Rutland teachers to study with the Global Issues Network overseas in preparing for the conference. The school plans to host another conference next year and hopes to expand it to more students across the state.

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