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How community kept kids close to home when school closed

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 4:52 PM EDT
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LUDLOW, Vt. (WCAX) - When Act 46 consolidation closed a school in Ludlow, families didn’t want to send their students far away. So they opened a new school in the same building.

The Black River Middle and High School in Ludlow closed as a result of the consolidation process under Act 46. That meant Ludlow students would now go to the other high school in the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, 13 miles away in Chester.

The decision left the community divided and led a group of residents to open a new independent school, the Expeditionary School at Black River, now operating in the same building as the former Black River public school.

“There have been many times we didn’t know if it would actually happen, many times we were asked if it would actually happen,” said Kristen Garvey, a parent and founding board member.

When Black River Middle and High School closed, kids primarily switched to Green Mountain Union High School in Chester or Mill River Union High School in North Clarendon.

For Garvey and other parents, it was important to keep the middle and high school close by.

“Having to drive 35-40 minutes every day back and forth, and what that sort of does to the family situation. Was overwhelming to think about that and so that was definitely a big motivating factor,” Garvey said.

Kendra Rickerby is the head of the Expeditionary School at Black River.

“Opening day was the result of committed community members who believed and continue to believe that this town needs a school situated at the heart of it,” Rickerby said.

Rickerby says this first year, the school is funded through donations and all 16 current students are attending at no cost to their families. But organizers are working to get full recognition as an independent school and to have access to public education dollars.

“We are aiming to also get AOE approval so that tax dollars could someday follow,” Rickerby said.

They hope more Ludlow families will enroll students next year, and like other independent schools, will be looking beyond town borders.

“We will also be recruiting tuition-paying families, and tuition is $15,000 per student,” Rickerby said.

At this time, the school is only using the second floor, but there is capacity for about 300 students and the school would be able to rent the entire building from the town.

“I would love to see that happen,” Garvey said. “I think that would be really amazing.”

Rickerby says the expeditionary school’s model is vastly different than a typical public high school. There is no set class schedule with bells between periods. Students are assigned work and choose when to get it done in their own space.

“We would love to see ultimately serving local, but also expanding that out to anybody who would like to come here and have this type of experience,” Garvey said.

The school is also working on incorporating a hybrid model, allowing families the option to learn while out of town.

We reached out to district school board members and Chester’s town manager to see if losing students from Green Mountain Union would negatively affect their class sizes and education funding, but we did not hear back before this story was published.

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