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Vermont is considered one of the smartest states in the country. I agree. But it’s not because of their college degrees, graduation rates and test scores but it’s because of their approach to education that makes them the state to watch for education reform.


I’ve been fascinated with Vermont since my first visit to Burlington in November 2010. I was excited to return last week to Central Vermont.

In the drive from Burlington to Barre, I learned that Burlington has become a Mecca for overage students still holding onto the desire to receive their high school diploma. Unlike in states like New Jersey and New York, students in Vermont are able to receive their high school diploma up until their mid-20s. This has led to a high ESL population in Burlington and its surrounding cities. The city is also about to welcome close to 500 Iraqi refugees. Vermont has become a magnet for young people not willing to settle for a GED.

Barre, VT


As the drive comes to a close the focus is on our destination—Barre. The once ‘granite capital of the world’ is plagued by a depleted economy. The city alone doesn’t hold many resources, which is why it is often coupled with the capital-Montpelier. Resources have just started to come to the area to stop the downward spiral of young people choosing dangerous recreational activities threatening their ‘smart state’ title.


According to Spaulding’s Best Places, this is the rundown on Barre:

  • As of 2010, Barre's population is 8,818 people. Since 2000, it has had a population growth of -5.12%.
  • The median home cost in Barre is $132,960. Home appreciation in the last year has been -11.34%.
  • Compared to the rest of the country, Barre's cost of living is 1.70% lower than the U.S. average.
  • The unemployment rate in Barre is 5.50%(U.S. avg. is 10.20%). Jobs have decreased by 1.53%


Granite Street


It’s fitting that the school program I’m visiting is on Granite Street.


This program is a collaboration between YouthBuild USA, ReSource and the Central Vermont Adult Basic Education, Inc. It is dedicated to students who have dropped out of traditional school but are returning to take advantage of the high school completion program. (I described this program in detail in my post, Graduating Vermont.)


Each small town in Central Vermont has their own high school. Barre does offer a vocational high school but once a student leaves one high school there isn’t another high school for them to transfer too.


The classroom is part a historical former-granite plant. The students have painted it, gotten rid of a lot of broken-down furniture and created a bright classroom adorned with reading strategies, magazine covers and artwork. Miniature copies of book covers show the books that each student has read on their own since the cycle began. Students leave the classroom and walk out the door to work on insulating the building.


This new teacher, who recently located from Denver, knows that she is lucky compared to her other colleagues at similar sites. Her students have tested at high levels on a placement exam. She believes that they were simply bored with what their schools had to offer. Although To Kill A Mockingbird is the selected text for the ‘Vermont Reads’ program, she has taken a different route. They’ve read stories such as “The Sniper” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” with ease and have written analysis papers.


Her all-male student population is progressing and focused in their work even with a school day beginning at 6:30am with calisthenics and not ending till 3pm.

I visited on a day of a special event. One of the young men is giving a speech in front of city politicians and press. In his speech he describes how he has a completely different attitude towards school and his family since joining the program. He feels a sense of purpose and now has a plan for after graduation.


These students are taking advantage of an opportunity presented exclusively in Vermont.


Vermont is the ed reform state worth watching-but is anyone watching?


This post is part of the 40/40/40 series.

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