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Ripton, VT: North Branch School

Ripton, VT: North Branch School
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“Yeah.”

“So how was last year in school for you?”

“Uh, not so good.” He half laughed. “The teachers didn’t like me too much. My math teacher hated me.”

“Steve didn’t do so well on his report card,” said Tammi.

“But he’s going to do better, right, Steven?” said Brian, arching an eyebrow from under the bent brim of a Patriots cap.

As I explained the school, it suddenly seemed to be a ludicrous, self-indulgent fantasy of the overly educated. Experiential learning? Piaget and constuctivism? John Keats? W. B. Yeats? I was talking to a family who scuffled by on the stray carpentry job and delivering cordwood. The chances of them wanting to send Steve were slim.

Tammi called the next day. “We’d like him to come to your school,” she said.

I looked at my growing class list. My students came from ten towns spread over the county: the eighth graders, Steve, Annie, Najat, Zoe, and Mira– each from a different school. Sophie, Tico, Nick, and Doug were seventh graders. At the last moment we added Janine, a ninth grader from Pittsford, giving us an age span from eleven to fourteen years old.

Annie, Steve, and Mira, by their accounts, had suffered through miserable seventh grade years. Annie had been relentlessly teased. Steve had failed every class but Language Arts in seventh grade and claimed that if we were to visit the middle school locker room, we could find a large dent on a metal locker door exactly in the shape of his very own head, courtesy of a posse of eighth graders who had used him as a human battering ram.

Mira had been overloaded with too much academic rigor and not enough spiritual or emotional substance. Doug was a self-described nerd, precociously intelligent, with his “Stellaphane” astronomer’s cap, too-small sweatpants pulled halfway up his calves, and copious amounts of saliva shooting from his mouth as he expounded on Star Trek or string theory. Tico could not read or write.

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