Tag Archives: Mount Holly

Exploring Identity with 4th and 5th Graders

Margaret Dunne, a fourth and fifth-grade educator at Mount Holly School in Mount Holly VT, originally presented “Exploring Identity with 4th and 5th Graders” in January 2021. She presented it as part of the 2021 Middle Grades Conference at the University of Vermont.

Below please find a video recording of the workshop, optimized for solo or team playback. Additionally, Margaret shared her slides for your use.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjXjkBNP-mQ[/embedyt]


Exploring Identity with 4th and 5th Graders slide show
Click to link to the presentation slides.

Talking with Mount Holly students

On this episode of The 21st Century Classroom:

M.:  I learned to, well, use a computer. That’s a big one. And then I also learned to help and be a kind person and try to do as well as I can.

For this episode, we’re in the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, in Southern Vermont. Ace podcaster and #vted Reads host Jeanie Phillips visited the Mount Holly School, in Mount Holly, Vermont.

We’ll hear from Aubrey, Alyssa and M., three sixth graders entering their final semester at this K-6 school. Next year, all three move up to one of the nearby middle schools. So what have these three students learned from their time at Mount Holly? Let’s find out.

About Mount Holly School:

Mount Holly, Vermont is super, super rural. Located at the Southern end of generally populous Rutland County, Mount Holly has only 1200 residents, spread across 49 square miles. And that? Is a lot of open space.

The school itself is close-knit and spirited, with a number of activities and classes that get students out of their seats and outside into the school garden, one of three outdoor classrooms, as well as the school’s very own nature trail.

Students practice mindfulness and meditation. They learn to sew and identify plants, as well as working with woodcraft and learning the traditional rigorous academic subjects. School lunches have book-themed names such as “Dragons Love Tacos”, “The Hungry Caterpillar”, “The Princess and the Pizza”, and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”.

There’s a weekly all-school meeting, student-led conferences at every grade level, and beginning in kindergarten, every student starts learning French.

It’s a small and cheerful school where everybody knows everybody else, families included.

And these are three of Mount Holly’s students:


Mount Holly students: Aubrey


Mount Holly students: Alyssa

and M.

Mount Holly students: M.

Right off the bat, we want to know: what makes school meaningful for you?

Aubrey:  What I find meaningful about school is that they give as lot of help to the kids that need it, and the kids that sometimes have problems focusing or learning. They’ll like help you a little bit more than they normally would. And it’s just kind of like hands-on learning.

Jeanie:  What are some of the opportunities you have to do hands-on learning?

Aubrey:  Well, in math class, normally we do our lesson and then afterwards she’ll give us like, a page to do? And then you’re either with someone else or you’re by yourself and you can ask for help then.

Alyssa: I find something very meaningful about school is getting to learn about the things I *want* to learn about. Like, I love the ocean. I like when I get an opportunity to learn about it. Because when they give you one subject you have to learn about? Everybody else is learning about it. One, it doesn’t seem interesting because everyone’s doing it, and two, it doesn’t like, make you think, ‘Oh I want to learn more about it’ if it’s like, something you don’t even think about once a year.

Jeanie: Yeah. Do you want to give me an example of when you got to learn more about the ocean?

Alyssa: We’re doing a project currently — not everyone’s doing it about the ocean but I’m doing the deep ocean? Which is like you have to list things like the animals that live there, where they get their food from, everything like that. And it’s a very fun project for me and I like it a lot. It’s very fun.

Jeanie:  Excellent. I’m so excited about this conversation. What do *you* find meaningful about school?

M.:  Kind of the group community develops, and on being together as people. And not having always having the choice of being by yourself? And learning real world skills? That’s far more important to me than the actual learning, because you can do that at home but it’s a lot harder to experience during the school day. It’s a lot easier for you to experience social skills as opposed to home.

Jeanie:  So, real world skills like social skills you get to practice here, in a way you wouldn’t at home?

M.:  Correct.

Jeanie:  What are the real world skills do you learn at school, M?

M.:  I learned to, well, use computers. That’s a big one. And then I also learned to help, and be a kind person, and try to do as well as I can. And that… learning is… only fun when you make it fun.

Jeanie: Excellent. So, looking ahead what do you hope to be able to do in school as you continue with your schooling?

M.: My big goal for high school and college is to — I really, I mean like technology and STEAM. All that.  One of my goals is to… well, my first goal is to get into MIT. And then my second goal is to build a computer for myself. And once I can do that then I’ll feel pretty good. But I always want to learn.

Jeanie: What do you hope to do to benefit the world with your degrees, and your expertise in STEAM and technology?

M.: I really like and am inspired by Greta Thunberg. And hydro power? I think that’s really cool, because it doesn’t harm nature like wind turbines do? And it’s also sustainable? So, I really want to protect our planet from climate change. Maybe become a worker at a national park, or help the World Wildlife Fund, somewhat. I already made a few donations.

Jeanie: Wow, those are some big aspirations! Is Greta Thunberg a role model for you?

M.:  Yeah.

Jeanie: Have you learned about her at school at all?

M.:  Ms. Coldwell and another teacher showed us like, one video about her, but I watch a lot of her speeches.


Jeanie:  In your free time?

M.:  Yeah. I don’t have any devices but my parents approve of that sort of technology.

Jeanie:  Excellent. How about you Alyssa, what do you hope to do beyond Mount Holly School?

Mount Holly students: Alyssa
Alyssa and friend.

Alyssa: I really want to be a marine biologist. I’ve always loved the ocean and I will always love the ocean. I want to be a marine biologist, but a marine biologist and expert in exploration? To like, lead dives and stuff like that. To get to like, swim with sharks and nice dolphins and things like that. I… want to be someone who like, finds the missing piece to an Egyptian thing or something. I’ve always wanted to be the one person who dives into the ocean and finds that super special thing nobody else could find.

Jeanie: Yeah. How do you hope that will contribute to our world?

Alyssa: I think in like… climate change if I’m like figuring out how it’s affecting, then people will start to actually care. Like if I show the numbers and stuff of like, how many things and people and stuff are dying, because of it? So things like climate change? If like lost pieces to when we weren’t intelligent enough to make like, computers and stuff. Like, artifacts I guess.

Jeanie:  How about you, Aubrey?

Mount Holly students: Aubrey
Aubrey, Mount Holly School.

Aubrey:  I… have always loved nature. I mean, I live in the woods so I kind of have to like nature. *laughs* And I have a love for horses. And I have a horse, and when I’m older I would love to learn more about veterinary work. Because I have a love for animals and I just am very interested in the whole veterinary field.

Jeanie:  Excellent. So, your contribution to the world would be to care for all our furry friends?

Aubrey: Yeah.

Jeanie:  That’s a great aspiration. You all are inspiring me,  with your big dreams and plans and aspirations.  Do you feel like school is equipping you with what you need to get there?

Alyssa: Yeah. I feel like we’ll get through elementary school, we’ll know some about what we want to do. We’ll get through high school, we’ll be very excited and we’ll know a lot about what we want our career to be. And me, M., and Aubrey want to go to college. We all want to go to college because, in order to be a vet you have to go to college. To be an engineer you have to go to college? You have to go to college to be a marine biologist. So, yeah, we all kind of look into things like that.

Jeanie:  Okay, tell me something you’re good at.

Alyssa:  I’m really good at like studying, because in like writing in formal papers and stuff because I do that with, like, my shark studies a lot.  At home, I’ll study, I’ll bookmark pages and stuff, and then I’ll write something on Google Docs about it. No one usually sees the Google Docs, but I have them.

Jeanie: You do it for you?

Alyssa: Yes.

Jeanie: How about you, M?

Mount Holly students: M.
M., Mount Holly School.

M.:  I know it’s kind of generic but I really like, and I’m good at building stuff. I feel like that’s really fun for me. We have tons of Legos and that’s one of the big things. I like sports, I play basketball. I don’t actually play basketball like as a team, but I play it by myself a lot. And I play hockey and soccer and baseball and football.

Jeanie: Wow! What’s the most interesting thing you’ve built with your Legos?

M.:  It’s called the Hape Snowfa battle cruiser? [EDITORIAL NOTE: no Star Wars geeks on staff, so we’re doing our best with Google.] It’s not a Lego set, but I made it. I do Star Wars Legos. And I made it after a Star Wars machine.

Jeanie:  Right, you made it from the Legos yourself without a kit?

M.: Yes.

Jeanie: Awesome.

M.:  And I mean also… I’m not good at everything, but school… I tend to be pretty good at.

Alyssa: He does a lot of clicking with our subjects.

Jeanie: That’s a good way to put it! Aubrey, what are you good at?

Aubrey:  I like to swim. I don’t know, I just always like to swim. My parents, my mom like to swim.  So, I just always like to swim, I’ve been swimming from when I was like three years old, so…

Jeanie:  Nice! So, what else besides swimming and sports and Legos and writing Google Docs for yourself about sharks do you get up to at home, outside of school?

M.:  Reading! Reading, reading, reading.

Jeanie: Oh I love that! What’s your favorite book, M?

M.:  My favorite book right now? I like the Endling Series. Have you heard of Katherine Applegate? That’s my favorite book series so far. I like the Tales from Earthsea. There’s a few more I can’t think of. I read tons and tons of books.

Jeanie:  Excellent.  How about you Alyssa, what do you get up to outside of school?

Alyssa: I’m mostly snuggle with my guinea pig. His name’s Leo. I tell him about my day. He’s albino so I like to like to look at his fur and imagine a color because it’s easy to think of what as a color.

And I also like to do like games with my little brother.

Jeanie: What’s your favorite game to play with your little brother?

Alyssa: We play a lot of Mortal Kombat.  And I like to also do journaling.  I have like four journals to different subjects.  I have my journal called ‘The Perfect Day’, which I write really good days I have. Then I have one, that’s all which is called ‘The Worst Day’, and then I have like one that write about every day. I love writing, by the way.

Jeanie: That’s awesome! What are you up to out of school Aubrey?

Aubrey: I read a lot of books. Like *a lot a lot* of books.

Jeanie:  Love it. So, I’m going to dive back in. Remember we were talking earlier about how do you know the things you’re good at? Thinking about the things that you are good both in and out of school, how do you know when you are goods at them? Go ahead, Aubrey.

Aubrey:  I’m, so, I knew that I was good at swimming when I started swim team two years ago.  I only did it for one summer and I wound up getting second place in my first meet.

Jeanie: So, doing well at the competition helps you know you are good at something?

Aubrey: Yes, it makes me feel good about myself.

Jeanie:  Yes, Alyssa. How do you know when you’re good at something?

Alyssa: So journaling, I kind of got into it because I love writing and at third grade I started to notice my formal letters and stuff was already really good.  So, I like to like, practice and I kept doing that. And my mom also thought it was best for me to write down how I feel because… reasons.

Jeanie:  Can I ask you all a follow-up question? What’s it feel like on the inside when you’re good at something?

Alyssa:  It kind of, it feels like, really good to be doing something I like, and I’m really good at it. Compared to something you’re not very good at? When you’re doing something you like and you’re good at it, it’s like, this is awesome. I *love* this, I can do this well.  And you want to do more of it.

M.:  Part of the way I think is that… when you do something and you get really good at it? In my opinion it’s kind of like the first level.  So, you’re really good at something and then there is something else where you haven’t built anything 00 any levels yet. Then you can get really good at another thing. You slowly ascend the pyramid, until you make it to professional. Like Premiere League, or MLB [Major League Baseball] or whatever. And there’s a certain amount of happiness when you get up there? But it’s certainly not like the first day the person calls you up and say you get called up to the major leagues.

And because now you already know what it’s like and it’s not exciting anymore? But, still you could still thrive and have a fantastic time because it’s your passion.

Else, I just think that you can get good at most things, but you could also not get good at most things. And there’s some things, I’m going to be more natural to do than Aubrey and Aubrey is going to be more natural to do than me, you know. Alyssa the same.  So, it’s all a spectrum kind of thought of it.  And by the way, I think I mentioned that I have really good test scores on my math and test for reading, so that’s why I think I’m good at reading.

Jeanie: I hear two things from you. I hear so many things from you, M.  One is like I know I’m good at reading because I have high test scores in reading and also I know I’m good at reading because I read all the time and I love it.

And then I hear this other thing from which is that no matter how good you get, you can always still learn some more or grow some more or get better  Is that right? I see you nodding your head Alyssa.

Alyssa:  Yes. *laughs* I forgot they can’t see me.

Jeanie: What’s it feel like for you, Aubrey, to be good at something on the inside?

Aubrey: It feels really good because sometimes when I don’t do something that makes me feel good about myself, I take it really hard. I’m like, critical.  So, just the tiniest things that make me feel good about myself brighten my day a lot.

Jeanie:  What else do you want the world to know about learners, about what it’s like to be a fifth or sixth grader to be a learner?  Go just say it.

M.”  I mean it’s tough. You, I mean you’re given challenges and especially for me, I’ve skipped two grades. It’s always good to develop those close relationships because it’s… I come, I just come and then I leave and then it’s like all the friends I’ve made, you know, I don’t get to see as much. It’s just, it’s harder and then the older you get, the more homework you have to do. And it eats into your life.

Alyssa:  That is a lie. We do not have homework [at Mount Holly].

M.:  But next year we will.

Alyssa:  Yeah, next year we will.

M.:  And we will be  not be ready for it!

Alyssa: We’re going to be the preschoolers again.

M.:  Seventh grade in the school of 12th graders and under.

Alyssa:  Because we’re in sixth grade and we go to a very small elementary school.  So, after sixth grade, we have to go to the seventh grade and a high school.

Jeanie:  Do you worry about that?

M.:  Not a lot. I don’t feel that *I’ll* get bullied. And I don’t feel that *they’ll* get bullied.  I think that one of the school I plan on going to is a very nice school. *hiccups* Oopsies.

Aubrey:  I honestly don’t think that I’m going to have any problems because…  I’m not even sure what middle school I’m going to yet.  But I mean, I’m not really that social. So I’m not that social butterfly. I mean just, I think I’m just going to be my, be by myself. I like being alone. I’m an only child so I don’t have any siblings to bug me.

Jeanie:  So, tell me the last question I have for you all is what do you want the world to know about Mount Holly School?

Aubrey: Well, I think that they should know Mount Holly School is a great school.  It’s helped me and some of my friends that have a little bit harder time of learning a lot get through those things.

Alyssa:  I think that Mount Holly is a great school and I am only aware of a teacher or two who will be retiring.  But we do sometimes have troubles finding new teachers to take places and I think that we’ll be fine. It’s a good school. They help kids when they need it. And they’re like, they’re very flexible with how kids learn. Like, if you have something you think will help you like a fidget, they will adjust to like, maybe having it around and the fifth and sixth grade’s actually doing an experiment to get hoods allowed in school.  And I think that it’s great that they let us even try this. So. Yeah.

Aubrey:  Also we have a great principal, he is so much fun.

M.:  He’s awesome.

Aubrey:  He’s awesome!

Alyssa:  He’s very flexible.  He loves hanging out with us, we like hanging out with him too.

M.:  Last thing want to say is I think student council is a great opportunity.  Me and Alyssa both do it.

Alyssa:  M. is student council vice president and I am student council president.

M.:  And I feel like that’s a great opportunity to learn some of the things and how the government works sometimes.

Alyssa:  And they give us like, the ability to change rules. We just actually hosted a Valentine’s Day after school party and it was amazing and it went so good. So, we have already done one thing this year.

Jeanie:  And you said you’re encouraged to look at rules, how you might change rules to?

Alyssa:  We actually can change rules if we are powerful enough as a council, if it’s a rule that we think really needs to be changed.  And we all vote that if at least two-thirds of us vote that, that is what we want and this is the idea. Then we take it to the principal and we start working on it.

Jeanie:  Awesome.  You guys are really motivated.  What keeps you so motivated?

Alyssa:  I kind of like that we have these abilities and we have these rights to change what we don’t like to have what we want. To change what we like, get what we want done.  We have the options of how we want everything to be and I think that is just so nice of them to be like if you don’t like it, we’ll give you the ability to change it with enough progress and stuff.

Jeanie:  Nice. M., what keeps you motivated?

M.:  Me motivated?  The way that I can always get better and if I was automatically the best, I wouldn’t be as motivated.

Aubrey:  Oh, I’m not going to lie, I’m not that motivated.

Jeanie:  All right, you do a lot of cool things Aubrey.

Aubrey:  Yes, but I just kind of do it when I feel productive.

Jeanie:  That’s my strategy too. Thank you all three of you so much for taking the time to talk to me about yourself as learners, about Mount Holly as a school.  I just so appreciate your voices and hearing you explore ideas with me. You guys are amazing, thank you very much. Do you want to say goodbye?

Students:  Goodbye speaker! I love you.

M.:  You’ve been helping us.  Might not keep that part. You don’t need to.  Bye.

The 21st Century Classroom is a production of the The Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. This episode was produced by Jeanie Phillips, series producer is Audrey Homan. Thank you to Aubrey, Alyssa and M. for speaking with us, and to all of Mt Holly students and faculty for letting us invade with our recording equipment and headphones and generally be disruptive.

Our theme music is by Meizong and Yeeflex. And thank *you*, as always, for listening.