NEWFANE—The NewBrook Elementary School staff and students have many reasons for a party: a new solar array, a $15,000 farm-to-school grant, a new chef in the cafeteria, and the retirement of two beloved staff members.
Rather than holding multiple celebrations, school officials put them all together, added a big outdoor luncheon, and invited the greater community to join them.
On June 12, the school’s students, faculty, and staff, local business owners, and members of the School Board and the Parent-Teacher Organization gathered in the field behind NewBrook. Principal Scotty Tabachnick gave a brief introduction, where he thanked them all.
“This morning, we’re modeling gratitude, and we have a lot to be thankful for,” he said.
Throughout the presentation, Tabachnick singled out a number of people and groups for their generosity in time and resources, including PTO President Lindsay Bertram, the LAFTER (learning after school) program and its leader, Marisa Pisani, and the Windham Central Supervisory Union.
Tabachnick made special mention of Newfane and Brookline’s taxpayers, and the school’s board of directors. “This is not a place where we have to worry about passing the budget and getting the funding we need” for the school, he said.
“All of the adults here are doing two things: We’re doing our jobs, but we’re also here because we love you kids,” said Tabachnick, who added, “Thank you to the children!”
‘The norm, not the exception’
Kate Venne, farm-to-school program manager with Food Connects, spoke about the $15,000 Farm to School and Child Nutrition Grant NewBrook received from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, which was announced by Food Connects on June 12.
This grant, Venne said, was very competitive, and was awarded to only six schools across the state.
One of the reasons NewBrook received the grant, she said, is because agricultural and environmental education “is the norm, not the exception” at the school.
In the news release announcing the grant, Venne noted, “A dedicated team of individuals at the school; including educators, parents, administrators, the school’s Food Service Manager and others have been educating NewBrook students about food and farming for more than six years.
“The school strives to partner with local farms, source locally grown and made products for their cafeteria, and include related education in their classrooms.”
Some of the goals of this grant, Venne said, are already in progress.
One, to expand the school garden, was helped along by the school’s new chef, Chris Parker, who began working at NewBrook in the autumn. Parker built two new garden beds for the school. Future plans include building an on-site greenhouse.
An additional aim is to purchase equipment to increase the cafeteria’s capacity to utilize locally-grown foods, including produce coming from the school’s garden, Venne said. NewBrook recently bought a chest freezer to help meet this goal.
Future projects funded by the farm-to-school grant include improving the area around the outdoor pizza oven to make it a community space, offering farm-to-school development opportunities for NewBrook staff, and implementing the Breakfast After the Bell program for all of the school’s students.
Salad bar on the horizon
Venne mentioned the school received another grant, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to install a salad bar in the cafeteria for the next school year.
She noted Elizabeth Erickson, part of the school’s Farm-to-School team, and mother of three NewBrook students, wrote the grant proposal. Venne invited other parents and community members to “reach out and get involved.”
Shortly into the presentation, Administrative Assistant Sarah Coughlin led a movement exercise for all attendees. This activity, Coughlin said, “is so we’re able to sit through the rest of the important announcements.”
As Tabachnick cued up some music on the PA, Coughlin told the group, “We’re gonna do a little dance today!”
She brought up an enthusiastic student to help lead the dance, and they waved their arms and stepped side-to-side in time to the song while the crowd followed along.
After a few minutes of movement, it was time to sit down again to honor two staff members — IT Specialist Cathy Robinson and Librarian Cynthia Nau — who are retiring at the end of the school year.
Tabachnick asked the students, “Have you kids ever seen your teacher running around because something’s not working?”
The students yelled, “Yes!”
Tabachnick noted Robinson, who was adept at soothing the teachers’ panic by fixing whatever computer-related thing wasn’t working, “is the calmest person in the world.”
First grade teacher Amanda Paradis continued Robinson’s recognition. Paradis noted Robinson started as a volunteer with the school district in 2009, but her initial career goals started on a different track.
“She graduated with a degree in animal science,” said Paradis, “How cool is that!”
After Robinson realized she enjoyed bringing technology into the classrooms, she studied technology integration at the Marlboro College graduate center and came to the district as an employee.
Regarding working on IT at NewBrook, Paradis said Robinson “had her work cut out for her,” because the school’s computers were outdated, but Robinson advocated for “joining the 21st century with technology.”
Considering all of her achievements on the school’s behalf, Paradis added, “It’s hard to imagine that they will be able to find a replacement for someone so amazing."
After handing Robinson a bouquet of flowers, Paradis left the podium and it was sixth-grade teacher Joyce VanPamelen’s turn.
Books for kids
VanPamelen’s class joined her in honoring the long career and legacy of Cynthia Nau. While VanPamelen spoke, each student held up a hand-made sign illustrating some aspect of Nau’s life and career.
Nau, who started a nursery school and kindergarten in the mid-1960s, was the librarian at the Moore Free Library for 13 years beginning in the 1970s and then worked in school libraries in Townshend, Brookline, NewBrook, and Windham public schools.
VanPamelen noted some current NewBrook students have parents who were Nau’s students, too. Nau owns and operates the Newfane educational supply store, Teacher Treasures, and VanPamelen encouraged students to visit her there.
“Mrs. Nau has worked for many decades to get books into the hands of children. Reading books, encouraging children to check books out, having book exchanges, and leading library class has given the students in the valley a strong foundation in literacy,” VanPamelen said.
VanPamelen collected memories about Nau from her students and shared them during the presentation.
“Mrs. Nau is funny when she tells jokes,” said VanPamelen, who continued, “I also found out that she is nice when books are lost. Knowing Mrs. Nau, she probably is hoping that the lost book has become part of someone else’s library.”
After VanPamelen finished her speech about Nau, Nau insisted on hugging every sixth-grader, and received hugs from many of the younger children, too.
As the hugs continued, Kim Friedman, chair of NewBrook’s Energy Committee, talked about the school’s net-metered solar array and other energy projects.
She summarized the solar array’s saga, which included the bankruptcy of one company that was contracted to install the project, then the bankruptcy of the next company contracted to do the same. Finally, after years of waiting, the array went online in late winter.
An array of benefits
The wait was worth it. For siting the array on an unused section of its land, NewBrook will receive a 15 percent discount on electricity, and a payment of $26,000 per year from leasing the land to Encore Renewable Energy.
Ken McFadden, chair of the school board and a supporter of the project, noted, “Kim put together a fantastic team [...] What they didn’t know about, they learned.”
Tabachnick told the crowd the solar array has been online for a few months, and that afternoon they were going to symbolically cut the ribbon. Tabachnick chose young student James Laposta to operate the scissors.
When asked why he chose Laposta to do the honors, Tabachnick said, “Because he’s a great little boy.”
After Laposta snipped the yellow ribbon, the older students followed it to the solar array. On the fence surrounding the site was a large sign created by art teacher Suzanne Paugh and her students.
The kids and their teachers were joined by Steven Yates of Peck Electric, which worked on the project’s construction, and Jesse Stowell from Encore Renewable Energy, which operates the site.
The two men answered the students’ questions about the array. What they learned is that the project has 2,160 panels, and each panel is 77” x 40” and puts out 345 watts. On a sunny day, the entire array puts 500 kilowatts into the grid, and five schools and the Vermont Technical College get credits on their electric bill from the net-metered solar power.
Discussion also covered the comparative output of different energy projects, such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric.
To prepare themselves for work in the solar energy field, Yates and Stowell told students they studied mechanical engineering, math, science, and even writing. As Stowell noted, he uses writing skills when drafting contracts with clients.
VanPamelen told Stowell that when his company’s technicians come to inspect and maintain the array, they should also come in and talk to her students.
As the conversation wound down, the aroma of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers drifted across the field.
The afternoon ended with everyone’s favorite class: lunch. Chef Parker and his staff served the burgers and hot dogs, a multitude of fresh salads, and handmade pizza, hot from the earthen outdoor oven.