Principal Puts Focus On Outdoors

Hannah Thein (back row, third from left), the new principal at the Barnard Academy, takes part in a group teacher training for the newly formed Forest Friday Parent Learning Commitee under the “Quiet Tree” behind the school. (Herald / Seth Butler)

Thein Takes Helm At Barnard Academy

Hannah Thein has spent time working internationally in a career that has taken her to Quito, Equador; Vienna, Austria; Attis Abba, Ethiopia; and most recently outside of Tel Aviv, Israel. She is pleased to return to her native state and work with the staff at the Barnard Academy in her new role as principal.

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Thein herself has been very engaged in the transformation of the school grounds, building trails and outdoor learning spaces.

“This year, my number-one priority is environmental education,” she said, sharing many of the changes around the school that will encourage outdoor place-based learning from revival of raised beds to a re- vamping of the nature trail. The kindergarten class with Ingrid Johnson, and third and fourth grade class led by new teacher Meghan Schindler, will both introduce Forest Fridays, spending the day outside the classroom every Friday.

Wood chips have been added to the new preschool play area, and there are some modifications to allow kids to climb trees. Rather than discouraging kids from climbing an apple tree on the playground that is an ideal climbing tree, with low almost horizontal branches, ample wood chips have been brought in to raise the level of the ground, making the tree “to code” for kids to climb.

Thein grew up on a dairy farm in Central Vermont, and got her teaching start in Roxbury, when the Farm to School movement was born in Vermont. She worked with Foodworks out of Montpelier, and each classroom had a garden. While environmental education is her first priority, her goals include more multi-cultural education and more access to foreign-language learning. Currently, Barnard students have one unit of Spanish a week.

“Outdoor learning is just one idea,” she said. “I also want to increase foreign language [education]. It’s very important to be multilingual in the 21st century.” She also wants to see a “maker space” and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) lab, added to the school.

Inserting arts into science and math studies is a priority of all the teachers, and principal alike. And decorating the school with more art is another goal. Pointing out a Sabra Field mural that graces the walls in the hallway, Thein said, “I like this Sabra Field, but I think it lacks the outdoors— I’d like to do it all around with the four seasons. I’d also love a place in the school that shows flags from different countries.”

Thein enters the Barnard Academy at a time when an uncertain future surrounds the school. In March, as other school districts in the Windsor Central Supervisory Union voted to merge boards in support of a merger plan that involved eliminating grades from Barnard Academy, Barnard elected to maintain its board’s independence, thereby maintaining local district control over the elementary school budget.

Barnard representatives will join the newly formed Windsor Central MUUSD (Modified Unified Union School District) Board to represent Barnard’s interests within the middle and high school portions of the MUUSD only. Barnard Academy’s status as financially independent from the MUUSD relies upon Barnard proving to the state that it meets the goals of Act 46 better by remaining independent, and an Alternative Structures Committee is working on a proposal that aims to show just that.

“We know that Barnard kids will be served best by sustaining our school,” commented Barnard Academy Board member Carin Ewing Park. “We are excited to be working with Hannah this year, who is bringing new energy, innovative ideas, and a community focus to this school.”

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