VCC VISTAs are typically placed on college campuses and work within the college community to support programming related to college access. But VCC VISTA Abbey Lamay-West’s position takes a different approach: she is working at Bridport Central School, a community host-site, to create a college-going culture for K-6 students and their families. Instead of working on just one campus-community relationship, Abbey is forming a multipronged connection between Bridport and a variety of campuses in Vermont, while also asking “what can we do to make college more of an option for the families and students with whom we work?”
Bridport is a K-6 Elementary School with a total of 93 students. Of those 93, 68% are on free-or-reduced lunch. Many parents don't see college as being a viable option for their own children, based on their own experiences in school. Creating opportunities for parents and students to have good experience on a college campus makes college seem accessible.
Just five months into her VISTA term, Abbey has created a multitude of opportunities for children and their families to connect with colleges in Vermont. Five campuses have joined the “Adopt-a-Classroom” Initiative, which is a formalized relationship between Bridport and College Campuses. Campuses, including Middlebury, Castleton State College, VT Technical College, St. Michael’s, Champlain College, and CCV. These campuses enter into partnerships with a classroom, and share information about their campus, give the students college gear, and help the elementary students develop a college-going identity. Middlebury even had a “Bridport Night,” and invited students and their families to a hockey game in celebration of their community which 70 families attended! Kathleen Kilbourne, Principal at BCS said “having been the Director of PIRC (Parent Information Resource Center) I have an appreciation of parents and community relationships as a way to promote lifelong learning.” Kathleen continued to say that Abbey’s position has already widened the worldview of many of the Bridport Students, and they are already talking about college differently, as more of an attainable goal. Erin Scott, a mother of two Bridport students, had this to say about the Middlebury Hockey Game, and the Adopt-a-Classroom Initiative: “Being on a campus can be intimidating. But now, my daughter is so excited about her classroom being ‘adopted’ by St. Michael’s College that I am planning on taking her on a campus tour.”
Claire Huestis is a lifelong Bridport resident and President of the Bridport PTO. She was excited by Abbey’s position at Bridport because many students at the school don’t see college as being important to their future goals. “Bridport is comprised of two different groups: people who own the farms and people who work on the farms. The people who own the farms are getting education.” Having a college presence in Bridport excites Claire—it’s nice to learn about colleges besides Middlebury and UVM, especially colleges that have technical and agricultural programs.
In all, Abbey’s work involves Pre-K & Kindergarten teachers Shelly Becker & Beth Bearor in partnership with Champlain College, 1st Grade teacher Roxanne Greene in partnership with St. Michael's College, 2nd Grade teacher Lauralea Curavoo in partnership with Vermont Technical College, 3rd/4th Grade teacher Robin Herrick in partnership with CCV Middlebury, 4th/5th Grade teacher Sara Russell in partnership with Middlebury College, 6th Grade teacher Amy Buxton in partnership with Castleton State College. In addition to these classroom partnerships, Bridport Central School has partnered with ASHOKA Changemaker Schools Network, Bridport PTO, Bridport Parents/Community, United Way, Everybody Wins! and Migrant Education.
Like all of our VISTAs, Abbey is dedicated to ensuring that college aspirations and access are the central focus of her work. We are so thankful to the member campuses and community groups who have been willing to join with Abbey on this adventure, and we truly believe there a replicable model in this school-based, community-driven, effort.