January 1, 2016

Long Trail School turns 40


Understanding the passion of students is at the core of Long Trail School in Dorset, an independent program for students in grades 6-12. Founded 40 years ago, the school has grown from a handful of students to 182 strong today.
The first kernel of growth began with an auxiliary, off-campus program of Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester. Dave Wilson and Rene Schrauth were the program’s founders. Working from a base in a farmhouse on River Road, students flourished in the alternative environment.
As Wilson explained, “While working at Burr and Burton a few parents and kids asked us to start a school. So, we designed a school based on how we learned best in school and what we thought a school should offer kids. The assumptions we made were that small classes enhanced learning for kids, that setting high and demanding expectations both academically and behaviorally are goals that kids will almost always try to reach, and that a hard work ethic is rewarding and leads to success. Lastly, that an informal and supportive small-school environment is best for kids, to enhance their growth both as students and young people.”
In rented space at the former Dorset Sportsman Club, students gathered to begin their studies. Not long after, a campus was underway on Kirby Hollow Road in Dorset. Additions to the main building, playing fields and, most of all, the programming, soon began attracting students from throughout southern Vermont.
Steven Dear, current head of school, is in his fourth year at the helm. Earlier, he headed up an initiative known as “the fireside chats,” with staff opening the books of the school for all to see. As he explained, when they understood the workings of the school, “they took ownership.”The result has been rewarded several times over.
In the past couple of years, “…we have launched new arts programs and grown the sports offerings. The arts give students confidence. The school’s International Baccalaureate program has been met with a renewed commitment to the rigors of the academic experience. Providing challenges to students leads to success,” Dear said.
Dear added, the student involvement goes past the school day: “When the busses are ready to go, the kids aren’t.”
The formula seems to be working. Dear believes the school has the capacity and facilities to grow to 215–225 students.
History teacher and director of admissions Katie Redding has been at Long Trail for the past six years.
“What sets us apart is our traditional, rigorous academic program that provides a 21st-century approach to teaching and learning — all within a close-knit and compassionate community. We take a whole-child approach to schooling. Students are challenged academically, in the arts, and athletics, and have opportunities to participate in all of those programs without getting pigeon-holed as a jock, artist, musician, or scholar. Students are attracted to our school because it is a safe place. At LTS it is cool to be yourself and it is cool to be smart. We celebrate all of our students for their individuality and unique perspective.”

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