Working with At-Risk High School Age Students

I know the term “at risk” is a catch-all term for students that have can have many different challenges. I am going to share my thinking about students, that first of all, are not having academic success in a high school setting. Some of you know I am “back in the saddle” so to speak and working in an area public high school in a student support center. This piece is about some of my thinking formed from many years of experience with this kind of teaching.

Some of the students need counseling and the help that can be provided by the counseling services in a school. It is really important for a teacher in an academic support setting to be sensitive to student needs, both expressed verbally, and some just from being able to read people. I often think being able to read people is the best tool I have in my tool box. For some, counseling can help remove the barriers to success and put them back on a path that will be emotionally healthy and productive. I also know that for some, the receptivity for the help of counseling needs to be there, the sort of, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink deal.

Teachers and school staff can help to build this receptivity in ways that are under the surface, but still intentional. And for some, just this kind of effort is all the counseling they need to self-correct. In many cases, the postive remedy is as simple as letting someone know you care and want the best for them. A regular dose of caring goes a long way and cannot be overstated. Sending students off to their next class with the words, “take care,” can be so effective and the sincerity is heard.

Lots can be said about the design of personal learning plans that are tailored to a student’s interests and learning styles, and are also anchored to the standards. I am not going to talk about this now and will bring this up later. This kind of alternative education has been my teaching experience and is very dear to my heart, not just because it is close to my thinking and educational philosophy, but because I have seen it work for many students disconnected from traditional schooling.

Right now, I am going to share some thoughts about using support services and programs for students engaged in traditional academic tracks.

First of all, for a school to dedicate staff and resources to student support services says a lot about the school and its caring to help students be successful.

My experience has been that nothing good happens until trust is established with the student and any staff trying to offer academic support. Once trust is established, the door is open for all kinds of good results. The foundation of trust is being a good listener. I cannot say enough about being a good listener.

Hand in hand with the trust piece is a receptivity on the part of the student for academic support. A lack of receptivity can be just as detrimental to academic success as the absence of a trusting relationship.

With trust and receptivity in place, we are ready to go to work.

The next piece in this puzzle is the recognition of goals. Ok, what are we going to try to do in the time we are working together? How will what we accomplish fit into a bigger picture of goals? This is critical and so important for the student to see the pieces fitting together.

My next tool is allowing for self-directed learning as much as possible. Help students to be self-directed learners. Know when to step back and allow a good process started to work. In time, you, the teacher, will find students need you less as they take control of their learning. Yes, you are still there when they need you, but recognize that and do not make yourself too intrusive in their learning. Student successes will build upon themselves, this is what we want to see happen.

Track progress and achievements, be able to show students a record of what they have accomplished. Also, be able to show students their progress towards goals set. All of this reinforces student success.

When you, the teacher, are working in a student support center, it should always be foremost to establish a learning environment. Why are students coming here to this area? This should guide all that we do as teachers working to support students in out-of-the classroom settings. Time used to manage behaviors is wasted time and takes valuable resources away from all the students accessing the support services.

I strongly suggest mini conferencing with each student coming into the student support room at the beginning of their time. Record what they are coming to work on and get help with. Track it! And, at the end of the period, a closing mini conference with each student can record what has been accomplished. This will reinforce the student’s work ethic and also be helpful to share with classroom teachers referring students to the support center. It establishes a partnership and a model of time management. I always remember the proverb, “Wasted time is lost time, you never get it back.” How true.

After mini conferencing you now can recirculate to the students needing close help. Keep everyone moving in a desired direction and it will be suprising how much good happens.

What I am writing about is the work we can do to help students build good learning habits. We can model this with our students. I have always found it effective to give students a “window into my head” to know what I am thinking. This is a wonderful way to demonstrate problem solving, and even more effective when the teacher is genuinely sharing their thinking about a problem the student is trying to solve. Share with students the wrong turns, the false starts, the hit the wall moments in our thinking. This is a good thing and it helps to build a willingness to problem solve. We do not always get it right first time, and let students know this is how we learn.

Ok, lot of threads of my thinking here. I will try to revisit this piece and build on some of the ideas I am sharing in future pieces. You can say you are forewarned and avoid me if you want. I get it.

Take care,

Ed Pirie

West Topsham, Vermont

Veterans Day/Armistice Day and my Uncle Grover in the A.E.F.

A Vermonter Writes - A Pathfinder

I did a little research to find when Armistice Day became Veterans Day. President Eisenhower signed a proclamation in 1954 officially changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

The first Armistice Day was celebrated on November 11th, 1919 in recognition of the armistice that ended the fighting in World War I on the 11th month, the 11th day, at the 11th hour in 1918. It became quiet across the World War I battlefields and trenches at that time as word passed along that the fighting was over and the “war to end all wars” was over.

In 1926 Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance of Armistice Day and it became a national holiday beginning in 1938. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, many of the adults in my life still used the name of Armistice Day for November 11th. Today, we seldom hear the term…

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What Did I Learn This Year From My Vermont Garden?

Some lettuce, basil, zucchini, peppers, and broccoli with raspberries in the background

At the end of every garden year I try to go over my gardening year and think about what I want to do next year, and what did I learn this year. I keep a garden journal and I will spend some time this winter reading through my notes and thinking about how to get my garden ready for next year.

I am in Vermont, so our garden season is shorter than the growing seasons in warmer climates. A Vermont gardener has to keep in mind our short season, adapt, and be organized to make the most of the growing season we have.

Our growing season in a good year begins sometime in early to mid May and should continue through August. We have been lucky lately with killing frosts holding off until late September. I can remember a time when it was not unusual to get a killer frost in August and we would scramble to get everything covered with whatever we had handy, sheets of plastic, old bed sheets, and whatever could be improvised. Today, many gardeners are using these mini green house tunnel affairs to protect their plants, both in the early spring and late summer/early fall. I have not modernized to this yet, but I am thinking about it, (sort of an old Vermonter here always a little skeptical of the latest thinking).

Some tomatoes, and I should have not planted so many – hard to throw away plants I started from seeds (raspberries in the background)

Ok, so what did I learn this year? Well, at the top of my list is I need to have a way to get more water to my garden during dry spells. We have had longer dry spells these last few summers with a scarcity of rain in July and August. As I do not want to drain my well, I am thinking of some sort of rain water collection system to capture whatever rain water we get. I needed to do more watering this year. I did start putting out pails to collect the rain coming off the roof and this helped, but a better solution with rain gutters and rain barrels would be more helpful. I am thinking this needs to be a high priority for next year.

This past spring I worked to get ready some new raised beds. I did get them ready for this year’s garden before the end of May and they are a good way to garden. My raised beds did well and the plants thrived. They are easy to weed and I can just do a little work with a fork next spring to get the soil ready. I put them to bed this fall with a nice mulch of leaves. The off season will help to compost the leaf mulch and I can fork it into the soil easily next spring. The raised beds are a good addition to my garden.

I have prepared a new bed for next year, about 20′ X 20′. I hope to use this new bed for some peas, beets, sweet corn, and some fall squash varieties. The bed will be ready and is mulched with leaves for a nice winter’s nap.

I also mulched my raspberries with a nice leaf mulch to put them to bed for the winter. The leaves will naturally compost around the raspberry plants and also help to keep the open spaces inbetween the raspberry rows more weed free. Before I mulched, I took my lawn mower and mowed down any raspberry sucker plants that had grown up between the rows of established plants. In past years I have used these suckers to establish new rows and expand my raspberry patch but I am not looking to make the patch any bigger now. I will dig up some new sucker plants next spring and try to give them to any aspiring raspberry grower or just keep expanding the raspberry patch.

I am learning that I am very busy with the gardens from early in July on as so much is getting ripe and needs picking and preserving. July especially and the first half of August are very busy. We canned a lot of raspberry jam this year, almost a hundred jars. We made some bread and butter pickles and some dilly bean pickles, always favorites. We should have done more and could have. I froze most of our blueberry crop, about 15 gallons picked and frozen. I also froze some raspberries that did not get made into jam.

This was an off apple year for us, but next year will have a heavier crop. I need to keep this in mind as I would like to use the apples for either cider or apple sauce. We use some for cooking too.

I think next year, a good project will be to set up a roadside stand to sell some of my extra produce. It will be fun to meet people and also a good way to pass on some of my work and efforts. The food I grow tastes so good and I am proud of my gardens.

Cukes, squash, and green beans

My last lesson, and a big one, is how much of a variable the weather can be. And this, I have no control over. I more than once thought about the folks trying to make a living from their gardens and farms and how dependent they are on the weather.

Well, it is the off season now for my gardens. The gardens have been weeded and mulched with a nice blanket of leaves to put them to bed for the winter. Soon it will be planning season for a new year of gardening and then starting seeds.

Take care,

Ed Pirie

West Topsham, Vermont

Filter the Noise Makers Out

After hearing about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband in his home, I think all of us, and especially the politicians need to step back and think about what they are doing to the temperature in the room. This recent period of hyper politics has been with us since the ascent of Newt Gingrich to the Speaker of the House in the Clinton years. It has only gotten worse. We are tearing the country apart with our elevation of politics to a blood sport.

The debates and conversations are rarely about ideas and most often rooted in cultural war issues. What a shame. We need ideas and the best thinking to tackle our problems. If anything, the culture wars are an issue in themselves. What a waste of time and energy, but it does rev up the bases. I don’t see a lot of thinking going on, just people repeating insults, slogans, cheap shots, and mostly words not worth the effort to say them.

If I remember back to my adolescence in the 60s, our culture was changing big time from the culture my parents grew up in. I think the same could be said about the period they grew up in pre WWII and during the War, not to mention the country they returned to from the War, and experienced in the 50s. I do not remember my parents or my grandparents fighting useless culture war fights. There were some good fights during this time for civil rights and the tragedy of Vietnam. Yes, my parents scratched their heads sometimes and found changes hard to accept or adjust to, but they seemed to know what were the good fights worth fighting. Most of what is tearing us apart today is not the good fights worth fighting.

Recently, I have come out of a short lived retirement to go back to teaching. I have always worked in a school setting with our teenage population. I see young adults trying to make sense of what is happening in the world and trying to prepare themselves for a future. It is up to us to make sure they get a chance at a future. Yes, these young adults are growing up in a very visual world and they are being flooded with information. The crucial skills seem to be critical thinking, problem solving, reading to understand, transferable skills, and developing filters for the flood of information that is useless and intended to push an agenda.

If I were to suggest a priority, it would be to be to learn to filter the noise makers out. Learn who and what to trust. Education will change, it has changed greatly since I was in high school, but the need to learn how and what to trust is the starting point. Good things will happen when we learn what is really trustworthy and to filter out the malarky (there’s a word from my youth – maybe it needs to come back into vogue – lol).

Take care,


Trying Not to Hate the Haters

Boy, such a mean title, kind of chilling that this is what is floating around in my head. I looked at the news this morning and there, you have my mindset. I know we are nearing the endgame of an election season, and the politics of late is not nice, but any restraints or nicities are long gone. We have been moving in this direction for a while now. Decency and the guardrails on public discourse were casualties of the 2016 election cycle. Since then, it is really like our society has given permission to our politicians to be the cartoon character and evil doer, “Filthy McNasty.”

I look to political leaders for ideas and solutions to our problems. I recognize that no party has a monopoly on all the good ideas. I appreciate the way compromise works and the solutions to problems that result in a process of compromise. Mostly, I am looking for good minds suggesting good solutions to present day problems we are faced with. We have plenty of problems in search of solutions, but not many ideas being shared.

Church has turned me off for a long time, and those of you that know me, know I gave it a good try. I find most churches and the preaching today an overload of judging. I find church to be a dismal place. I prefer my own conversations with God. It seems today, church is giving a ho bunch of people permission to judge the rest of us. I leave that at the door. It is a sublime form of hating in my opinion, and it seems to migrate to politics quite easily today.

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, I was so proud of America and being an American. I thought, hey, we have finally moved beyond our past of racism as a nation. All of the struggles for civil rights and equality have finally given us what they were intended to do, a nation trying to be a nation of equality.

Well, all my celebrations to our progress as a nation were flushed down the national toilet. My thinking was premature and overly optimistic. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. The politics of hatred are in vogue today and one party makes every effort it can to court and fan the flames of hatred. What I am stunned by is the receptivity out there in the public for the politics of hatred. It is hard for me to understand that about half the country has no interest in ideas or solutions to problems, but feed them a plate full of hatred and they gobble it up. Leaders stoke the division and partisanship that is characterized by hatred. There are no ideas being presented, and this is fine with so many as long as they get their dose of hatred instead of a meal of ideas.

I am trying hard not to hate the haters. I admit to being revolted by so many. I find myself pulling back into my personal bubble and wishing all of this would pass. I form opinions like we all do, and my opinions of others I keep private. Oh, they are still there, but I am trying not to hate the haters and hope my life will finish in some sort of peace, not just for me, but for all of us. I will be 71 in a couple of weeks, so maybe time is on my side, one way or the other.

Take care,

Ed Pirie

West Topsham, Vermont

A Bit About Our Inflation and the Politics Of

In the early days of the pandemic there was great fear our economy would collapse, and the fear was appropriate. We inacted many policies and pumped all kinds of money into the economy to keep it afloat like mulitple stimulus checks, PPP loans/grants for businesses to keep payrolls going, extended and expanded unemployment benefits, more generous child tax credits, and other ways to pump money and liquidity into the economy.

Bear in mind, this was all before Biden took office. I thought at the time all of this was happening, boy, if we don’t create some fantastic inflationary pressures with all of this, I don’t know what will. I think the need for economic help was more important that the potential inflation that would result.

Ok, here is where I fault, both parties, and especially the Democrats as they are the party that took over after the election of 2020. None of what I am presenting here is economic rocket science. It was all pretty much inevitable given the measures that were taken during the pandemic. Why, and I say WHY with emphasis, not tell the American people what the deal was right up front? I cannot understand this. It should have been done and it still should be done.

The havoc resulting with supply chains and then the global oil market chaos due to the Ukraine war have all made the global inflationary pressures worse. Why not just talk to us. Let us know up front what the potential costs and tipping points are with policies. We need leadership that will level with us and quit playing politics. The needs and seriousness of the issues are too great to be treated as we have been.

We have suffered with poor leadership from both parties for too long. They seem to be only motivated by power and money. I tire of our politics as I see it as being self-destructive.

Take care,

Ed Pirie,

West Topsham, Vermont

A Collection of My Thoughts

Ted Koppel, the veteran ABC journalist and anchor of the program, “Nightline” mentioned something yesterday that has resonated with me. He talked about the ideologues that are driving the Republican Party. I have seen this coming for years. I have talked about those that view political parties like it is their favorite sports team and park their brains on the bench and abandon any thinking. I have seen this close up. Politics for these folks becomes very close to a blood sport, it is a zero sum game, only winners and losers, no middle ground and no room for compromise. Compromise is considered a sign of weakness. Politics like that supported by the Republican ideologues quickly becomes dominated by lies, slanders, and name calling. What I saw is the Democrats were slow and are still slow to respond to this kind of politics not anchored with the truth or by by the norms of decency and fair play. This kind of hyperpartisanship is tearing America apart.

I consider myself an independent and an observer from the outside looking in. I think no party has a monopoly on all the right or best ideas. I do like the government that grew out of Roosevelt’s New Deal. I do like the goverment that grew our most prosperous economic period in the 50s and 60s. I do like the expansion of civil rights to all Americans. I do like a progressive tax system that taxes proportionately to one’s wealth and ability to pay. I do not subscribe to the old argument that grew out of the Civil War South that taxing the wealthy is a form of transferring wealth from the rich to the poor and promotes the poor living off the system. That argument is still being made today.

Getting back to the ideologues, the Left has no counterparts to the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, the Lauren Boberts, Gov. DeSantis, and Gov. Abbot, Louie Gohmert, Alex Jones, Fox News (when push comes to shove, Fox always reverts to their claim that they are only an entertainment program and not a news media) and many others that came into politics out of the Tea Party and the Libertarian movement.

Sarah Longwell recently wrote a piece for “The Bulwark” titled “The End of the Good Republicans; Say goodnight: The party’s over.” (

Ms. Longwell writes of what she calls, “…the Republican Triangle of Doom™: The toxic and symbiotic relationship between GOP voters, GOP elected officials, and the right-wing infotainment media.” She goes on to say, “…there is a substantial segment of hard-right voters who only get their news from outlets that reflect their worldview and those outlets are competing with each other for viewership by becoming more and more outrageous.” Fox is self-admittedly part of this infotainment media. I can see this and have said the same for a while now. I am usually very good at reading people and this is my opinion as well.

This will seem sexist, but it is my observation, at the grass roots level, the worst ideologues are women. I do not know why, but this is my observation. Maybe they are more inclined to be part of a party and see total unthinking support as they way to do this. I don’t know, but this is what I see. Listen to any interviews of women at the Trump rallies and you will know what I mean. Some men are about as bad, but the worst pure party followers seem to be women at the grass roots level. I think they do most of the grass roots party work. This is really evident in the primaries. Now, I am probably going to get a ho bunch of folks mad at me, but that’s ok. I can let it roll off my shoulders the way a duck shed water. I’ll be ok.

My closing observation is this: I have watched the middle class in America struggle and try to hang on for the last 40 years. I have seen the Republican Party court this dissatisfaction and sense of middle class abandonment by the system with rhetoric, but with no intention of actual answers, follow through, or programs. What they have tried to do is focus the middle class anger on the least privileged, minorities, and those seeking entry to the country, especially those of non white status. I think this has been a clever political strategy, fan the flames of dissatisfaction and frustration, but with no real programs to help, just tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations with the explantion that their accumulating wealth will “trickle down” to all of us – it never happened, but what did happen was a greater concentration of wealth at the top, and a growing frustration and anger in those barely hanging on.

There has been great opposition on the Right to investing in America, to rebuilding infrastructure, and returning American industries that left for foreign places, especially Asia. I have never been a globalist. I supported H.Ross Perot when he campaigned in 1992 and talked about the vacuum sucking American jobs out of the country. We could see our industrial heartland being gutted and the good paying jobs sailing away to Asia, especially China during all of this. It was supposed to be good for the shareholders in large corporations and our tax code even facillitated this tragedy. You won’t hear any on the Right admitting this, but it is true.

I will finish the piece with another observation, never has a country spent so much of its wealth, both monetary and human, to defend one industry as we did with our Mideast wars and policy defending the oil industry. Interestingly, it was Saudis, not Iraqis or Afghanis that flew those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. We have propped up the Saudi regime for years, especially with American weapons and our military presence in the Persian Gulf defending the route for oil leaving the Saudi and other Mideast oil fields for destinations all over the world. We have propped up the Saudis in their wars with Iran and Yemen.

Yet, when we need Saudi help with oil supply, it is not there as recently witnessed with the Saudis siding with Russia in OPEC to cut OPEC oil production by 2 million barrels a day to keep the prices high. This was a direct slap at the U.S. and President Biden’s efforts to fight inflation and ease the energy crisis, both here and around the world, and the OPEC/Saudi decision continues to provide funds for the Russian war effort in Ukraine.

Well, for every action, their is a reaction, and our government is now considering pulling our Patriot Missile defense systems out of Saudi Arabia along with other arms/weapons we have furnished the Saudis with. The Patriot Missile defense system is the same system that has kept Israel safe from Iranian missile and rocket attacks. Our government is considering pulling these weapons systems out of Saudi Arabia and giving them to Ukraine where they are desperately needed. Bravo, a good decision in my opinion. The Saudis have never been good allies.

A long piece, my apologies, but a lot to say here.
Take Care,
Edward Walker Pirie
West Topsham, Vermont

Free Thinking

Now, here is an abstraction I would fight for, as many that came before me here in America did as well. Without free thinking, there would be no Mayflower or Plymouth Plantation. Without free thinking there would be no American Revolution, no Constitution as we know it, and no 230 some odd years of American history.

Without free thinking there would be no innovators, no “American Dream,” no birthright to make the most of your life, no Bill Gates, no Steve Jobs, no Microsoft, no Apple, and no great history of the American economy. Without free thinking, there is no literature, no American literature, just propaganda is all we would get. The world without free thinking is a very sad and dismal place. Imagine a world where the only words we are allowed to hear and read come from a Right that wants to control our thoughts and what we think.

So, why are some afraid of free thinking? Why are some afraid of teaching all our history in schools? Why are some afraid of the past that is not always an example of stellar behavior? Why are some afraid of what we might think?

I can give you an example from my lifetime, without free thinking we would probably still be in Vietnam sending more young Americans to a senseless slaughter. Free thinking led me to learn that the protestors, both civil rights and anti war of the 60s were right. Free thinking helped me to learn we do have a climate crisis of our making and we are running out of time to do something about it. If I had stayed in the comfort zone of my upbringing, I would never have learned to question what I hear and read. I would have let others do my thinking for me. I would have been easy picking for the partisan divides that tear American apart today. I cannot do this.

The absence of free thinking allows a Putin to send his own people to a war that is a war crime from its beginning. The absence of free thinking allows a North Korea to exist as a hermit country making bellicose threats just to remind the world that it is there. The absence of free thinking allows a country to shut down information, both coming in and going out.

The absence of free thinking has always allowed dictators to gain and hold power. The absence of free thinking allowed a Holocaust to happen and a country to look the other way as well as much of the world.

The absence of free thinking allows politicians to control our lives – end of story.

I will never be afraid of students being exposed to ideas and free thinking. I will never be afraid of teaching that opens minds to what has been and what could be.

What we should be promoting in our schools is teaching critical thinking. We need to teach respectful discussion. We need to teach an exchange of ideas, not what a thought police says is only allowed.

I shudder when I read the rhetoric coming from the Right. It is not new rhetoric, it has been heard before, try 1930s Germany, try the McCarthy period in the 1950s, try the racist defense coming from the pre civil rights American South, try the Republican movement of led by Reagan and Newt Gingrich in the 1980s, and now try the Trump/MAGA bunch.

All of these are echoes of thought control. This is antithetical to the American experience as we were given by our founders.

I will always fight for freedom to think. I have not leased my brain to anyone and I want to do my own thinking.

If we want to do American students a favor that will carry them through life, teach critical thinking and problem solving. Sorry Far Right, but you are Far Wrong.

Take care and thank you for reading me.

Ed Pirie

West Topsham, Vermont

I Do Not Understand Our Immigration Behavior or Policies

There is something I do not understand with the treatment of undocumented migrants finding their way to the U.S. border. Why are these folks coming under the control of the states and not Homeland Security/Immigrant Control (ICE)? Why are the migrants not being held in federal (ICE) holding/refugee camps until their requests for asylum can be processed or denied? Why is the State of Texas or Florida taking these migrants and using them for political stunts? If we need to appropriate more money for immigration control, then do it. I do not understand how these governors can short cut around immigration control and take the migrants out of the state. I think Florida and Texas are facilitating illegal immigration with their stunts. It seems any migrants captured by a state would need to be turned over to ICE. I know this is what happens here in Vermont. Why not in Texas or Florida? I also have never understood how migrants can travel through Mexico freely, also without documentation, and get to the U.S. border. Apparently walls do not stop the migration of people.

Another piece to this story is that a great deal of this migration is due to climate change and drought. This is the same reason for much of the migration out of Africa to Europe, and also out of places in the Mideast like Syria (remember all the boat poeple in the news in the last few years). As climate change gets worse, human migration will be a bigger problem. Humans have always migrated when the needs for survival have made migration imperative. Now, we will find out just how good a bunch of Christians we really are. I think I know the answer already – not very good. What about some of those “evangelical religious theater churches down south – why are they not helping with this?

Something else that gets conveniently forgotten in all of this, we are a nation of immigrants. Maybe the native Americans should have bussed the Pilgrims down to Mexico. I keep reading where we have worker shortages and the forecast is for the labor shortage to only get worse as Americans have continued to have smaller families and our population ages. I know for years, the large agricultural and food processing companies would actually recruit migrants for work on the farms and food processing plants. I think we still eat so we must also still need these folks.

If you peel away the layers of the onion here, this is really about skin color and white supremacy, nothing else.

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