Three years, 1,095 days, since I drove to the post office and dropped off an envelope full of my hopes, dreams, passions, and naivete. The excitement, nerves, and doubt surging through my body as I released the packet into the mailbox were most closely matched by clicking “send” on my first college application in high school. I thought I had an idea as to what the Rowland Foundation represented and the kinds of doors it opened. While some of my guesses were accurate- traveling to inspiring conferences, engaging in complex discussions around education, meeting new and awesome people- but I had no idea the extent to which my identity would be forever shaped by the lasting legacy of the Rowlands.
This week, the students from my steering committee three years ago, began to receive information about their future academic careers. These students, who joined the committee due to frustration and confusion around the purpose of proficiency-based and personalized learning, have spent the past two years presenting at conferences, proposing legislation, attending early college, directing plays, hiking the Long Trail, and extending their learning in the ways they have determined, rather than the system leading them. These students are thriving.
I spent this past week trying out new ways for students to engage with the world around them in new (for me), more authentic ways of demonstrating their learning. My Global Studies elective spent two mornings this week teaching third grade students about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Both sets of students were beaming from ear-to-ear as they discussed the impact of the changing South Burlington landscape, the impact of climate change on fish and clean water, and the impact of access to healthy foods on our abilities to learn. My ninth graders taught their peers about case studies around the world while analyzing how the governments’ decisions impact an individual’s access to education. The genuine wondering spurred by listening to the stories of the students and of the individual’s research cannot be replicated when taking a test or writing an essay. Genuine conversation and interest were the center of their work. This work has been possible because I had the time and space to reflect on how and why I believe in proficiency-based learning. I believe in it, because I see how it can center students and challenge inequity the conventional grading system reinforces.
The risks I take in class, the conversations I have with students and colleagues are the direct result of the unparalleled opportunities Rowland has offered. My cohort has pushed my thinking beyond a realm I could have deemed possible. The Rowland leadership has supported difficult conversations and provided unwavering inclusion. The Rowland Family continues to show up when I need them most.
As the newest potential Rowland Fellows scramble to change their fonts, double-check their references, and engage in new levels of self-doubt, know that it is worth all the late nights. The Rowland Family is here for you.
Emily Gilmore (@Queen_Gilmore) is a 2017 Rowland Fellow and Social Studies teacher at South Burlington High School. Current sparkers of joy include: donuts, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, her cats (Minnie and Daisy), Queer Eye on Netflix, and planning her next adventure .