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There’s always something happening at Vermont Adult Learning

We love sharing stories about our students and their journeys with VAL! Doing so helps amplify the reach of our mission by highlighting the successes of our students and program participants.

Read this April 27, 2022, Letter to the Editor of VTDigger from our Executive Director, Hal Cohen, to learn more about our Energy Works program, an innovative workforce training opportunity focused on the green economy.

You can also check out this December 10, 2021 article featured in the Rutland Herald highlighting funding from the Bowse Health Trust in support of Energy Works.

Keep scrolling to read our archive of quarterly newsletters and press releases!

For additional information on news and events at Vermont Adult Learning, please contact Janine Fleri, Development Director, at (802) 735-1670 or [email protected]

Featured Stories

VAL allowed me to take the reins of my education, my life and my experience.

Sarah, Alumna, High School Graduation Program

Sarah Blake, 27, is a successful entrepreneur in southern Vermont.   She operates her own professional design studio on Putney Road in Brattleboro.  Sarah is also a 2011 graduate of Vermont Adult Learning (VAL).

As owner of Sarah Blake Designs, LLC, (www.sarahblakedesigns.com), Sarah has found her niche, blending a love of designing interior living spaces with entrepreneurial savviness.  Building a successful career was not easy.  Hard work, grit and leaps of faith factored into the equation.

“Early trauma led me down a different path,” Sarah said, as she recounted her early, troubled years at Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS).

Sarah took time away from school to tend to her health. She realized, upon returning, that the environment wasn’t conducive to sustaining the life improvements she was choosing for herself.  Separation was key to forging a new road.

Sarah’s guidance counselor at BUHS recommended she consider VAL to complete her high school diploma.  Sarah hesitated at first; she wanted to be certain that pursuing her education via VAL wasn’t, somehow, less-than what her public high school offered.

“I worried that the unconventional route was a negative, not a positive,” Sarah said.  “I worked with Cindy Holden at VAL and she really understood me as a student.  Leaving BUHS allowed me to decide what I wanted to learn.  Art, music, and voice lessons became part of my educational plan.  At 16, I was allowed to take college classes at CCV* so I started earning college credits as I was completing my high school diploma.  I was allowed to dive right into the adult world and that worked well for me.”

“VAL allowed me to take the reins of my education, my life, and my experience,” Sarah said.  “I had no idea what to do.  People at VAL helped me embrace that uncertainty and explore.  I appreciated the autonomy.  Education gives young people the tools to figure out who they want to become.”

Sarah embraced her full-time VAL studies while working full-time.  She was self-supporting by the time she was seventeen.  Sarah completed her high school diploma from BUHS, via their partnership with VAL.  She earned an Associate Degree in Human Services and Psychology at CCV and studied Business at Southern New Hampshire University.

“I worked in human services and realized that, although psychology was a passion, it wasn’t my career choice,” Sarah said.

Sarah’s entry into interior design came via an invitation from a colleague who recognized her intrinsic sense of how best to create warm, welcoming spaces.  She was working in banking at the time.  You could say it was a bit of a leap of faith.

“I always had this idea that art couldn’t be a ‘career.’” Sarah said. “But, I took a pay cut.  I worked weekends. I backed out of a potential promotion at the bank.  My roots were calling me.”

After being in the industry for over 6 years, Sarah is noticing now more than ever the need for a change in education, particularly in the way students are prepared for the workforce.  “I’m noticing in my industry (i.e., building trades) that the workforce really looks different these days,” Sarah said.  “We’re seeing a bizarre phase of people not working.  Local industries are dying out.  The trades are seeing a real shortage of young people.  I find this to be a great example of how our educational systems can improve.  It’s an opportunity for us to notice areas for potential skill building, and exposure to more areas of the workforce—not just your average planning for college.  There are endless possible careers, and high school should be the place we get to explore them all. Luckily, for me, I got to experience this through VAL.  A more autonomous, hands-on learning experience allowed me to be unconventional and self-employed by age twenty-five and it changed my life.”

“VAL places students in the driver’s seat and gets them out into the world,” Sarah said.  “That’s exactly what I needed.”

“Our world is shifting and we need to be more creative about how to be successful,” Sarah observed.  “Now is the best possible time for education to change.  I hope VAL can give everyone the chance to be successful.  It doesn’t have to ‘look’ a certain way.  It’s actually cool when it looks different.”

Working with students like Sarah is what inspires us to do the work we do at VAL!  Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your story!

*Community College of Vermont

In your heart you are at home.

Paco, English Language Learning Student

Paco carries a small black notebook, ready to capture his poetic musings. Trained as an accountant, he attended university in Mexico and worked in a bank for thirteen years before arriving in the United States.  Paco cultivates his poet’s zest for beautiful words while managing a Vermont dairy farm.  He is earning money to pay his daughter’s tuition in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico. Paco is an English Language Learning student at VAL.

He admires the writing of Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), an Uruguayan poet, novelist and journalist.  Benedetti was a member of the famed Generacion del 45, an Uruguayan intellectual and literary movement, whose members launched their careers in the years 1945-50.  Interestingly, Benedetti spent the early part of his career working as an accountant.

Paco arrived in New York City in April 2017, carrying photos of his parents and his daughter.  He learned from a friend that there was work in Vermont—on a farm.  Paco, who grew up in a city of 277,000 people, embraced the opportunity as part of his adventure!

“I needed a job,” Paco said.  “I never worked on a farm before.  In the beginning, I didn’t speak English.  I was in the milking parlor, then, in the maternity, where I helped calving cows.  After two years, I became the farm manager.  I check all the jobs for the guys to make sure they are working well, following the protocols. I check all the machines to make sure they are working well.  If there’s a small problem with a machine, I can fix it.  If there’s a bigger problem, I can call the mechanic.”

Paco’s ability to speak Spanish and English is helpful in his work as some of his co-workers benefit from receiving direction in their native tongue.  He’s able to teach the “new guys” the skills they need to be successful on the job.  His math skills, from past work as an accountant, come in handy when analyzing milk production data.

“My boss is kind,” Paco said.  “He speaks some Spanish and, now that I’m learning English, I can express my opinion in meetings.”

Learning to speak English well and advance educationally is a challenge Paco has taken on with the same work ethic he applies to his job.  He earned his GED in 2020 and earned a diploma in Everyday English.  He also participates in agricultural webinars via the University of Vermont Extension Service.

“I want to speak English well,” Paco said.  “Then, maybe I can find a good life.  I can say I feel happy here.  The people around here are pretty kind, but the language is a huge challenge.  Joy (VAL ELL Teacher) and Charlene (VAL Volunteer) are very patient with me—it’s very much appreciated.”

“All of my ELL students come with unique backgrounds and stories, but Paco’s is particularly inspiring,” Joy said.  “I am constantly in awe of his progress and determination to improve himself on so many levels. He requested incorporating poetry into our lessons and as you can see from his poem, Migrant, his talent is outstanding. I get the chills every time I read it!”

Paco’s dad, Francisco, advised him years ago, “Si tu decides ser un empleado, está bien pero deberás ser el mejor,” translated as, “If you decide to be an employee, it’s fine, but you must be the best.”

Paco has been writing poetry for about twenty years, first, in Spanish and, now, in English.  He never took a poetry class.  Words just come together, revealing his poet’s voice.  His recent poem, Migrant, appears below.

Migrant  By Paco M

Migrant – that’s who I am, because that’s how he names me

a society that was commissioned

to create borders, so as not to mix

as if he was afraid, without knowing why.

Yes, the one who has left home

to find a way to reach

his dreams regardless of the distance

that he has to travel to achieve them.

I am standing, without feeling

any fatigue, even when my body

screams inside me to let it take

a breath that I do not get.

I am a migrant because I keep the illusion 

and the longing to return home to my people 

with their voices telling me

Don’t worry anymore, in your heart, you are at home. 



Vermont Adult Learning is my son’s school.  This is where he can thrive.

Tom, VAL Parent

“I’d never heard of VAL before,” Tom said.  “It didn’t apply to me or anyone I knew.  Once we went into the St. Albans office and met the staff, Tommy was on board.  He’d missed a lot of school and was hungry to learn.  I began driving Tommy to VAL a couple of times a week and waited for him as he worked with the teachers.  The staff gave him the time and attention he needed.  They talked with him on a respectful level and set high expectations, matching what Tommy was capable of.”

VAL provided individualized learning opportunities, small classes and 1:1 instruction.  Tommy played an active role in planning out what he was studying, allowing him to delve more deeply into areas of personal academic interest.

“Chad (a VAL staff member) said ‘If you work hard, I will work just as hard for you,’” Tom recalled.  “Tommy really took that to heart and worked with Chad and other outstanding St. Albans staff including Amy, Kristy and Dawn. Tommy really connected with every staff member in that office.”

“The biggest thing as a parent is to be as involved as possible,” Tom said.  “When you have a kid like Tommy, be open and be willing to stick it out.  The staff at VAL has been amazing.  Our family has had a wonderful experience.”

Tommy continues to read voraciously AND he’s on track to earn his high school diploma.

My job is to help students remove obstacles

 Nancy, Volunteer

Nancy Mark was born and raised in New Jersey.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.  She retired after serving as principal of the Mettawee Community School in West Pawlet, Vermont, for twenty-four years.

“We served a number of families who moved here from Mexico and Central America,” Nancy said.  “They helped keep our dairy farms running and were essential members of the community.”

Working with those immigrant families sparked an interest.  Nancy took an online course on teaching English Language Learners (ELL) and began volunteering for the Vermont Adult Learning office in Rutland in 2014.

“I usually meet one-to-one with students with instruction focused on reading, writing and speaking,” Nancy said. “I often choose an article that is a bit of a ‘stretch’ for a student, something from The Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker.”

Nancy is intentional in her reading choices for students.  She assigns articles that touch upon topics in education, history or culture—areas that offer valuable perspectives on life in the United States for these new arrivals.  She hooks students’ interests, paving the way to enhance grammar and vocabulary skills.  Nancy’s ELL students hail from Syria, Ecuador, South Korea, Japan, Russia, etc.  She’s a friendly face to help them gain their footing in a new culture.

Nancy mentioned an ELL student from Ecuador who earned a Master’s in Economics in her home country.

“I didn’t think she believed she’d be able to apply her degree here.  I asked for her permission to share her resume, which she granted.  The following semester, my student was teaching as an adjunct at Castleton University,” Nancy said, with a hint of pride in her voice.

“I find this work very rewarding.  I learn a lot from my students.  I am constantly reminded how much they have to offer to this community and our country.  As an educator, I’ve always believed in the importance of equal opportunity for everyone—kids and adults—and to make sure it’s not inhibited,” Nancy said.

“I want to make sure anyone coming to our country feels welcome and feels armed with the tools to be successful.  My job is to help them remove obstacles.  I want our message to be, ‘We welcome you.’”

A lot of these students haven’t been successful in the traditional classroom setting,

Patty Davenport, School Partner

Cosmos U is a unique collaboration between Springfield High School (SHS) and Vermont Adult Learning (VAL).  The program, piloted in 2018, supports students at risk of not graduating by providing special support services.  Springfield High School collaborates with VAL on the design and hires VAL teachers to deliver instruction.

A positive attribute of the highly individualized program is that students remain enrolled at the high school, even as they are accessing VAL’s services.  The program graduated about 10 students its first year and is continuing.

“Instruction (by VAL) is delivered at the high school, within the student’s schedule,” Patty Davenport said.  “The program is great for students who need the structure of showing up every day at school.  This also allows participants to enroll in other classes offered by the high school.”

What are the results thus far?  Participants are staying in school.  They are earning credits towards their high school diplomas.  They are not dropping out.  They are graduating on time.

“A lot of these students haven’t been successful in the traditional classroom setting,” Davenport said.  “With Cosmos U, we’re able to really meet students’ individual needs.  The kids who graduated last year graduated because of the program.”

I love all the teachers.  They’re just great.  I was inspired to do my best when my teachers told me I was doing good work.

Holly, VAL graduate and student at Community College of Vermont

Holly takes pride in being a very involved parent to her five-year-old son.  She loves spending time with him whether they’re coloring, biking or simply playing in autumn leaves.  She enjoys helping him practice writing his letters and numbers.  

“He is my world.  He is my heart.  He is my soul,” Holly said.  “I just like watching him grow and learn.”

As a single parent raising her son in Burlington, where housing is expensive, Holly has been forced to learn to stretch her finances.  She dreams of being able to take a real vacation with her son, “someplace warm and sunny with sandy beaches.”

She is on a track to realizing her dream.  It hasn’t always been easy.

Holly was raised in Charlotte, Vermont.  At sixteen, she left home and moved to Addison County to live with an aunt and uncle.  She enrolled in high school, joined the cheerleading squad and got a customer service job at Kinney Drugs.  She liked her art class, especially creating pieces in black ink and charcoal.  It still wasn’t enough to keep her engaged.  She dropped out at seventeen.  

“My cheerleading coach encouraged me to stay in school,” Holly said.  “She said, ‘You can live with us.’  They were a foster family.  I just wasn’t ready.”

Holly moved to Burlington to live with another aunt and uncle.  She resumed her studies at Burlington High School.  Here home life was challenging and she was expected to provide many hours of childcare for a younger cousin.  She began hanging out with the wrong crowd.  She dropped out of school again.

Although Holly dabbled a little in Vermont Adult Learning’s (VAL) offerings in Middlebury, she was–finally–ready to pursue her high school diploma at age thirty, shortly after her son was born.

Holly enrolled in the High School Completion Program at VAL’s Burlington office when her son was eight months old.  She praised her teachers effusively.

“My first two years at VAL, we focused mostly on math.  Stan (Math Teacher) met with me every Thursday for two years,” Holly said.  “He worked with me and made sure I got it.  I love all the teachers.  They’re just great.  They really inspired me to do my best when my teachers told me I was doing good work.”

  During that time, juggling single parenting with school and work proved very difficult.

“It was super hard,” Holly recalled.  “When my son turned three, I talked to Reach Up*  and was able to stop working and focus on my education and caring for my son.  I really wanted that diploma.”

The strategy worked.  Holly’s credit accumulation accelerated and she graduated with her high school diploma in June 2019.  She enrolled in a medical terminology course in the Allied Health Preparation Program at the Community College of Vermont.  She plans to transfer to Vermont Technical College to become a certified dental hygienist.  She volunteers at VAL’s Burlington office two days a week.

Holly earned a nickname while enrolled at VAL, “The Holly Monitor.”  She’d be the student encouraging her peers to go to class.  

When Holly settles down to do her college homework, her son, often sitting beside her, will say, ”Yeah, I have homework just like you do, Mom.”

*Reach Up is a program run by the State of Vermont’s Department for Children and Families (DCF) to help low-income parents gain job skills and find work so they can support their minor children. 

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For the Press

For the Media

Our Vision

Vermont Adult Learning works for the day when all Vermonters are prosperous and have the life skills and knowledge to achieve success in their careers, family and community.

Further, we envision Vermont Adult Learning as a leader in education and training for those 16 years and older, and as a key resource in helping Vermonters to be successful in achieving their goals.

Our Mission

Vermont Adult Learning’s mission is to create an innovative, inclusive and equitable learning environment that provides personalized opportunities for education and career development for Vermont residents by building relationships, strengthening communities, and fostering life-long learning.

Media Relations Contacts

Members of our staff can be available to answer specific questions about our programs and services, or to comment on issues related to the programs and services provided by Vermont Adult Learning.

Please direct all media-related inquiries to:

Janine Fleri
Development & Communications Director
(802) 735-1670
[email protected]

See also

Annual Reports




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