Here is an introduction to the new members of our school community.
Laura Heil, High School Science
Laura Heil was deep in the forest of Zambia, Africa, late at night, holding a flashlight.
She was helping a research team to collar a cheetah.
“They darted it, shot it with some medicine to make it go down,” she says. “Then they drove up to it and put a radio collar around it.”
“I learned so much just sitting there and watching the team do their thing,” Laura says.
Now Laura is looking on again, this time in a classroom, as an intern with Alison Gauthier in the science department.
Laura’s first glimpse into teaching was as a Spanish tutor in high school in Hudson Falls, New York.
“I was really nervous but it just came naturally to me,” Laura says. “I had an awesome science teacher in high school. He was also a really big part in why I wanted to teach.”
Laura recalls a time teaching in Maine when she worked closely with a troubled student. “The first time I met him he was incredible, super curious, into the content, asking tons of questions, and very well behaved,” Laura says.
“This student, who had a really hard time in the classroom, when he was outside, in a more comfortable environment for him, it was like a totally different person.”
Laura says she hopes her relationships with students can be similar to the relationship she had with her science teacher in high school, and to the relationships she sees Alison has with her students, “it’s clear respect but also very friendly, welcoming and inclusive.”
Drew Junkins, Geometry
Class was over, school was out, and Drew was the only life left in the math wing. He was determined; focused on preparing his room, moving posters, and transferring supplies to and from the office next door.
Drew is a new math teacher at U-32. His preference in math is algebra but he has adapted to what the school needs: geometry.
He looks very young, fresh-faced, eager — not much different from those he teaches.
“Back in high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he started, “I knew I was good at math, I wasn’t good at English, science and history would be difficult, so I pursued math not really knowing where it could take me.”
He now knows what he wants out of his career and who he wants to help.
Drew started work at summer camps when he was sixteen, where he first discovered his passion for working with kids. He student taught at Vergennes Union High School before getting his first actual teaching job here.
“I want to help the kids that have had and still struggle with the tough experiences from their childhood,” Drew says.
“One inspiration was my mother actually, she was a teacher. She taught with students who had early childhood traumatic experiences. She drove me to do the same.”
Abigail Brophy, Middle School Language Arts
It’s 9:00, band one in Porthos Core. A group of five 7th graders are over by the window passing around an empty package of gum, smelling it. Abbey takes the package and persuades them back to their seats.
Abbey Brophy is a new middle school English teacher in Porthos Core. After high school, she attended St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. “I actually graduated there in May,” she says, “and just fell in love with Vermont…”
Abbey says she has always wanted to teach. “I don’t know if there was a snapping point, I just always knew…”
Teaching “…kinda runs in my family,” Abbey says. This is her first official teaching job, after student teaching in Williston.
“The kids,” Abbey says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
She talks about how stressful it has been to get started as a teacher. “I’m starting from scratch.” She’s created all of her own materials for the class, and says that when she’s with the students it reminds her why she’s there.
Abbey feels she needs to be stricter with the 8th graders. “The seventh graders don’t know any better,” she says. The 8th grade students know she’s new, but that isn’t holding her back.
“The best way to manage a class if to build relationships with kids” she says. “I’m very student centered.”
Abbey wants to remind all new students one important thing. She wants everyone “to know how lucky they are to have access to an education, and be here and able to learn in a safe environment everyday.”
Brennan Lynch, High School Math
Brennan Lynch sits at her desk beside Kate McCann; papers scattered and laptop open. Her desk might look unorganized, but she know’s exactly what she wants from her intern experience at U-32.
“I hope to get my students moving in class,” she says. “Math class for a lot of students causes a lot of anxiety, so I’m hoping to incorporate some movement to make math a little bit more engaging.”
Brennan’s first glimpse into teaching was when she started working with the Dream Program at UVM. The program pairs up low income teens with college students.
“Through working with my mentee and all his neighbors and family for those fours years, I kind of realized I wanted to be teaching,” she says.
Brennan recalls asking her mentee what he thought about her becoming a teacher. His response: “Whoa, if you were my teacher, that’d be lit.”
Kate has been a huge help in showing Brennan the ropes.
“She is showing me how to create lesson plans and collaborate with other teachers throughout the school,” says Brennan. “Learning new things everyday.”
Sarah Richardson, Special Education
Sarah Richardson got her first taste in education back when she did an environmental education program for her last semester in college. She got an internship at a residential treatment center and worked with kids who would then go to the Institute, a farm with plants and animals.
Lots of the kids there “…had really unfortunate pasts…” and would act out and need to be restrained to calm down. Kids had to earn their right to leave the center to go to the Institute.
“…One student wanted to work on the farm so bad, and his behaviors were really challenging,” Sarah said. “It took him about three months to stop getting into the cycle of restraint.” Eventually he earned his right to go to the farm and changed once he began to work with animals.
“I moved to Vermont about six years ago and this was the school I wanted to go to… I worked in upstate New York for about nine years, but there were no openings here, so I applied and started working at a different school in Vermont for a few years…And lo and behold…here I am, you guys were hiring and I was really excited to see that.”
Sarah is an advocate for kids. She believes in proficiencies and it was one of the main reasons she was drawn to U-32 in the first place.
Sarah is a special ed teacher here now. She also works in Blue Table for 11th and 12th grade students and works in the 10th grade Translation Academy. She understands how all students work differently and how transferable skills should be more than getting the right answer on a test.
“What this school offers to students is really special and my step daughter has graduated from here, my husband graduated from here and they’ve said nothing but great things. So I know they weren’t here for proficiency, but even just the freedom you get from U-32 and the individualism for everyone’s plans is really special.”
Erin Wysolmerski, Middle School Science
“I was kinda like the nerd good kid, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Erin Wysolmerski peeks out the window from the worn chair at her desk and chuckles, “I think a lot of teachers end up being that way; you like school so you become a teacher.”
Erin left her family behind in Reading Pennsylvania to get her masters in biology, where she had amazing opportunities like genetically modifying zebrafish. These fish have a high quality sequenced genome which makes it easier to modify and “make them glow.” We share 70% of zebrafish genes, which are often used as models for humans in labs.
“We used them to study how the eyes develop in humans”
Erin became a library volunteer at 13 and has taught anywhere from Sunday school to college courses, which she taught at night during the school year.
“I started teaching really young and have always enjoyed it,” she says, “It seemed like something I was good at.”
Erin also was a long term sub at U-32 before this year. On my way to talk to her I was stopped by a friend who asked where I was going.
“Oh Erin Wysolmerski? I love her!”
Steve Sheeler, Middle School Social Studies
Steve Sheeler sits at his desk in a black rolly chair tucked away into the far corner of the his room. Streaks of light reflect off of the Steelers poster on the wall next to him. Its 2:10 on a Wednesday afternoon, and all his students have left
He’s the new middle school social studies teacher coming from Missisquoi Valley. Before he was a teacher he worked on an assembly line.
“It was just long hours and miserable work,” he says. “I wanted to reassess how I was contributing to the world.”
He worked for a landscaping company in San Diego for a few years, and when he moved back to Vermont he had a hard time finding a job. He applied to the Teacher Education Program at UVM, which placed him at U-32 to student teach.
“One of the things I really believe in is being involved in something other than just school,” he said. “At my previous school, Missisquoi Valley, in the fall they had two options for boys– it didn’t serve a significant population of kids in the school.”
“And through a large community effort we developed and built a football team.”
Steve became the first head coach of their team. Afterwards, he received a letter from a former player.
“He really looked at me as someone he respected and was thankful for all that I’d done” he said. “I think it had a lot to do with developing a family connection through that football team.”
Steve brings that same connection to his classroom. “I want students to feel empowered to do work in the classroom and create their new understandings,” he said, “rather than me force feed it to them- it doesn’t work.”
Peter Arsenault, Physical Education
Our new physical education teacher is laid back in his chair, relaxed, focusing on his lessons for later in the day. Arsenault puts a lot of time into planning, and tries to adjust to his students. “If they aren’t grasping the lesson then I approach it a different way,” he says.
He is excited to work at U-32. “When I was long term subbing, I got the feeling of the old school I worked at. The way they are organized to help the teachers and students. While being happy where I live at.”
Peter went to UNH to study outdoor education and ended up becoming a physical education major. “I played Rugby and Volleyball until I wanted to settle down with my family and raise my children.”
Molly Butts, Physical Education
It’s 2:45, shortly after the end of school. One of the new P.E. teachers, Molly Butts, sits in the gym office talking to her coworker Judy Abbiati. Cooper, a therapy dog, wags his tail as Judy offers a short walk, and Molly shifts her attention to her computer.
Molly Butts grew up in Peru, New York, on a horse farm. She spent her free time riding horses.
After high school, Molly attended Murray State University in Kentucky, where she got her undergraduate degree. She competed on the school’s rodeo team.
Molly took her first teaching job in the Bronx, New York.
“They were the most challenging three years of my life,” she says. “I couldn’t get [the students] to come to school, I couldn’t get them to change their clothes, I couldn’t get them to do anything. There was a cop in every hallway, a cop in every door to the school.”
After leaving that job, Molly took a position teaching P.E. in Germany at a German American school.
“Out of 200 kids, I had maybe 5 that weren’t athletic,” she says. “They’re so motivated by their grades that you tell them to run a mile and they would say ‘how fast?’”
During her time in Germany, Molly traveled to 40 different countries. “The last two years I was traveling almost every other weekend.” She learned to ski in the Alps.
Finally, Molly got her job at U-32. “This has been a really big change of pace,” she says.
She says she doesn’t care about physical ability from students: “I am looking for effort.”
Deb Koretz, Spanish
It was calm in the high school for midday. The halls were barren, classrooms empty, teachers getting in their few minutes of quiet for the day. One such person was Debbie Koretz, a new Spanish teacher here at U-32.
Debbie has been teaching Spanish for nearly 20 years, starting her journey in Stowe as a long term sub, before moving to Castleton. She stayed there for a year, before moving to Middlebury Union High School to spend thirteen years before moving out to California to a private school in Pebble Beach for the last four years.
Debbie is working towards getting her endorsement to teach English as a second language. “I was only looking for a one year position, and then would see what was out there,” she said. “But I love the environment here, and I would be happy to stay.”
Pauline Cheeseman, Physics and Middle School Robotics
Pauline Cheeseman is one of the new teachers here at U-32, she teaches physics as well as middle school robotics. She is from Ohio and this is her fourth career, which she decided to pursue after she raised her two kids.
“I first started out teaching in a public school but then I ended up teaching in a public Catholic school for 10 years which I really enjoyed,” she said. “I’ve taught chemistry but mostly physics– three levels, including AP.”
“A typical day in my classroom would be a lot of hands on activities, I like to get the students involved in doing things and talking to each other, problem solving,” she said. “I like to do a lot of demonstrations… to joke around alot. I like to cook, I’m really a cooking enthusiast.”
Pauline is always looking for ways to improve her teaching. She learned organizational skills through a former co-worker.
“I learned from another teacher I observed when I was getting my teaching license in Ohio,” she said. “She was a 9th grade physical science teacher and she taught me how to keep the students organized by using a method… which would help the students problem solve by keeping their story problem organized… the best thing I’ve learned from a teacher, ever….”
Pauline is an outdoor person. “I love to ski and run, I run everyday and hike,” she said. “During the winter time it’s mostly skiing and snowshoeing.”
Andrew Conforti, Special Education
The first time I contacted Andrew Conforti over email, we decided on a time to meet for an interview. He told me to meet him in the atrium and “look for the guy you’ve never seen before.”
As I was looking for him there was another older man standing by the front doors who I’d never seen before, so I started talking to him. He wasn’t who I was looking for– he was a parent. But he just went along with what I was saying.
I found Andrew soon after standing by the atrium stairs talking with one of the administrators.
Conforti is a new football coach and special educator. Until this year, he lived in New Jersey, where he went to high school and college. He moved to Vermont this spring and soon after joined our community at U-32.
His hobbies growing up were playing sports,
“I was always into sports in high school,” he said. “I was a three sport athlete. I played football, basketball, and lacrosse”.
“About two years ago I made the decision to move up to Vermont,” he said.
He wanted to raise his children here and move closer to family.
Alex Bell, a senior on the football team, had a good first impression of Conforti.
“The first day of practice Andrew was new to the team and nobody knew his name,” Bell said. “When I finally asked his name, instead of getting angry and making me run, Andrew smiled and told me his name. He thanked me for talking to him straight up.”
Andrew is very thankful and excited that he got his job here at U-32. He said, “I had six interviews before this one, and leaving here after the interview I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
“I love the therapeutic nature of this school.