Rutland City Schools Superintendent Adam Taylor announced at Thursday’s Project VISION meeting a new program designed to help Rutland Middle School students deal with emotional problems and poverty.
Taylor said there had been a “wave of kids sent for crisis support (for) self-harm, potential suicide, crisis at home” at RMS.
“We need caring, loving, nurturing adults to come tutor, to mentor, to be aunts and uncles to our kids, to support them, not academically. First we have to support them emotionally. We have to give them the things that they’re looking for,” he said.
Still in its early stages, Project Wrap-Around Life in the Middle would start at RMS, but could expand to other schools in the district or other school districts in the area.
Taylor suggested adult volunteers would serve in a mentor capacity, developing relationships with students and showing an interest in them. But, Taylor said, volunteers would be screened to prevent adults from entering the program who were seeking inappropriate relationships with students.
He said it was part of his effort to make Rutland a model for education.
“We have great staff. We have phenomenal kids, but we also live in a community that’s in crisis,” Taylor said.
Taylor said Rutland was fifth in poverty among the Vermont schools that have federally funded meal programs.
He said the concerns about poverty explained his reluctance to close the schools because of snow.
“If I can forego a snow day, I’m not calling it. Our kids come to school for warmth. They come to eat, too, sometimes three meals a day. They come to be loved, and I can’t guarantee their safety at home,” he said.
Taylor said he envisioned volunteers at the school before, during or after school, possibly greeting students and asking them what they needed, whether it be food, clothing or conversation.
Assistant Superintendent Rob Bliss recounted a recent conversation he had when asked about whether students were happy for the holidays.
“I said, ‘Hey, guess what, I was at the middle school today, guess what I saw?’ I saw some kids with next to nothing walk in with a few candy canes and hand them to their friends. They were trying to do it. I saw as many kids walking in crying, terrified of their coming vacation. Also, under social pressures from their peers, social media and everything else to be someone that they maybe can’t be,” he said.
Asked about how the program might help students with online bullying and harassment, Taylor said he wanted to develop a training program for parents and students.
Bliss added the school district had the advantage of a cyber-youth club at the high school.
“Mr. Taylor and I show up at your house and start teaching you how to use social media, you’re going to checkout and start checking your phone, but if your peers stand in front of you and teach you, it makes a big difference,” he said.
Taylor said he and Bliss were working on an orientation. For now, he said, volunteers should reach out to the central office at 6 Church St., so educators can gauge the interest in supporting the program.
Having been open about his own background, including growing up without a father, Taylor said he hoped to see male volunteers. He said he believed many Rutland students were growing up like he did without a male role model.
After the presentation, Joe Kraus, chairman of Project VISION, called the proposal the third great moment in the organization’s nearly seven-year history. The first two involved the Rutland City Police Department and Rutland Regional Medical Center reaching out for help in responding to the opioid crisis and health care.
“The third one is what happened this morning. (Taylor and Bliss) showed up and said something I’ve never heard before which is, ‘We can’t do this on our own.’ To do that takes great courage. It also takes great humility. It also takes some confidence,” he said.