Tarrant Foundation makes $5 million gift to UVM middle school program

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Tarrant Foundation makes $5 million gift to UVM middle school program

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 12:41pm -- tim

A nationally recognized University of Vermont program bringing innovative, technology-rich teaching practices to Vermont middle school students will expand dramatically across the state thanks to a $5 million gift from the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation. The gift is the second $5 million pledge the foundation has made to the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, housed in the University of Vermont’s College of Education and Social Services. The earlier gift launched the institute in 2009. The foundation also funded a pilot version of the program from 2006 to 2009.

Institute co-founders Rich and Deb Tarrant joined UVM President Tom Sullivan to make the announcement at a press conference Wednesday morning sponsored by the University of Vermont Foundation.

The Tarrant Institute currently works in 13 schools with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, a potentially vulnerable age group. The new funding will allow it to more than triple the number of schools and reach new areas of the state.

Rich Tarrant, with wife Deb, who is chair of the Foundation, talks about the profound impact of the program on middle school students, and in particular among boys. Photo by Vermont Business Magazine

Rich Tarrant said the Tarrant Foundation made a second large gift to the institute because the program has had dramatic success, and there was a clear need to expand it. 

“It’s been a home run, beyond even our most optimistic hopes,” he said. “Walk into one of the partner schools, and students are alert, engaged and motivated. Educators can’t talk enough about how it’s changed their classrooms and schools. Kids have told us they can’t wait to get to school.”

“"The results are clear,” said Deb Tarrant. “Both students and teachers are excited about adding this new dimension to their curriculum. We wanted more schools in the state to benefit.”

“We are deeply grateful to Rich and Deb and the Tarrant Foundation,” said UVM president Tom Sullivan. “This gift will enable UVM’s Tarrant Institute to play a major role in helping Vermont students achieve academic success. Nothing is more important."

More than a “technology drop”

The program the Tarrant Institute launched five years ago gave schools the funds both to acquire technology and engage teachers in an intensive professional development program designed to help them to integrate it with teaching practices known to engage middle school students.

With netbooks, tablets, interactive white boards, and other technologies so common in Vermont schools today, the institute now focuses largely on providing comprehensive, multi-year professional development. Institute staff work intensively with teachers during the summer and throughout the school year, helping schools develop an infrastructure that supports effective middle school teaching practices and a culture that sustains educational innovation.

Technology is an important element of the Tarrant Institute’s strategy for engaging middle-schoolers, but the work it does with teachers -- at no cost to schools -- is the key to its success.

“Giving students technology without showing teachers how to integrate it into the curriculum, a so called ‘technology drop,’ is a recipe for disaster,” said Penny Bishop, professor in the College of Education and Social Services and Tarrant Institute director.

The Tarrant Institute links the new technologies with effective teaching strategies designed to engage middle-schoolers, such as bringing real-world problems into the classroom and students into the community; encouraging students to work in teams; and integrating student voice into the curriculum and the overall functioning of the team.                

Promising research results

Research conducted over the last eight years shows promising results for the program. Teachers who partner with the Tarrant Institute demonstrate significant increases in their ability to work with educational technology and integrate technology-rich, innovative teaching practices in the classroom. Teachers, parents and students report improved student engagement, participation, attendance and behavior, all key indicators of students’ likelihood of remaining in school and achieving academically.

Middle school: “last best chance” for a vulnerable age group

Reaching students during middle school years is critical. “Student struggles during those years are a powerful predictor of later academic trouble, including the likelihood of dropout,” Bishop said. “Middle school is often educators’ last best chance to reach kids.”

That's why the program’s ability to engage students is so exciting and significant, she said. “We are truly grateful to the Tarrant Foundation for providing the resources to bring this program to many more students, teachers and schools.”

Read "Last Best Chance": Why the Tarrant Institute Focuses on Middle School with a Technology-rich Curriculum: www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&&storyID=19282

Source: UVM VERY TOP PHOTO: From right, Ben Craig, student at Peoples Academy, who shared how his class uses the iPads in his classroom and why he loves it; Alex Bacheller, teacher at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville discussed how her classroom and students have changed; Penny Bishop, director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, explained the impact of the gift and the success of the program; Fayneese Miller, dean of the College of Education and Social Services; Deborah L. Tarrant; Richard Tarrant; Tom Sullivan; and (standing) Rich Bundy, CEO of UVM Foundation. Vermont Business Magazine photo.