Category Archives: Trustees

Coalminer’s Granddaughter

Monday, June 4, 2018

DLT_UVMcommencement

Commencement Address given by Deborah L. Tarrant

University of Vermont, College of Education & Social Services, Class of 2018

 

Thank you, all, very much. Dean Thomas, thank you for your invitation to be part of this special day. I’m humbled and honored.

And Dr. Bishop, thank you for that lovely introduction. I appreciate you mentioning my family history. If I can take poetic license with an old, well-known country song, “I’m proud to be a coalminer’s granddaughter.”

As Dr. Bishop mentioned, my connection to the College is through the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education. Because of this connection, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Penny Bishop for the past 13 years. If you know her, you know what an asset she is to this University. It was her dedication and that of her Associate Director, Dr. John Downes, that kept the vision moving forward in the early days of the Tarrant Institute.

Those of us associated with the Institute believe it speaks to a new paradigm for learning – one that will have a direct impact on many of your careers. The catalyst for what started as an experiment and ultimately became the Tarrant Institute was the observation that for quite a few middle school adolescents, particularly boys, traditional teaching methods were not working very well. Being expected to sit passively for hours and learn the same way kids had learned for the past century, was becoming less and less effective. Think about it – some of you were in middle school about that time – these young people were spending their leisure time immersed in new technology. It’s no wonder their attention drifted at school.

My husband, Rich, and I had a vision for what a 21st century classroom could look like. With Dr. Bishop’s help, we started with one class at one Vermont middle school with students who didn’t seem to like school very much, and who spent a lot of time in the principal’s office.

The idea was to engage them while they were in middle school, before they became problematic high school students. The plan was for technology to be the hook, but we knew from experience that just dumping laptops or notebook-devices into classrooms was NOT the answer. The answer was to use computers as learning tools in a way that would engage these technology-hungry adolescents.

As it turned out, the learning curve was really steep – for the teachers!   The kids took to the new environment instantly. And, why wouldn’t they? They were surrounded by technology everywhere except at school!

This pilot program immediately turned disengaged students into eager learners.   An unanticipated outcome was that other students started looking up to the kids in the program because of their computer expertise. All of a sudden, the program students had a sense of pride and accomplishment they had never before associated with school. In that first year, not one of those kids who had been regulars in the principal’s office needed disciplining. Not one! And parents were absolutely amazed by the eagerness of their kids to go to school.

I’ll never forget the day we visited the pilot classroom late in that first year, and a young man who was obviously older than the other students approached us. It was apparent, he had been held back at least once, maybe twice. Very shyly, he reached to shake hands with Rich. Then he raised his head and looked Rich right in the eye. All he said was “Thank you.” But the emotion in those two little words was so powerful!

It didn’t take long for all the students in that first middle school to want to be part of the program. So the experiment was a success from the beginning, but right away, it was obvious the main challenge to expanding the program was the ingrained idea that teaching could only be done by lecturing to silent, immobile students.

This realization was the eureka moment when the focus of the Tarrant Institute changed from the students to helping teachers transition to innovative ways of using the magic of technology in the classroom.

In preparation for being here today, I came across two quotes that are especially relevant to this new paradigm. The first is, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

The origin of this quote is widely debated, however, the second quote is unquestionably attributed to Dr. John Dewey, a well-known education reformer with whom many of you are familiar.

Dewey was born before the Civil War, in 1859, just a few blocks from here. He graduated from UVM 139 years ago. He lived to be 93, and fittingly, he’s laid to rest right here on UVM’s campus. His is the only gravesite on the campus.

Here’s what Dewey said: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Bingo! Dr. Bishop and her team are literally changing the way we educate, just as Dewey envisioned.

We’ve all heard that learning is a life-long process. Experienced teachers learning new methods using technology in the classroom are perfect examples of this. In my case, three years ago, life unexpectedly presented me with a whole new ball game as Mayor for the Town of Hillsboro Beach. My professional experience was in the world of fashion and in the corporate world. Believe me, spending my golden years in the political arena was never part of my master plan!

In thinking about the message I wanted to leave you with today, it struck me that while my role as Mayor is a very visible position of leadership, as graduates of the College of Education and Social Services, you will be leaders the minute you step into your first classroom or office. Typically, graduates in other majors do not have this level of leadership responsibility right out of the chute. Getting a business degree and overseeing financial assets is one thing, but the degree you receive today will make you responsible for something far more valuable – human capital.

The Hippocratic Oath for physicians is the earliest expression of medical ethics in the Western world. Paraphrased, its most important tenet is, “First, do no harm.” If there was an equivalent doctrine for educators, social workers, and counselors, it would have to go one step further. Not only are you expected to do no harm, you are expected to prepare your charges to be contributing members of our society.

Most of you will play many roles in your new careers: teacher, mentor, advisor, role model, and sometimes even surrogate parent. What often goes unacknowledged, is that your role as a leader, and the influence that role inherently has, carries over into every one of those other roles. A leader is defined as “one who directs by influence.” As leaders, the influence you have on the lives you touch will shape our country for years to come.

It’s a huge responsibility – having influence over young people and people in need of social services. These are the most impressionable and vulnerable segments of our population. The human capital you will be responsible for is our country’s most important asset. Accordingly, your challenge will be to handle your leadership role carefully – and – judiciously.

Today is the official beginning of this leadership role. This graduation is your springboard. Regardless of what has come before this day – regardless of how or where you grew up, regardless of your GPA – after today, your place in the world will be up to you.

In the immortal words of Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known simply as Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

This is a momentous day! And I’m honored to share it with you.

To parents, grandparents, and loved ones of the graduates: congratulations! And thank you for the sacrifices you made to get to this day.

And finally…, to the graduates: savor this moment! You’ve worked hard. You’ve survived Vermont winters … and … You made it!

This is your day! Congratulations! Thank you!


Deb Tarrant is the Vice President of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation and Mayor of Hillsboro Beach, FL.  Her grandfather started working in the coal mines of Harlan County, KY at age 10, and her grandmother left school after the 7th grade to help support her family.  Deb is the first member of either side of her family to earn a college diploma.  She graduated summa cum laude  with a degree in marketing and accounting from Miami University in 1979.

In Honor of Allen and Bonnie Martin

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tarrant Foundation’s Gift to UVM Medical Center in Honor of Allen and Bonnie Martin from Tarrant Foundation on Vimeo.

Contributed by Richard E. Tarrant

Last night, Deb and Lauren joined me to announce a $1M grant from the Foundation to the University of Vermont Medical Center. The grant will go toward the construction of a new seven-floor inpatient facility. The building will include 128 state-of-the-art private patient rooms and other spaces critical to the growing needs of our community, and to delivery of the highest standard of care.

We have chosen to name the 5th floor of the new building, serving Oncology, Gynecology, Urology and General Surgery, in honor of two longtime friends of the hospital: Allen and Bonnie Martin.

Allen graduated from Williams College and went on to receive an honors degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.  After Harvard law school and a prestigious clerkship, Allen ultimately became a partner at Downs Rachlin Martin, a law firm serving Vermonters and Vermont businesses for more than half a century.

In 1994, he became the driving force behind the formation of Fletcher Allen Health Care – one of the first integrated healthcare delivery systems in the country. Allen was the glue, pulling together physicians from the University Health Center, nuns from Fanny Allen, administrators at Mary Fletcher, and folks from the UVM College of Medicine. Imagine trying to bridge those many different interests, and to honor the pride of each player in the piece of that complicated puzzle that he or she represented. There was no road map, but Allen got it done.

Here’s a little story that embodies Allen.  One Sunday afternoon he was at home reviewing the pending federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1999 – because apparently that’s what lawyers do on a Sunday afternoon! He discovered a set of special provisions to increase Medicare reimbursement rates for hospitals serving rural communities by aligning them with nearby metropolitan areas.  It entailed a complicated body of work, but by the next morning Allen had drafted a provision that ultimately classified Chittenden County as part of the Greater Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area.  That alignment brought $5-$7M per year in additional reimbursements to Fletcher Allen … for more than ten years.

Because there were no additional costs related to those reimbursements, they equated to a contribution of over $50M from Allen’s Sunday afternoon bemusement.  In a way that makes Allen Martin the largest donor to the Medical Center in its history.

Allen made many other important contributions to the hospital over the years. He also served as a board member for IDX Systems Corporation, Union Mutual Insurance Company, and the Vermont Law School. Not bad for an Oxford philosophy major.

We mustn’t underestimate Bonnie’s impact on the softer side of things at the Medical Center. When the McClure building was new she helped fill it with artwork, expanding eventually to Baird and Shepardson as well. She also launched the hospital’s annual calendar of Vermont artwork, which brightens many of our walls still today.

Allen and Bonnie had an enormous impact on helping the Medical Center become what it is today. We are proud to name a floor in their honor.

I also want to take a moment to thank Jenna Page. Jenna is a multi-award-winning oncology nurse who spoke last night about the impact of the new building on patient care. She told heartbreaking stories about the added burden a lack of privacy can bring to cancer patients and their families when they are already suffering so much. Jenna had half the room in tears. We were blown away by her passion and her compassion, and are grateful for the work she and her peers do on behalf of us all.

We look forward to the day the new building is open to house medical staff, patients, and patient families.


Richard E. Tarrant is the President of the Tarrant Foundation.

Crunching Numbers

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

 

I love data.

More accurately, I love stories.  And to me, data tell some of the most compelling and important stories out there.

For instance:

These and other statistics about poverty, education, aging, and strong communities have informed our grantmaking over the past ten years.  In that time, we’ve engaged with partner organizations all over the state, working to turn around the bad statistics and build on the good ones … one grant at a time.

We’ve also tried to be good neighbors.  Knowing that we are one on a very short list of Vermont foundations, and recognizing the many, many people out there working hard on behalf of causes they believe in, we’ve made an effort to keep our doors wide open.  We’ve awarded grants to all kinds of different organizations supporting all kinds of different programs, all lumped under the large umbrella of improving the quality of life for people in Vermont.

Very large umbrella.  Perhaps overly large.

Since 2006, we’ve made grants to more than 350 different organizations.  In the last five years alone, we’ve issued upwards of 370 separate grant checks.  That’s a lot for a foundation our size.  Maybe too many.

We all know how the saying goes.  You can’t be all things to all people.  Much as we might like to try to be, no one is well served by that approach in the end.

Data stories matter.  And our data story tells us it’s time for a change.  It’s time to narrow our focus, and put more money into the grants that have proven to make the greatest difference in the work we most care about.

You can read more about our new strategy in the Community Grants section of our website.  In short, from here forward our Community Grants will focus on the following distinct populations and goals:

  • Youth: Resilience and Aspiration
  • Working-Age Adults: Employment and Financial Independence
  • Seniors: Comfort and Dignity in Aging
  • Communities: Local Resources and Investments

Under each of these headings, you will find that we have identified specific strategies as the focus for our investments.  We have done so based on our interests, and your data stories … on what our non-profit partners have taught us over the years are the most meaningful and cost-effective interventions.  We will concentrate our funds in these areas, and as ever will make grants with minimal restrictions to give organizations the flexibility and control they need to run the very best and most efficient programs.

The tradeoff here, of course, is that we’ve made some cuts.  Extremely valuable work is being done in areas that did not make our list, and we are grateful to other foundations, businesses and individuals that continue to invest in those areas.  We are committed, though, to funding programs that best fit our values and theory of change, and that demonstrate the kind of impact and cost efficiency we seek.

We have heard many times over the years that we “don’t act like a typical foundation”.  It has always been meant as a compliment, and frankly, we’ll take it.  We – and many of our peer foundations serving this state – approach this work with a deep sense of gratitude, a keen interest in true partnership, and a binding commitment to make the greatest impact we possibly can with the dollars we have.

While I understand not everyone out there will be happy with these changes, I trust that those who know us will see the thought, care, and discipline that went into them.

I’m thinking as I write about Deb’s belief that our Foundation can make a difference, and Rich’s powerful statement on being good stewards.  With these changes, I think we are doing just that.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Kicking Off

Monday, September 30, 2013

Contributed by Deborah L. Tarrant

The Tarrant Institute at the University of Vermont and Mater Christi School are embarking on an exciting journey.  The kick-off for this endeavor was held in the Mater Christi library, and two things struck me as Rich and I were participating in this event.  First, the excitement in the room was palpable, and second, as much as I love books, traditional school libraries now feel like a setting from another era.

The teachers at Mater Christi School in the middle grades will soon begin professional development through the Tarrant Institute.  Through the Institute, they’ll learn new methods of teaching that involve one-to-one technology for the students and a completely different set of parameters for the teachers themselves.  The days of having an instructor lecturing from the front of the room hour after hour, while students sit passively absorbing information are a thing of the past.  Mater Christi is modeling a new paradigm for middle school students that involves interactive learning between students and teachers and also between students and their peers.  Students will gather information from multiple sources (available on their electronic devices) and apply the information they glean to relevant situations and assignments in creative ways (animation, pod casts, videos, and skills I’m not even aware of) to showcase their proficiency with both the information and the tools at their disposal.

Along with the excitement in the room at this kick-off, where the Mater Christi participants included the Principal, the Assistant Principal, the IT Specialist, and several teachers, there was also a nervous energy.  This is a big undertaking when you consider that parents and teachers will be ceding, to a degree, their role as the ultimate purveyors of knowledge. Young people have innate expertise with technology that often surpasses that of adults.  But in a way, that’s the point.  There’s a whole new world out there in terms of information and the way it gets accessed.  Portable electronic devices offer students their own personal libraries wherever they go.  It only makes sense to incorporate these devices into their learning experience.

The Tarrant Institute has had tremendous success to date with their middle school partners, and the parents of these middle-school students often share their thoughts with us.  Across the board, the kids are more engaged with their school assignments and look forward to being in the classroom situation.  Anecdotally, I’d like to share a message we received recently.  The father of a sixth-grader at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville wrote:

“This year, the 6th graders received iPads, and I just wanted you to know how incredibly excited the kids are and how jazzed they are to use the technology in their education environment. ……  On Sunday, we had a family meeting to discuss what was working well for the family and what wasn’t.  My son says ‘let me set up an online survey so that we can collect the data in digital form.’  He set it up and sent it to my wife and I at our email accounts.  Pretty cool stuff.”

Pretty cool stuff indeed!

                                                                                                                                                                

Deborah L. Tarrant is the Vice President of the Tarrant Foundation.  She serves as board liaison for the Foundation’s new Catholic Schools Initiative, which will invest $850,000 to support technology integration in area Catholic schools over the next four years.