Tag Archives: Deborah L. Tarrant

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.

Backstory

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

podcast-ep12-fb-800x420

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Foundations can be mysterious things – understandable, but not that helpful when it comes to building effective partnerships.

Resources are always finite, though, and the Tarrant Foundation has long made the strategic decision to maximize our spending on grantmaking. We designed our website and the media posted there to provide clear information and a sense of the context in which we work, but we invest very little in trying to push our story out into the broader community.

It’s a tradeoff, we know. One that perhaps contributes to that sense of mystery. But one we’re glad to make when it means putting more dollars into our grants.

Grantmaking is our core work. We invest significant time and money in those partnerships – building relationships, collaborating, and putting a whole lot of miles on my car every year! Chances are if you’re reading this, you and I have sat down together at least once to talk about the difference you’re trying to make in your community. Maybe that took place in your office … or on the back porch of one of your clients, or in a field full of poison ivy, or on the floor while building marshmallow towers with at-risk youth. Maybe it was at the bedside of a dying patient, or in a steamy kitchen, or in a horse barn, or on a jobsite, or at a picnic table. Maybe it was in an empty lot with nothing to see but what the space could be, someday, if only the right partners could be engaged.

Wherever that meeting happened, I was glad to be there (yes, even that time with the poison ivy). I learned a lot from you and your colleagues, from getting to know your community, and from seeing your vision in action. Hopefully you felt like you learned some things too, about who we might be as partners, about how we work, and about the process we were asking you to move through with us.

Still, we know the veil exists.

Earlier this spring when there was still waaaaaaaay too much snow on the ground, I was invited to share some of the Foundation’s story on RetroMotion Creative’s podcast. RM made several of the videos we use on our website, including this one that I love featuring Rich and Deb talking about their approach to giving.

The podcast picks up with the making of that video, then delves into some of the structures and strategies we’ve built around the Tarrants’ vision. More than that, it’s hopefully an opportunity to get to know us a little better, and to make this whole thing maybe a little less mysterious. Bonus features include YouTube PD, the Mythbusters Mega Merrython, lessons learned from my personal non-profit endeavors, and tough love from @thewhineydonor.


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

Award Season

Monday, October 17, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Recently I shared news that Rich and Deb had been honored with the Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award from the UVM Foundation. It was a wonderful honor, and a great opportunity for me to reflect on the many things accomplished through the Tarrants’ generosity to our communities.

Rich would be the first to tell you that we can’t do any of this on our own. Our work is only as good as the many incredible people out there who turn our investments into action at the community level.

Top of that list in our minds is Dr. Penny Bishop, Associate Dean and Professor in UVM’s College of Education and Social Services, and Director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at UVM. For the past decade, Penny has contributed outstanding leadership, vision, wisdom, and hard work to manage our investments in middle-level education throughout the state. Her partnership has turned that investment into something far more meaningful and far more effective than could ever have been achieved without her.

But don’t take our word for it.

amle-penny-award

Last week at the Association of Middle Level Education’s (AMLE) national conference in Austin, Penny received the John H. Lounsbury Award for Distinguished Achievement. This prestigious award is the association’s highest honor, given only in those years when a sufficiently meritorious candidate emerges.

It was a great pleasure to see Penny honored for her many important contributions to the field of middle level education, and for the groundbreaking work she undertakes here in Vermont. Our board and staff are incredibly lucky to benefit from her leadership of the Tarrant Institute, and from her friendship as well.

Congratulations, Penny! You earned it.

amle-student

Penny’s award wasn’t the only highlight of this year’s AMLE conference. Members of the Tarrant Institute team made a record 14 presentations at AMLE, featuring stories, strategies, and research from their many partnerships with Vermont educators. Attendees even got to visit directly with some Vermont students (above) to learn about how personalization through technology is working for them!

For more information on the AMLE sessions or about the Tarrant Institute, check out their blog here.

                                                                                                                                                               

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

Lifetime Achievement

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

It’s a funny thing to talk about Lifetime Achievement. The words suggest summation. A grand total. A backward look.

This past weekend, Rich and Deb Tarrant were presented with the 2016 Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award from the University of Vermont Foundation. The award was given in recognition of the tremendous investments made by Rich and Deb, and by their Foundation, in efforts to improve middle-level education, advance medical research, and strengthen the University.

lifetime-achievement-2016

I could not have been prouder. And, I think it’s safe to say, Rich and Deb could not have been more uncomfortable.

Neither Rich nor Deb likes to be praised for their generosity. You’ll hear Rich say in the video below that even the word philanthropy doesn’t sit well with him. It’s too soft. Rich considers the resources he and Deb invest in communities and programs around Vermont to be just that – investments. In exchange for those investments, he expects a non-monetary return, in the form of lives impacted, communities strengthened, and futures changed.

Rich and Deb accepted the award, with characteristic modesty, graciousness, and big serving of humor. They shook hands, smiled, and stood for pictures. Then they did what they do best: get back to work.

In just the couple of days since the award presentation, Rich and Deb have met with numerous leaders who are tackling some of our state’s biggest challenges. They have talked statistics, theory, efficiency, and impact. They’ve emphasized the crucial balance between thinkers and doers. They’ve considered scope and next steps and how, as ever, to make the very most of the resources they have.

As much as I love to see Rich and Deb honored for all that they have done, for them the conversation is always about what lays ahead. What’s been done is only ever a tiny part of what can be done. Our job is to get focused, get organized, and tackle what’s next.

Onward.

                                                                                                                                                                

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

A Great Day

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Most days in this job are pretty great. Today was extra great.

This morning I watched as Rich and Deb Tarrant announced a second $5 million investment in Vermont kids. The funds will go to the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont to support up to 60 new partnerships with middle schools statewide over the next five years. The Institute works with schools and teachers to create learning that is technology-rich, personalized, relevant and – most of all – engaging for today’s youth.

As a professional, that’s a pretty exciting moment. It’s as a parent, though, that I find myself most grateful for this extraordinary investment.

More than 9 years ago I sat down for a conversation with Rich and Deb Tarrant. I was meeting them for the first time, and was interviewing for a position with their new foundation. I was also 8 ½ months pregnant with my first child.

Rich asked me during that conversation what I thought of an idea he had to use technology to modernize education and improve learning opportunities for kids. Our discussion was exciting and, while I confess to focusing a bit much on the challenges involved, Rich’s passion and determination were compelling.

Not long after, I had a job offer … and a baby. And the Foundation had a new partner: Dr. Penny Bishop and her remarkable team at UVM’s College of Education and Social Services.

In 2006, after a long hot summer spent huddled around desks with a gifted group of teachers from Milton Middle School, we piloted our first student cohort. In 2009, with both Edmunds and Manchester Middle Schools on board, we formally launched the Tarrant Institute.

The Foundation’s gift to create the Institute was the largest in our history – by a lot. It marked a major turning point for us as an organization. Today marks an even bigger one. Rich told the audience gathered at the press conference this morning that we are “doubling down”, investing a further $5 million in a strategy that works.

Which brings me back to my perspective as a parent.

That beautiful baby boy born those many summers ago is now a 4th grader. He is smart, creative, and sometimes a handful in class. He thrives on technology. He is one of many kids who I think would chafe in a traditional middle level classroom. And he – along with every kid – deserves to learn in a setting that values his individuality, challenges his intellect, puts relevant tools in his hands, and positions him for success in his life ahead.

I am grateful that my son’s school and so many other middle schools in Vermont now have the opportunity to draw on the expertise, resources, and supportive partnership of the Tarrant Institute. Thank you Rich and Deb.  Thank you Penny.  Thank you to all of the wonderful, committed educators who bring this work to life.  As Rich said, “writing the check is the easy part … without these people we would be nowhere.”

You can listen to the complete press conference here, including remarks from a remarkable young 7th grader at People’s Academy in Morrisville. Educators can learn more about partnership with the Tarrant Institute at joinus.tarrantinstitute.org.

                                                                                                                                               

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

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.