Hawlemont sees new principal, new programs

Enrollment doubles

  • Principal Samantha Rutz and visitor feed Daisy and her litter of piglets. RECORDER STAFF/DIANE BRONCACCIO

  • Hawlemont Regional School Principal Samantha Rutz feeds Daisy and her brood of piglets, with the help of two young visitors from the school playground. RECORDER STAFF/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Recorder Staff
Published: 7/9/2017 10:25:33 PM

CHARLEMONT — Hawlemont is a school where everyone does farm chores, so it’s no big deal for the school principal, on a summer afternoon, to feed the school’s 19 chickens and five piglets before ending the day.

“The staff take turns, when school’s out,” explains Samantha Rutz, just six days into her new job as principal.

Although her job began July 1, Rutz has been coming to the Hawlemont Regional School for the past two months, working with former Principal Dwayne Kermenski, who took a job in Vermont.

This past year, Rutz taught seventh-grade science at the Mohawk Trail Regional School and won a Franklin County “Science Educator of the Year” award from the state Association of Science Teachers.

At the time of her hiring, Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said, “Her passion for science and project-based learning will no doubt support the continued development and success of the Hawlemont HAY (agricultural) program.”

Rutz comes to Hawlemont at a time when the 3-year-old HAY (Hawlemont, Agriculture and You) curriculum is showing measurable success and growing student enrollment.

In its first year, the HAY program saw a 10 percent enrollment increase; last fall, enrollment grew by 30 more students. This school year, when the children from the closed Heath Elementary School come to Hawlemont, Hawlemont is expected to have about 160 students.

“In the last five years, enrollment will have doubled, from about 80 students,” said Rutz. “It’s still just a small community school,” she said. “We don’t have combined (grade) classes. Each grade is staffed by their own dedicated teacher.”

“We’re running off of a ‘whole child’ educational, experiential philosophy. We really want to build the children’s connection to nature and their love of coming to school, of being a part of the school.”

The school now has a barn, a greenhouse, gardens and an outdoor classroom that is used year-round.

Still to come

And there are plans for more innovations to come. These include:

A summer camp program for Hawlemont students, starting July 14. This is a five-week pilot project for Hawlemont students only, on Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Each day, students will have two workshops on such topics as gardening, beekeeping, cooking, arts and crafts.

Community lunches. Once a month, residents will be invited to have lunch with the students.

Another plan is to have “around-the-world” cooking, to explore foods from other nations, possibly in connection to books that students are reading.

Pottery. Next year, the school would like to build an outdoor kiln, so that the school can start pottery classes, led by art teacher Kylee Bourassa.

Drama. Jonathan Diamond, who directs the Hilltown Youth Summer Theatre Workshop and has directed plays for the Mohawk and Heath schools, will be starting a drama program at Hawlemont.

“The school is constantly growing and evolving,” said Rutz.

When asked if having an agriculture-based curriculum has made a difference academically, Rutz said “We’ve seen huge improvements, not only in test scores but in a reduction of behavioral problems.”

“The kids are more focused, more connected to the classroom,” she said. “They seem happier, and more engaged. It also brings the community in,” she said. Many local farmers are lending the school animals for the children to feed and care for during the school year. Local farmers, cheesemakers, and others are also teaching skills to the children through the 4-H Club after-school programs.

Also, educators from eastern Massachusetts and elsewhere have been visiting and touring the school, to see if they can adopt some of Hawlemont’s programs for other schools.

When asked how Hawlemont has planned for taking in students from the Heath Elementary School, Rutz said a lot of preparation has been made for this school transition.

She said students from Heath and Hawlemont had outings together this spring, and that some of the Hawlemont teachers have been meeting with Heath families.

She said Heath special education teacher Valerie Lively will be joining Hawlemont’s teaching team.

Also, Rutz hopes to meet some of the Heath School families this summer at the Heath Fair. Rutz said she has volunteered to work at a booth and will have information there about the HAY program.


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