Burr and Burton Academy is in session

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MANCHESTER — As the early morning fog rolled down Mount Equinox, students gathered near the steps of Burr and Burton Academy's Riley Center at the mountain's base.

Wednesday was the first day of school for these new students, primarily freshmen, and a mixture of nervous and excited anticipation was palpable as they lined up to shake the hand of acting Headmaster Meg Kenny.

The occasion also represents a new opportunity for Kenny, who will lead the school this semester while Headmaster Mark Tashjian is on sabbatical in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

"This is my 20th year at Burr and Burton," said Kenny, who also teaches social studies at the school. "I started as a teacher, became a department head, dean of faculty, assistant head ... so there's been this really natural progression. I know the school, and I have history here."

Kenny, who typically serves as assistant head of school and dean of faculty, looks forward to what she expects to be an edifying experience.

"Ultimately, I've been the number two here for a while and have had a tremendous opportunity to be an academic leader. I think that this will add to that, and test me in ways that I maybe haven't been tested," said Kenny. "I'm looking forward to that, but I'm also just really honored to have this sense of leading this institution that's existed in the community for so long, and is so important to it."

Fittingly, Burr and Burton's theme for this academic year revolves around taking ownership, which Kenny hopes will instill a sense of agency in her students.

"This idea of developing agency is kind of an abstract thought, but I think that once you know you have control, and power, and you know your decisions will make an impact on not only yourself but the community, that's really going to help us to create citizens that leave here and lift the world up," said Kenny. "If we can start planting those seeds and continue to build on that, then the end result will be something really powerful."

Beyond their new theme, this academic year will bring a number of new developments including five new faculty members, a growing food service system, increased enrollment, and a greater focus on brain-based learning.

"Our enrollment has grown, and it's been exciting to have more students on campus and more diversity of learners," said Kenny. "We have students from 13 countries this year, and I think just the range of students we serve, and serving all kids, just adds so much."

Another area of growth, quite literally, is the academy's food service program, which is under new leadership following the retirement of director Charlie Robbins.

"We've hired a team of three who have been here in different roles, but we're expanding that program to really have it be focused on education as well," said Kenny, who noted an increased focus on food systems, production, and nutrition connected to Burr and Burton's Hildene Farm Program. "Even though right now it's small, it's helping us to teach about the food system and also the social justice economics and politics of it."

That program is just one of the many ways that the academy hopes to foster creative and critical thinkers.

"We're embracing a deeper commitment to studying brain based learning practices in terms of the professional culture," said Kenny. "We really want to start from this brain based perspective of what's good teaching and learning, and have it grow from there."

With a year of growth ahead, Kenny hopes that both students and faculty feel empowered to take ownership of both themselves and their community.

"Mark stepping away for a semester is so great for him personally and for his family, and it's also going to give a lot of people beyond me the opportunity to step up," said Kenny. "It's good for the school for others to develop as leaders, and when he comes back I think our capacity will be stronger as a result."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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