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Root: Pulse of Vt in Rochester

08/14/12 7:55AM By Tik Root
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(Host) Earlier this year, as part of a digital storytelling class, Middlebury College students Tik Root of Ripton, and Paul Rosenfeld of Saint Louis, decided to explore Vermont’s Route 100 – stopping along the way to meet people and learn about life in contemporary Vermont.  In Rochester , they stopped at a local Junior Varsity basketball game where Root says they met the school principal.

(Root) Mary Sue Crowley moved to VT from Kansas City, Kansas, 31 years ago, and she's been an educator in the state ever since. Crowley is currently the principal of the Rochester school, which includes students from kindergarten through 12th grade. When Tropical Storm Irene hit, it left her with one of the toughest tests she's ever faced.

(Crowley) On Aug 28th our school lost the auditorium, our art room, our shop room, our tech room, to the flood and we've been rebuilding all year. In fact we have a Tom Sawyer type painting party starting tomorrow, where people from the town are going to come help paint the auditorium... And at the same time, as a little aside, my house flooded also. So I've been dealing with the school flooding and my own home flooding.

(Root) When we met earlier this year, Crowley had not yet been able to return to her home. However, like the rest of Rochester, she was well on the way to recovery, thanks in large part to an army of volunteers who offered their assistance.

(Crowley) Every weekend people just descended upon our town, went to the town clerk, there was a sign-up sheet there saying what you needed help with and the town clerk would just direct people to where they could help. Kids were amazing, they just worked, worked, worked. Kids came back from college to help clean up.

(Root) In addition to flood recovery, the Rochester school is faced with a long-term challenge of a decline in the number of school age children. Crowley was previously the principal of the Hancock school, which opened 207 years ago, when Thomas Jefferson was president, and closed in 2009 due to a lack of students. Rochester is now facing similar pressures.

(Crowley) It's very much an issue in the entire state of VT, but especially in the smaller towns. In the 1800s and the early 1900s, there weren't large graduating classes, but the kids didn't need the same kind of exposure as they do now, so we have adapted a lot of our course work so that, especially next year, we're going to a lot of online courses...

(Root) Once they graduate, Crowley says not many of the town's young people stay in the area. They leave for college, and generally don't come back because there aren't many jobs available locally. But five recent college graduates took a chance by moving back to town...

(Crowley) ...and are working a variety of things, like working for farms, and working not jobs within their college degrees, but they just wanted to come back and live in their town. So they're taking jobs that just give them work.

(Root) Fortunately, Rochester, and many other Irene ravaged towns we encountered along Route 100, were able to put aside these problems in the face of disaster - at least temporarily - and focus on returning to normal.

Taking the pulse of Vermont along Route 100, I'm Tik Root.

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