July 23, 2019

This Week’s Popcorn: ‘J. Edgar’

Investigating the G-man

Nov. 23, 2011

2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


It’s a funny thing about our current place in human evolution. The first thing most folks ask when I tell them I’ve just seen Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” is, “Was he gay?” or, “Did he wear a dress?”

Ignoring for a moment the powerful force in American domestic affairs Hoover played, I answer, “looks like it,” but apologize for not knowing the dress size.

Actually, it’s a bit more complicated. Eastwood’s biopic is responsible, reliable, methodical and chock full of integrity…all attributes its protagonist would have liked Americans to cite when describing him. He was a force to be contended with, a true original in many ways, but hardly innovative when it came to keeping his ego in check.

Yet, he’s one of the names on that list of people that have shaped the tenor and timber, good and bad, of our still rather young country. And while his specific story does hold fascinations Eastwood studiously mines, ultimately his is a tale of power — replete with savvy and astute paragraphs detailing its use, abuse and proclivity to corrupt absolutely.

In other words, Clint puts in the rumored window dressing, so to speak, because there’s obviously some truth to it, but never solely for its potentially lurid appeal. He weaves through his film the thought that the whole thing may have been a function of J. Edgar’s relationship with his domineering and eccentric mother, superbly played by Judi Dench.

Embodying all the inherent complexities and anomalies that comprised the man who built the FBI and pioneered modern criminal investigation as we know it, the youthful, almost pretty Leonardo DiCaprio brilliantly morphs into the much-feared iconic bulldog. So, while the film may not do all that well, get the tux ready, Leo. This may be your year.

Though the makeup is hardly realistic on the otherwise splendid Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s alleged lover, or on the equally stellar Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, his longtime confidante and secretary, it fits Mr. DiCaprio like a glove. Never caricature or camp, he is hindered only by what we don’t know. And aye, there’s the rub.

A great irony deleterious to Mr. Eastwood’s cause, this is a tale of confidences that — for all its forthcoming and good intentions — fails to unearth its own big secret. We learn about the clandestine file he kept…the skinny on people just in case it might come in handy one rainy day. But even that’s been learned inadvertently. We need more stones upturned.

Still, this is the kind of film you hope viewers looking for something more sensational will stumble on just the same. Don’t let them know it, but it’s a mite educative. And in a country where the average Joe can tell you where Miley Cyrus will be playing Friday night but can’t name the vice president, we need all the history lessons we can get.

Occasionally the chronology gets a bit challenging as Eastwood plays with the flashback button. Yet profs teaching about the U.S. in the 20th century and looking for a breather should have no compunction about substituting “J. Edgar” for a lecture one fine afternoon. Why not spring for some popcorn, too? For some, it may be the only thing they remember.

It’s as exciting a period as any, and Eastwood — working from a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black (“Milk (2008)”) — paints his America with scholarly care. Alternating broad and fine brushstrokes, he posits an intriguing view of the Lindbergh kidnapping. Philadelphia lawyer-sly, he deserves kudos from the American Civil Liberties Union for the shadows of a doubt he casts.

The film is also big and colorful with superb, era-specific costumes, neat sets and all the appurtenances necessary to evoke the mood of the age. Late in the film, DiCaprio’s autocrat (now coming under some scrutiny) reminds what dangers threatened democracy earlier in the century…that there is a case for judging men by the times that shaped them.

We’re not so sure. But while taking the theory under advisement, we nonetheless find a sympathetic corner in our hearts for the double-edged sword Hoover represents. He is both egomaniacal despot and the momma’s boy who wanted to do good…to be loved and remembered for protecting and preserving the institutions we too often take for granted.

Too bad it’s a bit plodding. Too bad it doesn’t unleash that great, maybe even scandalous, surprise. And too bad we’ve been whipped into a microwave-ready, I-info impatience of the mind. This is Clint Eastwood and not Oliver Stone. So it won’t leave you dizzied. But while we may not actually realize it when viewing “J. Edgar,” we’re all the better for it.



“J. Edgar,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. Pictures release directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Judi Dench. Running time: 137 minutes.

Sports shorts

Nov. 23, 2011



Led by All-State first team midfielder Lida Lutton, three members of the Champlain Valley Union field hockey team have received post-season honors.

Lutton, senior midfielder and co-captain, was named to the Burlington Free Press All-State team and the coaches’ All-Metro first team.

Junior midfielder Jenna Cloutier is an All-Metro second team choice. Senior midfielder Kathryn Maitland is an All-Metro honorable mention.

Maitland was also named to the Vermont squad for next summer’s Twin State game against New Hampshire. CVU coach Kate McDonald will be an assistant coach under head coach Paige Manning of Mount Mansfield Union.



They led the Champlain Valley Redhawks to boys Division I soccer titles in 2006 and 2007.

Now Micah Rose and Tyler Macnee have earned high honors, and are completing successful college playing careers at Swarthmore and Middlebury.

Rose, an NCAA Division III All-American in 2010, recently scored the winning tally on an overtime free kick as his Swarthmore (Pa.) Garnets captured the ECAC South regional crown with a 1-0 triumph over Medaville. Swarthmore closed the season with a 13-6-1 record.

Winner of the tournament’s outstanding player award, Rose was named to the All-Centennial Conference team for the third straight year. He was also an All-Academic selection.

Macnee finished his senior year at Middlebury by pacing the Panthers to an 8-4-4 mark with five goals and three assists. He was named to the New England Small College Athletic Conference first team.



Williston resident Aliza Lapierre was inducted into the Tilton (N.H.) School Athletic Hall of Fame on Nov. 12.

Lapierre earned five varsity letters during her two years at the college-preparatory school, including two each for soccer and ice hockey. During her senior season, she was the captain and leading scorer of both soccer and hockey. She went on to play Division I hockey at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. before returning to Tilton in 2007 to coach soccer, ice hockey and cross country.

According to a news release from the school, Lapierre currently competes in races ranging from 50k to 100 miles and that she holds multiple course records across the United States.

‘Hawks girls hockey looks outside

Players from Burlington High School boost CVU’s numbers

Nov. 23, 2011

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Returning senior Sophia Steinhoff, Vermont's 2010 Miss Hockey, will look to lead a Champlain Valley Union girls hockey team that will include three players from Burlington High School. (File photo)

The Champlain Valley girls hockey team will open practice for the new season Monday with three former dark blue clad Burlington Seahorses slated to wear the red and white flannels of the Redhawks.

No, the three players from Burlington High School will not be transferring into the Hinesburg brain foundry. They will remain at BHS but will compete for the ‘Hawks as part of a Vermont Principals’ Association program that allows member schools to pick up needed players from nearby schools that do not have a competing program in the particular sport.

“We did not think we would have enough players to field a team,” CVU athletic director Kevin Riell said in a telephone interview last week. “Burlington does not have a program so we were able to enter into a one-year agreement to get some of their players.”

BHS dropped the sport last year due to declining numbers.

Riell said a team needs at least 16 players to be able to participate safely in an interscholastic schedule.

Hockey is somewhat tricky due to another consideration pointed out in an interview last winter with Sophia Steinhoff, Vermont’s 2010 Miss Hockey, who is returning for her senior year.

Steinhoff observed that unlike some sports when numbers are low, a call for last-minute volunteers to play might not suffice. She said players need significant skating skills, which are not acquired quickly.

Riell agreed, adding that the low numbers at CVU are due in part to fewer players coming out of the feeder programs the past couple of years.

He expects between 18-20 players to answer the call Monday when new coach Ben Psaros whistles for skaters to hit the ice.

Psaros comes over from an assistant position with the boys team. He will be assisted by Michelle Pinaud.

The Redhawks will travel to Woodstock for a scrimmage Dec. 3 and open the season Dec. 10 against Colchester at Burlington’s Leddy Arena.

Residents appeal Board decision

Argument exists over Williston recycling company permit

Nov. 23, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Thirteen Williston residents have filed an appeal with the Vermont Superior Court’s environmental division regarding an Oct. 25 decision by the Williston Development Review Board to grant a discretionary permit to All Metals Recycling Inc. for the establishment of an outdoor storage area, scale and scale house at its Dorset Lane facility.

The notice of appeal, filed by Hobart F. Popick, an attorney with the Burlington-based Langrock, Sperry & Wool, LLP, does not provide a reason for the appeal.

However, a prior petition to the DRB regarding All Metals’ permit application — signed by the 13 appellants — states “that the Applicants are not eligible for a permit in one or more respects, including, without limitation, that the Applicants are using and/or propose to use, the subject property in a manner that is not eligible for permitting under the Williston Development Bylaw.”

At the Oct. 25 DRB meeting, Popick — speaking on behalf of his clients — voiced several concerns, including that All Metals was operating without proper permits and that a daycare center is located across the road from its property. Popick also claimed that All Metals was operating an automobile recycling business on its Williston property, an activity not allowed under the town’s zoning bylaws.

The DRB cited 10 conditions of approval, including that “the applicants must obtain the approval of the town’s Selectboard (a requirement), and also obtain any required permits from the State of Vermont for a salvage yard operation.”

Among the appellants listed in the notice of appeal is Williston resident Mark Burnett, co-owner of the Hinesburg-based Burnett Scrap Metals LLC — a competitor to All Metals Recycling.

Burnett appeared at Monday’s Williston Selectboard meeting, along with his brother and business partner, Jim Burnett.

Mark Burnett opened the meeting by making reference to the All Metals property.

“Later on the agenda the town is going to talk about the sale of town property, located on Dorset Lane, for use as a salvage yard,” he said.

Mark Burnett was interrupted by Williston town manager Rick McGuire, who repied: “No, that’s not true. The town is considering selling its own property … the town plan is to long-term sell the town garage and all the property associated with it, and for the town to build a town garage on another parcel of land.”

Jim Burnett interjected, asking: “So the illegal salvage yard that’s operating there now, it’s not going to be sold to them?”

McGuire responded: “We haven’t even put it up for sale yet, so I couldn’t speak to that. But if they’re the successful bidder, we could be selling to them, but that’s years away.”

Popick declined to comment on the specifics of the appeal.

“What I can tell you is because this is in the environmental court, under the environmental rules, we’re required to submit what’s called a ‘statement of questions,’” Popick said.

“Environmental court is unusual,” he continued, “in that within a timeframe after filing the notice of appeal — unlike in other courts in the state — you actually do have to tell them in your statement of questions what legal issues you’re asking the court to review.”

Popick indicated that the statement of questions would likely be filed in “early December.”

No place like home

Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity hangs its hat in Williston

Nov. 23, 2011

By Steven Frank

Observer staff

Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity Executive Director David Mullin (left) and Sara Munro (right), director of advancement, no longer have to work out of their homes. The organization moved to a larger office location in Williston in September. In addition to housing all three of its employees, the space can also host training sessions and workshops. (Observer photo by Steven Frank)

Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity has been providing new homes to families in need for more than 25 years.

Now the non-profit organization has a new home in Williston.

In September, it moved from a close-quarters locale in Essex Junction to a spot in the Cornerstone Drive plaza (across the street from the former Williston Driving Range).

The new space includes staff offices, workstations for interns and a conference room for volunteer committees. There is also a large training space for future programs in home maintenance and homeownership workshops.

GMHfH’s paid staff includes an executive director, director of advancement and a bookkeeper. The bulk of the organization consists of approximately 40 volunteers.

“Our office (in Essex Junction) was big enough for (the) bookkeeper, so he worked there and I worked out of my home in Williston,” GMHfH Executive Director David Mullin said. “Then we decided to hire a director of advancement, so that person worked from home as well. … We decided we needed to come together to be more efficient and effective as an organization.”

According to Mullin and Sara Munro, director of advancement, the office’s furniture and technology infrastructure were almost entirely donated by local individuals and businesses.

“We’d be sitting on crates if it wasn’t for them,” Mullin said.

Formed in 1984 and an affiliate of the worldwide Habitat for Humanity organization, GMHfH partners with low-income families living in substandard and/or unsafe housing conditions throughout northwestern Vermont. Through donations and volunteer efforts, it builds new homes and sells them to these families via interest-free loans.

GMHfH has built 55 homes to date, including one in Williston where the land was donated (the organization typically purchases the land). Another land donation was a recent three-building lot in Charlotte, where volunteers are finishing up the final house. There is also a GMHfH chapter in Lamoille County that will construct its first home in Morrisville next spring.

With the economy putting more families — particularly working ones — in need, Mullin hopes increased efficiency in the new Williston headquarters will lead to an increase in housing projects.

“We really want to ramp it up and (the move) is a big part of that,” Mullin said. “This space allows us to do more with our partner families and our volunteers, and that will allows us to increase our number of homes.”

A group of female volunteers work on a new home in Charlotte that was part of a three-building lot donated to Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity. (Courtesy photo)

Williston residents Charlie Magill and his wife, Ruth, have volunteered with GMHfH since 1988. Ruth Magill serves in the organization’s congregation relations committee, which promotes involvement from churches in terms of donated materials and/or manpower. One of Charlie Magill’s recent duties was helping construct the houses in Charlotte.

Charlie Magill said he is happy that GMHfH is in a larger space in Williston because it’s a short drive from his home and makes it possible for him and his wife to do more for the organization. But his greatest pleasure is seeing the impact it makes on families’ lives.

“It’s been wonderful, we’ve been able to see many families get into a home of their own that they would have never been able to get into otherwise,” Charlie Magill said. “It’s really affected us.”

Mullin, who has been the executive director for 11 years, still gets the same gratification.

“It all goes back to the families,” Mullin said. “You hear what it means to them and you see the difference that it makes, I enjoy that. You work with such a variety of people, from all walks of life. It’s a diverse group putting forth a common effort.”

Membership monopoly

Williston lacks wholesale club, Costco remains area’s lone option

Nov. 23, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Costco Wholesale Corp.’s Colchester location (above) is the only wholesale membership club in the greater Burlington area, despite the fact that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — which has a store in Williston — is the parent company of Sam’s Club. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

In the past three decades, Williston has grown from a rural blip on the state map to a leading retail center, and a hub for Vermont businesses and national chain stores alike.

With a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, three supermarkets and scores of other box stores within the town limits, the holiday shopper has plenty of gift options.

Yet there’s a conspicuous absence among Williston’s plethora of shopping venues: a wholesale membership club, such as Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club.

“We have not heard of any of the so-called wholesale clubs looking at Williston as a venue,” said Ken Horseman, an economic development specialist with the Vermont Department of Economic Development. “And it would be of interest because Costco – and I’m a Costco member myself personally – is doing very well up there (in Colchester).”

The Colchester location of Costco Wholesale Corp., situated on Lower Mountain View Drive, just off exit 16 of Interstate 89, is the lone wholesale club in the region. As the only game in that or any other town, it forces many residents from other areas of Chittenden County to drive long distances to do their bulk shopping — thus diluting their savings through fuel costs.

Peter Meadow, a Williston resident and a Costco member, said he would join a Williston wholesale club should one open in town.

“Yeah, I would (join a wholesale club in Williston),” Meadow said. “It would be a lot easier. It’s kind of inconvenient to drive all the way up to Colchester.”

The fact that Williston doesn’t have a Sam’s Club is not unusual in itself, but the presence of Wal-Mart — which owns Sam’s Club as a national subsidiary brand and typically builds one adjacent to the other — makes its absence noteworthy.

Sam’s Club spokeswoman Christi Davis Gallagher said there are many factors her company considers when selecting a new location, but declined to comment on what factors have prevented Sam’s from coming to the area.

“We are always looking for new opportunities to serve our Members, but we haven’t made any announcements about a new Sam’s Club in your area,” she wrote in a brief e-mail to the Observer.

By contrast, the Wal-Mart across Lake Champlain, in Plattsburgh, N.Y., has a Sam’s Club immediately adjacent to it.

Jeannie Van Nostrand, a Saranac, N.Y. resident who works in Plattsburgh, said that she shops more often at Wal-Mart but that she visits Sam’s Club “maybe once a month” for bulk discounts on paper products and laundry detergent.

“Sam’s Club has better prices on bulk items, which I do buy,” said Van Nostrand. “The other thing that Sam’s does for businesses in town … they have a thing (Click ‘n’ Pull) where businesses can order ahead and they’ll have a cart waiting for them.”

Rob Leuchs, a resident of Burlington’s Old North End, said his wife stopped shopping at the Costco in Colchester because of crowds and traffic congestion.

“A year or so ago my wife had a Costco membership, but she’d only go at 10:00 in the morning because the place was packed,” Leuchs said.

Horseman commented that the state would likely support an additional wholesale club in the region to provide competition for Costco.

“I would love to see another wholesale club that provides some good competition for Costco, and I think that it would provide some options for people,” Horseman said. “Colchester is probably quite a drive for some folks — particularly from the south — so having another option would be terrific as far as we’re concerned.”

He added: “Competition is a good thing, and I think that the local merchants benefit. They benefit from the increased traffic and they benefit when they’re able to differentiate themselves and carve out their own unique niche. It’s a win-win.”

‘Making an impact’

Residents help restore Allen Brook

Nov. 23, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Ian Ambler, owner of Stowe-based Ambler Landscape Architecture & Ecological Design, shows the Bear Cub Scout Den Williston Pack 692 how to plant tree seedlings. The scouts planted the trees in a field along the Allen Brook, between Williston village and North Williston Road, on Nov. 1 to help with restoration efforts. (Observer photo by Steven Frank)

Williston has yet to see a significant snowfall this year, but there’s still a lot of white around town.

Instead of the fluffy stuff, the color has blanketed the banks of the Allen Brook in the form of ubiquitous tree tubes that represent significant progress in the restoration of a watershed that has long been relegated to the state’s list of impaired waters.

“I’m very proud of the work that we’ve been able to do,” said Williston Conservation Commission member Jude Hersey. “I really feel when driving around the town that we’re making an impact.”

Hersey and her commission cohorts are indeed making an impact, as Stephen Diglio, project manager with the environmental consulting firm KAS Inc., attests.

According to Diglio, 17 acres, with an average of 200 to 250 trees per acre, have been planted along the Allen Brook – a sprawling watershed located entirely within the town’s boundaries.

“The initial goal for the project was to do the restoration of 10 acres, so we actually exceeded those goals,” said Diglio.

As Williston senior planner Jessica Andreoletti explained, the restoration of the Allen Brook has been an ongoing, multi-year process.

“There have been multiple phases to the project, and this is the culmination phase,” Andreoletti said. “The whole point is to keep sediment out of the Allen Brook, and the only way to do that is to plant trees and provide habitat. What we’re trying to do is bring back fish and bugs. The reason why it hasn’t passed the state’s stormwater standards is because there’s not enough fish or bugs.”

In order for the tree planting to commence, however, Andreoletti and Diglio first had to convince landowners to give up land within the brook’s 150-foot riparian buffer by signing conservation easements over to the town in exchange for cash compensation.

“Really the biggest challenge we had was getting land owners to commit, because it is an easement on their property,” Diglio said. “It doesn’t really provide any more restrictions than the local town zoning, but it’s a perpetual thing. The zoning could one day disappear, but the easement will stay.”

“But all in all,” continued Diglio, “most of the land is undevelopable anyway, so it’s a net benefit for everybody. They’re getting money for land they couldn’t really do anything with, plus we’re improving the water quality and health of the brook in hopes to eventually get it off the impaired water (list), and that’s the ultimate goal of the restoration project.”

Rick and Karen Reed, whose 14-acre plot on Williston Road abuts the brook, were more than happy to allow an easement on the western edge of their property.

“It’s not land that has any commercial value anyway and (it has) sort of marginal agricultural value, so I couldn’t see really a reason not to participate,” said Rick Reed. “I thought it was great.”

Doug Goulette, a member of the homeowner’s association in Williston’s Southridge neighborhood, said his community is unified in its support of the Allen Brook restoration.

“We wanted to do everything we could to improve the water quality of Allen Brook, at least where it passes through our property,” Goulette said. “It seemed like a win-win situation for all parties.”

There are two components to the Allen Brook project: land acquisition and restoration. Andreoletti said that while 2011 restoration funds have been exhausted and the final 70 trees were planted on Nov. 19, additional land acquisition dollars remain.

Funding for land acquisition and restoration was made possible by a federal grant the town secured through Jim Fay of the Champlain Water District. Under the terms of the State Tribal Assistance Grant — recently extended through July 1, 2012 — the grant will pay 55 percent (up to $220,243) of total project costs, if the town comes up with the 45-percent match.

With $66,080 in matching grant monies already in tow from a variety of sources — including the state’s Stormwater Impaired Restoration Fund — the Williston Selectboard authorized the use of up to $114,119 of the town’s Environmental Reserve Fund to satisfy the match.

Besides the environmental benefits of the Allen Brook restoration, Hersey said the project serves as a way to unite the community and to teach the value of conservation to local youths.

“Both of our schools border the Allen Brook, so you can have kids at a young age be a part of protecting the environment,” Hersey said.

Andreoletti observed that in addition to preserving the long-term welfare of Williston’s primary watershed, the brook’s restoration also sends a symbolic message to residents.

“Williston gets a bad rep for being the box store capital of Vermont, and this (project) shows there’s more to Williston than just that,” said Andreoletti.

School budget decision packets revealed

Extended school day among proposed changes

Nov. 23, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Although no decisions were made, decision packets highlighted the Williston School Board’s budget meeting on Nov. 17.

Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli explained that decision packets are the tools that will be used to makes changes to the FY2013 baseline budget.

“To change the baseline budget, you have to write a decision packet, which is either going to increase or decrease the budget,” Nardelli said. “What we do here in Williston is we allow everybody to kind of tell us what their needs are through a decision packet. This does not mean that every one of these is going to go through. We’re going to have a lot of discussion about them and weigh out the educational impact.”

There were 17 items on the list of decision packets Nardelli handed out to members of the Board and budget buddies in attendance, none more notable than an item titled “Extended School Day.”

“We are looking to extend the day in some way that will take the pressure off the regular school day around a lot of different areas,” Nardelli said.

Nardelli further referenced the extended school day concept when discussing such proposed programs as kindergarten related arts and world language classes.

“If we’re going to add anything else in, that means we’re taking away from core (instructional) time because that’s the only place it can come from. So that’s the struggle with a six-and-a-half-hour day,” Nardelli said.

Also of note among the decision packets was the proposed creation of an “early intervention outreach coordinator,” who would serve as a liaison between Allen Brook School and local preschools.

“The idea of that position is to coordinate (preschools’) curriculums and the work they do with our students with programs at school, so when they come, they’re better prepared to be successful at school,” said Nardelli. “So it’s actually working with the preschools locally — every one of them that we have a partnership with — to influence the instruction our future students will get.”

At the larger Chittenden South Supervisory Union level — which comprises the towns of Williston, Hinesburg, St. George, Charlotte and Shelburne — CSSU Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason said the CSSU board met Nov. 16 to discuss FY2013 decision packets — including a packet that calls for the elimination of support for math coordinators.

“They are considering removing the support line under math coordinator,” Mason said. “The CSSU board used to contribute $50,000 in support of that program, with the bulk of the rest of the program coming from Title II funding, which is federal funding in support of schools. The title funding is rapidly disappearing, and as a result, CSSU will consider no longer funding salary and benefits in the form of math coordinators as part of its purchased services budget.”

On a similar note, Nardelli said Williston’s summer school program is in danger of being eliminated.

“Right now there’s no money left for summer school,” said Nardelli. “So if we want to continue summer school for students other than special education students, then we have to consider that (decision packet).”

Nardelli stressed that the purpose of his presentation was merely to outline the various decision packets, and that detailed discussion and analysis are still to come.

“Sometime mid-December we’re going to go through and we’re going to consider all of these (decision packets) and you’ll get presentations in detail on every single one of them and we’ll discuss them at length,” Nardelli said.

Take time to make time: the gap year concept

Nov. 23, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Who among us knew — or thought we knew — what to do with our lives when we graduated from high school?

Who among us actually pulled it off?

For many high school seniors, going to college isn’t a decision — it’s inevitability. It’s a predetermined academic progression — just as middle school followed elementary school and high school followed junior high.

But for all the undecided high school grads or undeclared freshmen floundering through their first semester of college, there’s another option: a gap year.

A gap year is when students take a year off (generally between high school and college) to pursue interests outside the classroom and learn experientially, often by traveling aboard. Although it’s a relatively new concept in the United States, it’s a common practice for graduating high school seniors in many European countries.

“It’s not a year off, it’s not a vacation year and it’s not an abyss of a year. It’s a structured year focusing on different areas of interest, and on that practical level, following up on things that you might be drawn to, to try and get a better sense of who you are,” said Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs, a Princeton, N.J.-based group that helps students find gap year programs that fit their interests.

“The thing that’s so powerful about this,” continued Bull, “that I see both from having done this myself, but also being on the counseling end of it, is that you have a 17- or 18-year-old for the first time in their lives choosing what they want to do with their lives in a substantial way and for a chunk of time that’s more than a summer. That’s powerful.”

Gap year activities are many and varied, and can range in price and length of time. But a commonality among programs is a focus on independent, yet structured, learning.

“We always say, ‘A gap year is not sitting at home on your mother’s couch playing Xbox,’” said Nikki St. Mary, a guidance counselor at South Burlington High School, who oversees the school’s annual gap year fair.

It was at the SBHS gap year fair in 2010 that Montpelier High School senior Noel Kerr found a program through the Portland, Ore.-based Carpe Diem Education that allowed him to combine his interests in Thai culture and scuba diving. He’s currently in Thailand, where he has already worked in an orphanage and studied Buddhism. At the end of the semester he will do his scuba diving certification and hopes to next year get an internship rescuing sea turtles.

“He’s not a super academic kid, and this was an opportunity to explore,” said Nilda Kerr, Noel’s mother. “A lot of kids need to grow up a little bit before they go to college. It would be a mistake to just send him off and expect him to excel at academia when that’s always been a challenge for him — and this will give him the confidence, and help him kind of figure out who he is and what he wants to do.”

Kerr said that despite her son being more than 8,000 miles and many time zones away, she doesn’t worry about him because of the structured and well-organized nature of the Carpe Diem program.

“To be honest, I don’t worry about him on this trip at all, really,” she said. “I worried about him more when he was home with his friends and going out.”

Besides safety concerns, common parental worries include cost and the fear that their child might never attend college.

Bull assuaged these concerns by pointing out that although a gap year is an additional expense for parents, gap year students are more likely to graduate in four years once they attend college. She also said that it’s rare that a gap year student would forgo college altogether.

“There’s information that shows that (gap year) students are unlikely not to go to college,” Bull said. “That’s very rare. In fact, if you have a student that’s right on the edge — who’s just turned off by school — they’re much more likely to go to college after doing gap time.”

And while gaps in time on résumés and transcripts have traditionally been frowned upon, St. Mary said that college admissions offices are looking more and more favorably at gap years.

“Our experience has been that colleges are thrilled to have students (do gap years),” said St. Mary. “Students really do come back with a much more mature, global perspective than they did before they left. So I think colleges look very favorably on it.”

Jane Sarouhan, a vice president at the Center for Interim Programs’ office in Northampton, Mass., said that while gap years are sometimes taken by college students or working adults, it’s most common among graduating high school seniors seeking a break from academia.

“The number one reason students are taking gap years is because of burnout,” Sarouhan said.

Sandra Ackert-Smith, a 17-year-old senior at Vermont Commons School in South Burlington, attended this year’s gap year fair at SBHS on Nov. 10 for that reason.

“I’m definitely feeling burnt out,” Ackert-Smith said. “I really loved learning and school in general when I started high school, and as it’s progressed it’s become more and more of a chore. It just feels like there’s so much pressure to go to college next year and I’m kind of resisting that pressure.”

She’s not alone in her resistance.

Karina Jaquith-Bender, a 17-year-old self-directed learner from Charlotte, is sold on the gap year concept.

“I’m definitely going to do a gap year because I don’t want to go to college just because it’s the next thing on the wheel,” said Jaquith-Bender. “I want to go to college because I know why I’m going. I want to do something real in the world first.”


Nov. 23, 2011



Lucia T. Haynes, 78, passed away Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011, in Birchwood Terrace of Burlington where she had made her home for the past 16 months. Lucia was born on Jan. 31, 1933, in Burlington to George and Marjorie (Whitten) Talcott. She grew up and attended schools in Williston and graduated from Burlington High School, class of 1952. On Dec. 31, 1954, she married Barry V. Haynes at the Williston Federated Church. Lucia worked at the law firm of Phillip Kolvoord in Essex Junction and was also employed by the Village of Essex for many years. For 25 years, she managed the restaurant at the Williston Golf Course where she was a member for many years — playing golf with friends in the Ladies League as well as State Days and was a former Women’s Club Champion. Lucia is survived by her two children, Scott and his wife, Tammi, of Tehachapi, Calif. and Linda and her husband, Tim Parent, of Hinesburg. Lucia was the proud “Nana” to five grandchildren, Tiffany and Dave Hendershott and Chris and Marisa Haynes, all of Phoenix, Ariz., Jessica and Matt Mason of Williston, Dan and Emily Parent of South Burlington and Libby Parent of Winston-Salem, N.C.; and seven great- grandchildren, Hannah, David, Ben, Elisa, Sophia and Eva of Phoenix and Moriah of Williston. Lu is also survived by her twin sister and best friend, Lucy Lapan of Milton and Cynthia (Jane) Mongeon of Montpelier; as well as many nieces and nephews. Lucia also leaves her very good friend and golfing partner, Sue Duncan. She was predeceased by her two sisters, Shirley Murray and Peggy Keefe; as well as her two brothers, John Talcott and Stuart Talcott; and her partner of 30 years, Reg Linsenmeir. The family would like to thank the kind and caring staff of Birchwood Terrace for their compassion during Lucia’s residence there. No words can express how truly grateful we are for your presence in her life. There will be no calling hours. A graveside service for the family was held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, at the East Cemetery in Williston. Following the service, Tim and Linda invited family to their house for a gathering to remember Lucia. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Lucia’s memory to either the CVAA Meals on Wheels Program (CVAA, 76 Pearl St., Ste 201, Essex Junction, Vt. 05452) or to Birchwood Terrace Healthcare (43 Starr Farm Rd., Burlington, Vt. 05408-1321; reference the Special Care Unit/Attn: Kim).



Richard Arthur Spear, 81, of Williston, passed away Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011, at his home, surrounded by his family. He was born Feb. 16, 1930, in St. Albans Bay to William Wayne and Irene Eliza (Willett) Spear. A 1949 graduate of Shelburne High School, he worked at Shelburne Farms for Electra Havemeyer Webb until he was drafted into the army. He served in the army from 1951 to 1953 and saw active duty in the Korean War, where he devoted his off duty time working with the orphans of the war. Richard married Barbara Ann Danyew on Feb. 24, 1952, in Hinesburg. A 31-year veteran of the Vermont State Police, he began his career as a trooper in Brattleboro in 1954 and then served for several years as a criminal/homicide investigator in southern Vermont. He retired as the Director of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in 1984. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; his children, Donna Spear Madore, Tracey Gillies and her husband, Darin, of Barre, Steven Spear and his wife, Kathy, of Merrick, N.Y., and Michael Spear of Williston; his grandchildren, Benjamin, Nina, and Emily Madore, Abbie and Nicholas Treis, Justin Gillies, Melissa and Rebecca Spear, Matthew and Ryan Spear, and Michael Rizzo; his sisters, Eleanor Cusson, Annette Durgin and husband, Neil, Ethel Brousseau and husband, Phil, and Colleen Lavalette and husband, Steven; several nieces and nephews; and his beloved friends, John and Ruth Whitaker, Milford and Glenda Ramey, Ted and Betty Hislop, and Jeff and Peg Pratt. He was predeceased by his infant daughter, Sharon Lee Spear; his brothers, Winston, William, Robert, James, and Thomas; and his sister, Patricia Beane.

“Read from the treasured volume

The poem of thy choice,

And lend to the rhyme of the poet

The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares, that infest the day,

Shall fold their tents, like nomads,

And as silently steal away.”

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from “The Day Is Done.”

A memorial service was held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, at Ready Funeral & Cremation Service South Chapel, 261 Shelburne Road, Burlington. A reception followed the service at the Williston Woods Community Center. In lieu of flowers, those who wish may send donations to: The Vermont Troopers Association, P.O. Box 1474, Montpelier, Vt. 05601. To send online condolences to the family please visit www.readyfuneral.com.