May 8, 2014
By Heleigh Bostwick
In 1964, buoyed by the arrival of IBM and a rapidly growing population, a simple, no-frills high school named Champlain Valley Union officially opened its doors, graduating its first class that same year.
This year marks the 50th graduating class from CVU and board members and faculty are hoping that members of the original graduating class will be there.
“CVU’s 50th anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to pause and take note of how very far this school has come since its birth,” said CVU board chair Susan Grasso in an email to the Observer. “We hope residents will take a moment to read about its history and come celebrate with us.”
The 50th graduation ceremony will take place on Friday, June 13 at 1 p.m. at UVM’s Patrick Gym, with an alumni reception to follow the ceremony.
“CVU has a long and rich history,” agreed fellow board member Joan Lenes, encouraging all alumni, faculty, staff, parents and community members to attend the graduation ceremony. “Sen. Diane Snelling, whose mother, Barbara Snelling was instrumental in getting CVU off the ground, will speak briefly.”
By the time former principal Val Gardner arrived at CVU to teach physical education in 1973, the high school had been open nearly 10 years.
The infamous temporary trailers, which students and faculty alike referred to as “the temps,” were firmly in place, having been installed in 1968 when the school board realized that the modular design of three buildings connected by breezeways, which was large enough to accommodate 750 to 1,000 students, might not meet enrollment projections over the next 10 years.
The enrollment projections never came to pass, but the temps remained a part of CVU for another 30 years.
“The temps weren’t removed until 2003 or so, when CVU finally underwent a major renovation,” Gardner recalled, chuckling.
In 1973, Title IX (which mandated equitable access to programs—including sports—for males and females) was brand new, but athletic facilities, with the exception of soccer fields, were practically non-existent.
A proposed track had been scrapped to save money when the school was first built, and money tended to be spent on programs instead of the facilities.
“I remember how team members would practice hurdles on the sidewalk,” said Gardner, who also coached the girl’s track team.
Despite its lack of athletic facilities however, CVU has always had outstanding athletic teams, starting with winning the state championship for soccer in 1964 and 1965. Overall, CVU has won over 110 state championships in the last 50 years.
“The ‘70s were not the easiest times,” said Gardner. “CVU was a brand new school and students’ parents weren’t associated with the school—there was no history.”
The school’s rural nature also lent itself to a nickname many alumni might remember: Cow Valley Union.
“CVU was really trying to create an identity for itself in the ‘70s,” Gardner said. “Kids weren’t proud to be from CVU, they’d say, “I’m from Cow Valley,” and it wasn’t until the ‘80s and ‘90s that parents felt affiliated with the school—because they had gone there.”
The main difference between those early days at CVU and where the school is now is the sense of community where people have responsibility to community and to themselves, observed Gardner, who now runs an educational consulting practice in Huntington.
“The students have taken more ownership,” she said. “Kids come to CVU and are ready to be part of giving to the community.”
The 1990s saw changes to the curriculum as well, starting with the grad challenge and the core program, which helps ninth graders get off to a good start. “It used to be you only needed 16 credits to graduate,” she said. “That has changed tremendously. Now it’s about how do kids show what they know and apply what they know.” “We have been cutting edge in educational initiatives and a leader in the state known for always keeping the student learner at the heart of our mission,” said Lenes.
“Our high school is a special place that is filled with people who care deeply about kids and community and we hope residents will take a moment to read about its history and come celebrate with us,” added Grasso. “Looking at all that we have done in the last 50 years inspires us as we look to the next 50!”
For more information, to volunteer, stay updated or RSVP to CVU’s 50th year celebration, visit the CVU 50th Celebration Facebook page, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call CVU at 482-7111.