(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - In the busy halls of the high school in Burlington, V.T., a new student is toting around a book bag this week: the city's mayor, Miro Weinberger. "It's been fun," the democrat told New England Cable News. "The week is off to a good start."
Weinberger is spending one full week at the school, 25 years after he graduated from a different Vermont high school. Weinberger will get his lunch in the cafeteria, ride the school bus one day, and attend athletic team practices. He will also focus on regular business. The Burlington City Council and Board of Finance meetings will be held in the school this week, and Weinberger is bringing his staff into the vice principal's office for their daily meetings.
Weinberger said his main goal is to spotlight a grant from New England's Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Under an effort dubbed "Partnership for Change," the cities of Winooski and Burlington will receive $3.7-million over three years to help modernize teaching.
The districts are considering sweeping changes that could possibly include focusing more on technology or encouraging internships with companies to better prepare graduates for college and the workforce. "We all know the world is changing, and education has to change with it," Weinberger said.
Two school districts in Maine and one in New Hampshire also got grants from Nellie Mae to study student-centered learning, which acknowledges that different students learn in different ways. "In order to build a more bright and prosperous future for the entire community, we need to redesign the way we do education to be more student-centered, and with an eye towards 21st-century goals, technology, and innovation," said Lindsey Cox, the program manager for Partnership for Change in Burlington and Winooski.
High schoolers NECN talked to admitted they weren't sure at first if Mayor Weinberger's week in high school was just a stunt. But they said after learning more about the project, they now give the mayor high marks for walking the walk when it comes to studying ways to reshape the education system. "I think it's a good thing, and I give him props for doing this," said Ciara Ali-Levin, an 18-year-old high school senior.
"I hope that he sees that there are some kids that really struggle and do need the extra help to kind of have a more tailored education plan," added Shyenne Lewis, another 18-year-old senior.
As he carried his lunch tray through the bustling cafeteria, Weinberger joked to NECN that he now is rethinking his suit and tie choices for this week among teenagers. "I think tomorrow I might go a little more casual," he laughed.