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MA Teacher of the Year: “There’s Room for Alternatives”

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Monday, March 27, 2023   

Massachusetts, like other states, continues to struggle with a shortage of teachers. But for one English teacher at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, not even a daily four-hour commute via car and ferry could keep her from the classroom.

Dani Charbonneau is the coordinator of an embedded alternative education program called Project Vine - which integrates "at-risk" students into the student body with the same curriculum and schedule, but with added adventurous field trips and special programming.

Charbonneau said if school is fun, kids will come.

"You know," said Charbonneau, "it can be very painful for some people to try and get through the traditional educational model, and there's room for alternatives."

Charbonneau - the 2023 Massachusetts "Teacher of the Year" - said Project Vine aims to increase student engagement, reduce chronic absenteeism, and break what is often a family legacy of bad high school experiences.

If she can do that, she said, students will start to view their education in a new light.

Charbonneau said what sets Project Vine apart from other alternative programs is that her "at risk" students are not apart from their peers, and are still able to participate in extracurricular activities and electives.

She's encouraged state education officials and lawmakers to create grants for schools interested in following the Project Vine model, and said she hopes they'll keep good data on their progress.

"So that we can get a real sense of what works," said Charbonneau, "and really use that to drive the educational choices that are being made."

As part of her state award, Charbonneau became a candidate for the "National Teacher of the Year." But she said she told the judges she wasn't interested.

The responsibilities and travel that come with the title would mean too much time away from her students.





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