Monday, October 24, 2011

Student revolt on Mt. Philo!

A lovely story from Ben's first year at Edmunds Middle School. He's likely the first student in the 111-year history of Vermont's most prominent school to attend using a wheelchair. The five-story brick building, which sits on Main Street in the state's largest city, was made whole last year with the addition of an elevator.

Ben's team of 50 6th graders and teachers did a "hike for hunger" fund-raiser last week... they hiked to the top of Mt. Philo. As the kids spilled out of vehicles at the base of this mountain, Ben's mom prepared to drive him to the top in their ramp-van via the access road. Everyone else was hiking up the narrow trail through the woods.

That's when the student revolt hit. "No fair!" "Ben should go with us!" Suddenly, Ben was headed up the access road with a dozen classmates and adults pushing and pulling him in his wheelchair! That's a loooong steep push! (See pair of photos on the school's home page.)

What a great group of students and teachers. Diversity benefits everyone.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WCAX: Burlington school finally handicapped-accessible

Burlington School Finally Handicap Accessible
Burlington, Vermont - January 19, 2011

Burlington's oldest school is finally starting to look a little more modern.

Parents, teachers, and students cut the ribbon Wednesday on a brand new $500,000 state-of-the-art elevator at the Edmunds School.

There have been people working to get an elevator in Edmunds for decades. And no parent was happier about the new addition than Michael Wood-Lewis. His son Ben currently attends fifth-grade at Champlain Elementary. Without an elevator, he wouldn't be able to move on to middle school at Edmunds next year with many of his fellow classmates.

"I don't think there have been any students to attend Edmunds who use a wheelchair simply because they couldn't. There have been plenty of candidates but they've all been sent elsewhere," Michael Wood-Lewis said.

Accessibility for disabled students is a problem perplexing many of Vermont's schools. Only one new school has been built in the past decade and more than half are at least 40 years old, built before requirements for handicapped accessibility. That means most are in need of improvements.

The Vermont Center for Independent Living fields complaints about school accessibility on a regular basis.

"I think generally people look at the main bathrooms or the main entrance, but maybe the second floor isn't accessible to everybody or the staging area for the theater isn't accessible to everybody," said Sarah Launderville of VCIL.

Schools must meet requirements outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but many resort to creative measures in order to do so, like bringing in stair lifts instead of installing expensive elevators or moving classes downstairs to accommodate disabled students.

In the case of Edmunds, disabled students were simply sent elsewhere in the district.

But there are signs of progress, especially recently. According to the Vermont Education Department, upwards of 20 schools have taken advantage of federal stimulus funds to make major accessibility upgrades to schools.

"School budgets are so strapped that when stimulus money came in it was one area where they could really expand and make improvements," Launderville said.

And for families like Ben's-- that's encouraging news. Families that just want to see their children made a part of the classroom community in every way possible.

"It's the daily lottery to see who gets to ride in the elevator with Ben," Michael Wood-Lewis said. "It's really about accessibility and inclusion."

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

Edmunds Elevator Carries First Passengers!

Speeches were made, thanks shared, a ribbon cut, and rides were gladly taken on the new first-ever elevator in 111-year-old Edmunds Middle School today!

While many people have worked and wished for this day for decades, the current effort started two years ago, January 2009. It took one year to convince the school and city leadership to make this project a priority and to locate funds, and one year to design and build it. Amazing!

Congratulations and thanks to all involved!!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Spread the Word... Edmunds Elevator Celebration Poster

Download this poster and share it around Burlington before Jan. 19, 2011!

Newspaper Covers Edmunds Elevator Progress

In today's Free Press...

Burlington school renovations make progress
By Molly Walsh
Burlington Free Press
Thursday, January 6, 2011

The ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for a new elevator at Edmunds Middle School on Jan. 19 will wrap up a wave of improvements at city schools over the past 18 months and be followed by another round, school officials said.

The $1.5 million elevator project will improve handicap access in the century-old, multi-story structure whose many stairs are an obstacle for people with mobility problems.

Michael Wood-Lewis, a South End parent who led the campaign to make the building more accessible, said the elevator means one of the most prominent public school buildings in Vermont -- located on Main Street in Vermont's most populous city -- will finally be open to all.

"It's very significant. It means that people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility issues will now be able to work in the building or be a student in the building or attend events or vote," Wood-Lewis said.

The elevator will allow 11-year-old Ben Wood-Lewis, a fifth-grader at Champlain School who has cerebral palsy, to attend Edmunds Middle next year with his current classmates rather than being assigned to the one-story Hunt Middle School across the city in the New North End.

Until now, it has been district practice to assign South End students who use wheelchairs to attend Hunt because Hunt is handicapped accessible. Michael Wood-Lewis argued that this practice was unfair for many reasons, including the way it separated students from their grade school peers.

Ben Wood-Lewis, who was recently in the hospital, came home to find 30 get-well cards from buddies at Champlain -- underscoring the importance of friendship, his father said.

"These are his classmates and these are the folks he's going to middle school with now," Michael Wood-Lewis said.

The elevator project is just one item on an ambitious list of renovations, including some that cost significantly more than anticipated. Voters approved a $9.7 million bond in 2009 that was supposed to pay for overhauls at three schools but will come up short. Costs for some projects exceeded estimates:

-- Work at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes was expected to cost $2.5 million when the bond went to voters, was estimated at $3 million last year after a kitchen renovation was added and will cost about $3.27 million.

-- Work at C.P. Smith School was estimated at $3.1 million but will cost about $4 million, said Chris Giard, property services director for Burlington Schools.

-- The reminder of the $9.7 million bond will not be enough to cover the third renovation project, at J.J. Flynn School, which was projected to cost $3.96 million initially but is now pegged at $4.7 million.

The district plans to move forward with the renovations at Flynn and cover costs above the $9.7 million bond through an annual $2 million bonding authority that city voters approved in 2009. This bonding authority and about $300,000 in federal stimulus funds helped pay for the Edmunds elevator.

Burlington Superintendent Jeanne Collins said a number of factors contributed to higher than anticipated costs at Smith and the Sustainability Academy, including the difficulty of making accurate estimates more than 18 months before construction begins. She thanked Burlington voters for their generosity and said she was pleased that so much work has been done in the district, which operates nine schools and owns more than 20 buildings. The recent round of improvements are significant, she said.

"I don't think the district has seen that much work in about 50 years," she said.

Contact Molly Walsh at 660-1874 or

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Edmunds Elevator Ribbon-Cutting Jan. 19, 2011

Burlington School District Superintendent Jeanné Collins announced on CCTV that the Edmunds elevator ribbon-cutting celebration will occur...

January 19, 2011 (Jan. 20 snow date)
3:30 PM
Edmunds cafeteria
Details to follow!

The following video clip is a compelling discussion of inclusion and accessibility in Burlington schools that aired December 2, 2010...