Linda Sloane Interview 2
This is file #16, cycle 4. Today’s date is July 9, 2019. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Linda Sloane, but this time she is the Program Director of SOAR! She is going to talk about her career change after retirement, and anything about SOAR that she wishes. But first we’ll start with…
JM:What is your name?
JM:How did you get involved with soar?
LS:I got involved with SOAR after I had been retired for about 10 months. I quickly realized that doing nothing was not for me; I wasn’t ready for that. SOAR seemed like the perfect marriage of a part time job with doing the kinds of things that I liked and excelled at as a teacher. It was a good combo for me and I think it has continued to be a good match for me.
JM:Had you had any contact with SOAR before?
LS:Not really, I have known people who were directors, for instance for a while Jenny Law, who was my boss at Lee Kellogg School in Falls Village. I knew of the program and I am not convinced that my own boys weren’t there at the very beginning. I just don’t remember that title. I think they did take it in middle school years. I definite knew about it. It was the envy of all the public schools in the area because they all wished they had such a program, so the name came up frequently when we were talking about it after school. It provided opportunities for kids.
JM:When did you actually become Program Director?
LS:I became Program Director in July 1, 2017. (See also Louise Fallon interview)
JM:Do you have a program committee?
LS:I do have a program committee which is made up of teachers, parents, and community members. It is a great group. Right now we are up to 9, but no everybody can come when we have a meeting so it is good that we have that number. One of their responsibilities is to be able to volunteer at various activities like fund raising events, and other SOAR related events that are not necessarily workshop teaching . They are very supportive. Some people have been on it for a long time.
JM:Who would be the faculty members on that committee?
LS:The faculty members right now are Kristen Neary, and Jenny Hill, and then the Principal Stephanie Magyar: the principal is always a standing member of the committee. Their responsibilities are such that they are not always able to make the meetings. Stephanie comes to as many as she is able to. There has also been a middle school teacher, Brendan Riley who has now stepped down and is going to be replaced by Carol Hackett who is one of the science teachers at the school. She is great. She will be a great addition to the group.
JM:What does the program committee actually do?2.
LS:They advise and suggest classes. They have some really good ideas about programs. They help out with the fund raising events. They help to approve classroom grants that teachers can apply for. They are the committee that vets those and decides if they are worthy of the funding. This is the reward that you get if you are accepted. They are my ears and eyes on the ground so they can give me feedback if they hear from people. Molly Salisbury here at the library is on the committee; she is helpful because I know that libraries are always looking for ways to stay relevant. It is a wonderful way for Molly to stay really connected to the school and it works really well. She is a real asset on the committee.
JM:What is your budget for this?
LS:The SOAR budget is around $65,000 a year. It is pretty bare bones because it’s just me they have to pay. A good junk of the money goes to paying for me and the various programs. There is not a lot of overhead there. It has not changed much over the years.
JM:Could you give me three workshops that were done last year?
LS:One that was very different and very popular was Henna, the History of Henna. Tess probably mentioned that one. (See Tess Marks interview) This wonderful native Indian woman lives in Millerton and clearly very artistic, even though she would tell you that you do not need to be artistic to do henna. Her background makes a lot of that. She is very talented. She got interested in henna as a child: the henna woman used to come to her house to make up her mom for various Indian holidays. She started practicing it at age 8 or 9. She stayed with it and now it is really a passion of hers. She had never taught kids before and she was fabulous. That was a terrific workshop. The kids loved it. She actually volunteered her time also at the Fall Festival so the kids when we do our SOAR craft tent, they will be offering henna. That gives the kids an opportunity to come there.
Another one that was pretty popular last year was Red Hot cooking. That has continued to be a super favorite, particularly with older kids. We now do it at the Congregational Church. Emily Armstrong teaches that course for us. It comes back from popular demand every time. She was a parent at Salisbury Central School and has stayed interested in that program. They meet three times during a season. We do it in the fall and the spring. They have made everything from foreign delights, to cupcakes, to all great salads. Emily is a brilliant cook. It is just a great fun time for the kids. It starts later in the afternoon; it starts at 5:00 so kids make dinner and they eat together so it has a real social component which is really nice for the kids.
A third class that was very popular and we had not offered it before was a nature workshop for kids in Kindergarten and first grade offered by Peggy Heck. You probably remember her from Roaring Brook Nature Center. She did a great job with that. Kindergarten for a long time did not have any offered SOAR classes. I don’t offer them in the fall because it is a big adjustment time for them at that age. I did try it this spring and it was pretty popular. I plan to bring Peggy back again in the spring. She did a lot of nature walking around the grounds. Peggy always brought very interesting and cool things from Roaring Brook for the kids to look at. The kids loved it.
JM:Oh good, that is a good time to start them too.3.
LS:I work for a range of different classes. It seems that the parents are very interested in science workshops and they are very interested in art workshops.
JM:I know you do an on-line catalogue. The location of the workshops is mostly at the school?
LS:Generally they are at Salisbury Central School. But the board is definitely been entertaining the idea of doing more off site workshops. There are a lot of people who are interested in offering workshops but it is hard for them to bring everything they need to the site. My one concern is that I want kids who have two working parents not to be excluded from them. It is a balance. You can hope that you can car pool. Hotchkiss has been very generous with their offsite programs. They offer a farm program which is hugely popular. Then fall they are going to be doing an art program in the art studio at Hotchkiss being run by 3 art students at Hotchkiss along with faculty members. They will pick up and kids and bring them there and the parents then pick them up there after the workshop is over. The majority of the classes 85-90% happen on campus.
JM:There again transportation is a problem.
LS:It is very costly to get a school bus is $150. There are some parents who have jobs that need help to transport kids. There are some parents who don’t work every day, so there are ways that we can start to try to experiment a little bit. We have to be creative. We also have to find the right person: if they are off campus I can’t be with them because I have to be on campus so I have to have instructors that I know.
JM:There is insurance and liability.
LS:There are a lot of liability issues that we definitely will have.
JM:Roughly how many people are there per class?
LS:Generally classes are around 10 kids, although there are some classes that take more. There are also classes where the nature of what they are doing or a first time instructor they want fewer kids like 8. 6 are about as low as I go because of the cost and it not being financially viable.
JM:I am assuming that it is also at the discretion of the leader.
LS:It is. I let the instructors have a lot of discretion about that. I want them to want to come back so I try to accommodate their interests as much as possible.
JM:Do they get paid?
LS:They do get paid, but people waive that fee. I have a wonderful woman who is teaching yoga to kids. She refuses to get paid; she looks at it as a donation. Most people are around $25 an hour although there are people whom I contract with like Flying Cloud Institute up in Gt. Barrington, a very well established science/arts program. With them my contact is set: the fee with them is pretty much
higher, but within that everything needed from materials to certified teachers is included. There is a range but in general people get between $25-35 per hour. If I know I am not going to get something without offering them $50, I’ll do it.
JM:That is at your discretion. How do you get leaders?
LS:I have a lot of contacts; I think having been part of the Region #1 and a lot of my friends who are now retired are good sources, but usually if you start talking to one person, they will say, “Oh do you know so and so?” It has been surprising in the number of people who have been interested in teaching. I try to accommodate people as much as I can. I try really hard to make them want to come back and to make it a positive experience for them.
JM:Tell me a little bit about Flying Cloud in Gt. Barrington.
LS:Flying cloud in Gt. Barrington was nothing I knew about until about a year ago. I don’t know how I missed it while I was teaching. It is a group that started by a woman, a little bit before SOAR started. Zenas Block did a lot of talking to her before starting SOAR. (See Janet block Interview) It was certainly the inspiration for SOAR. It is a non-profit and possibly 6 or 7 people who work there. Many of them are former teachers for whatever reason did not like public school teaching or were passionate about science and art and found this a much better way to get to it. They do a lot including after school workshops, they offer summer camps that apparently a lot of kids have gone to and have loved. They also work with teachers in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District. They teach people the new science standards and how to do something called “productive talk” which is a new approach to the pedagogy around the next generation of science standards. They get contacts with public schools: they go into classrooms and they mentor teachers to help them develop units of study.
JM:Where in Gt. Barrington are they located?
LS:They are in St. James church by Taconic Avenue. They have a couple of room on the second floor of the parish house. There are quite a few offices there. It is a smart way to make a church building viable. Most of their work is outreach, so they do not really need a lot of space. It is a great group of people and very talented teachers. I really love the director Maria Rundle. She and I are very simpatico with our approach to teaching kids and all that. I like that about the organization.
JM: What about the Wassaic Project?
LS:That was a great find too. Weezie used them (See Louise Fallon interview). She did a couple of workshops with them. That is a whole other non-profit that is very well funded by their board and other people. It is in an incredibly old mill building in Wassaic. It is a group that helps support artists in short term residency. The artists will step out of their life for 8 weeks and come here and live at the Wassaic Project and do their art. A lot of times that art expends into working with the kids in the public school system. A lot of them work at Webatuck over in that neck of the woods. The director there is a delightful young woman naked Tara Foley. She herself is incredibly artistic and very creative. She definitely thinks
outside of the box. She is offering a workshop this fall that I am very excited about. It approaches art from a totally different way that kids get taught in the public school. She is going to teach about how artists get inspired- how they get certain inspirations. She is going to do this with young kids so it will be very interesting. She is very open to working with me on the artist in residence who came up there looking for opportunities to get into the schools. The terrific Artist in Residence program this year was with a wonderful woman who did “Art through Writing”. The kids looked at art, and wrote some poetry around it and published a little magazine at the end of the year which everybody got to take home. It was with all the sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Salisbury Central. It was a mini residency over 5 days during the winter. It was terrific. Karen helped but the woman Julia Bosson took 8 weeks out of her life and came up here. That was what she did. I think the kids really responded well to this. The language arts teachers in the middle school were supportive and terrific to work with. It was a great project.
JM:You have already talked about Molly Salisbury, children’s librarian at the Scoville Memorial Library. You also spoke about the Hotchkiss Farm project.
LSLYeah they have been great.
JM:You have a grant program for the faculty at Salisbury Central. How much do they get with this grant?
LS:Typically they can apply for $150 dollars, but there are some classes that are a little bit bigger. We just revamped the whole criteria for that. Teachers who have larger classes now have the opportunity to ask for more. There is also a very rare occasion if there is something extraordinary that we will grant a much bigger grant. This year the American civic Life Project (See Bill Willis interview and Bill Littauer interview) is going to be in the middle school. We are giving a generous grant to help support that.
JM:What is the American civic Life Project?
LS:That is what Dominic Lesseur did with others at the high school.
JM:Bill Willis’ son Ben was very involved with that. (It is a filming project where students pick an issue that is a community concern, research it and create a documentary about it. These films have been showcased at the Moviehouse in Millerton in February. Ed.)
LS:Now I think every Region #1 elementary school and middle school is going to be working with that. It is how kids create a document. They will be doing film making and teaching civics through that vehicle. We are not supporting the teaching of civics because that is regular curriculum, but we are supporting learning how to make films and documentaries. The application form that teachers fill out goes to the program committee. We review it and then we decide how much money they will get. It is a way of supporting and enriching plus using the initiative of the teachers in the classroom. It also makes sure that kids who don’t go to SOAR still are exposed to SOAR activities.
JM:They no longer do the gifted and talented program?6.
LS:No, not many schools do that anymore only because it is not required. We did it while it was required and now it is not. A lot of school can’t afford to do it. There are some schools, the wealthier ones, still have that program.
JM:Do you still sponsor all school assemblies?
LS:Yes we do. It does not have to be an assembly. This year we are going to be partnering with Flying Cloud Institute. They have this theme night in February, such as science, technology, engineering, art. On that night every school will be working with some of those teachers at Salisbury Central and some of the teachers at Flying Cloud. Tt will be a family night where people can come to the school and try out little booths and a few activities that are all related to the theme for that night. That is not an assembly. We also did a program called “2 Books, One school”.
JM:Tell me about that, please.
LS:That is something that was started in Sharon Center School by Judy Gafney. I loved the idea. Molly really loved the idea. It is a wonderful way to make sure kids are reading. It makes them want to use the library. Each year we pick 2 books, one for K-3 and one for 4-8th grade. The child reads the book over the summer. Then there is some kind of program surrounding that book when they come back to school in the fall. Molly has been great about arranging that. She has arranged skype interviews with both authors for the 2 books we chose this year. That is pretty much set for the first week of school.
JM:Do you have support from the principal?
LS:I have great support from Stephanie Magyar. I think any principal who comes here realizes that it is a main stream part of the school. They and the staff are very supportive. She has been very helpful. This year there may be a rub and fewer classrooms but we’ll work it out. There is a new program that is coming to school which may conflict with SOAR‘s classroom space.
JM:How about the teachers have they been supportive?
LS:Very, in fact some of them do teach the workshops. There is a terrific teacher who does some enrichment things during the day called, ”Excel Plex” where she teaches a lot of problem solving, and engineering. This is located in the library it is like a “Maker Space”. It is similar to that. Kids love going there. She is very artistic herself and very talented in terms of coming up with great activities. She will be teaching a workshop this fall. Other teachers have too, but most teachers are supportive. They help by sending catalogues home to the parents. I encourage as many of them as possible to apply for grants. They see that SOAR is a real asset for the kids.
JM:Is there a lot of community involvement?
LS:Yeah, definitely I would say most of the instructors if they are not from Salisbury Central School; they are from the local community. The community is very supportive through donating money into the program, to getting involved or being an instructor or offering resources as they can.
JM:We have a very unusual community in that so many talented people here and they are willing to share. That is rare.
LS:That is where Molly is great because the library has really cultivated a lot of these people. She can get a lot of those people to offer their talents. “Oh I know…” She is very good that way.
JM:SOAR has been in existence for almost 20 years. Future plans?
LS:Future plans are to keep the program going and moving along. This year we’ll do some kind of 20th year celebration to look at all the great work that has happened over the past 20 years. We want to continue to offer a diverse range of programs. Not much needs to be changed in the formula. We want to keep it working and keeping it strong. I think the one thing that would be great is to enhance some of our funding sources. The community has been very generous. We have definitely approaching funding a little bit differently which has paid off.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t asked you?
LS:I don’t think so. You have asked some really good questions about the program.
JM:You have given me some really good answers about the program.
LS;It is a great program. One of its greatest assets is #1 Janet Block (See Janet Block interview) who is still very involved. #2 there has not been a lot of “Mission Creep”. I t has stayed true to the original vision of Zenas
. An organization can easily grow and move far off from what they originally intended to do. SOAR has remained true to its roots. That is a credit to all the people who came before me and all the people on our boards who have been over the years for SOAR. They have kept it what it is.
JM:They have all shared the vision.
LS:Yeah I think so. They all felt that that was important which is extraordinary. There have been a lot of different directors, board members but the mission has not changed.
JM:Thank you so much.