The annual Biography Fair held at the Riverside School is an opportunity to involve the entire student body (K-8) in active learning where each student chooses an influential individual to research. Older students present their learning in a variety of ways: creative visual displays of maps, timelines, or symbolic crests; articulate and well-prepared oral presentations; and organized and revised research papers. Younger students are engaged in more developmentally appropriate ways, such as class bulletin boards or individual informative posters.
Students prepare formal presentations performed in front of faculty, peers, staff, parents, and grandparents. They are encouraged to create costumes, props, and makeup to fully communicate their knowledge of the person they are portraying. The entire school day is dedicated to the presentations that occur throughout the Riverside campus.
Social studies and history teachers integrate the biography topics into their year-long curricula. The 3rd graders do autobiographies, 4th graders present Vermonters, the 6th graders research people from the ancient world, and 8th graders choose to learn about modern, international reformers.
“One evening the thought came to me that it would be such a cool experience to connect students with their biography fair subject who was special to Vermont (if that person is still alive), so I began reaching out to people,” said Riverside 4th grade teacher, Laryssa Fortier.
Two 4th grade students, Sophia Bunnell and Brooklyn Hibshman, were very interested in connecting with influential Vermonters.
Fortier wrote to the US Ski Team’s alpine press officer, Megan Harrod, in hopes of having Olympic Gold Medalist and Burke Mountain Academy alumna Mikaela Shiffrin answer Sofia’s questions. Harrod responded immediately and arranged for Shiffrin to answer her questions via a Facebook Live video.
The entire class, along with Sofia’s mother, sister, and Head of School, Michelle Ralston, gathered on Oct. 18 and watched as Shiffrin answered all of Sofia’s questions, live from Europe. Shiffrin shared information about her childhood, setbacks and successes, and gave Sofia advice about working hard and putting all your love and passion into what you do.
Brooklyn reached out to professional mountain biker Lea Davison, also an Olympian living in Vermont, who took the time to email her back with thoughtful answers to all her research questions. Brooklynn eventually met with Davidson who provided an autographed poster.
“It was wonderful to see the students’ hard work pay off during Biography Fair as they sat in front of their audience dressed in character and shared the extensive amount of information they had learned,” said Fortier. “This was certainly a special experience for Sofia and Brooklynn, and the entire class, because they saw how research can come alive and take you to fascinating places. I plan to continue reaching out to more Vermonters as the year goes on to have them come in and share their story with the class.”