What we've heard from students and parents:
Hawa Adam, Burlington High School, 2018
I was expecting CFTOR to be a casual school trip to learn and grow from each other. Really, it turned out to be this amazing opportunity for me to have some honest and thought-provoking conversations with my peers and random strangers. For the first time, I didn't have to speak up for certain communities, I just had to talk about myself and figure out issues that I was personally grappling with. Then I got to transform those conversations with myself and with others into an art form I've never used: filmmaking. I'm very humbled by this experience.
CFTOR is a program for the next generation. It's about them meeting people and having raw conversations about topics that are necessary and that our world is afraid to address. It's important that the youth are leading these conversations because they are all that will be left of this world and it only makes sense for them to know who, what, and how is its currently being occupied.
I think this experience made me more self-aware about things in my life and community which I believe is the best education. But on top of that, I got to learn a new skill: documentary film-making. This was a challenge for me but it was very rewarding in the end. I think I'll be using this new skill in my future.
The most valuable thing about the program was the documentaries. I think although it's the toughest part, it's crucial because how else would we preserve such incredible conversations.
Isabel Vivanco, Burlington High School, 2020
I went into the program not entirely sure what to expect, and I was pretty nervous. However, everyone on the trip was very friendly and open and I felt that we had a pretty great community. This experience was an excellent part of my education, it helped me grow as thinker, person etc because of all the different ideas I heard from the people we had interviewed and especially the break down within our group, where I head different perspectives on the same ideas. The subject of our trip, and hearing from so many people who had different perspectives on the opioid crisis was humbling and definitely helped change and shape the way I view people who are active drug users and other issues classified under 'the opioid crisis.'I think the trip was a great balance of organization and chaos between knowing the interviews, but also spontaneous adventures/paths to follow.
Katrina Webster, parent 2017
This was our second experience with CFTOR and it absolutely measured up. Love that you boldly travel long distances, improv along the way and find deep meaning in your final destination. I appreciate that it’s “no frills” compared to many of the programs out there for adolescents. When I have to describe it in a sound byte I usually say “It’s a supervised road trip with a totally hip journalist. Not your average fluffy “teen experience” – totally real and challenging and fun with a deeply meaningful result - both emotionally and because of the satisfaction they get from their documentary shorts.”
CFTOR challenged her in ways that helped build her confidence away from home and allowed her to see parts of the country she wouldn’t have otherwise and learning about other cultures and socioeconomic/environmental issues. It also helped her greatly in her college application and interview process because it expressed a blending of her interests with great stories to tell and a finished product that was both meaningful and unique.
Setting off on a road trip across the country with a few strangers packed into a car is a challenge for people who like control, and Hannah likes control. It was a great way to pull her out of her comfort zone and have her experience the joy of road trip spontinaety. Hannah is very interested in people, but shy. She learned how to approach people of all ages and backgrounds for a conversation and how to quietly observe a situation for descriptive details. The technical skills of shooting photography and video and blending them into the documentary short consumed her…she loved it!
Her empathy has grown, her appreciation for her own life has deepened and she feels more participatory in social and environmental issues
How likely are you to recommend a CFTOR trip to your friends/colleagues?
Highly highly likely! I’m a great source of free marketing. I talk about the program all the time.
Sharon Crites, parent, 2017
From beginning to end, the CFTOR program has provided a series of priceless experiences for my daughter.
The road trip itself provided an invaluable social and cultural journey. The challenging subject her group tackled provided exposure to a complex and intimidating topic. She was challenged to develop her own mature and empathetic viewpoint after absorbing a variety of perspectives from the interviews they held. The resulting film project allowed her to distill her thoughts into a package that could help inform and influence viewers. And the film festival showings were a great exercise in putting her work on display and defending her viewpoint to the public.
This was an educational and life-broadening experience that pushed through the boundaries of my child's previous experience in many different ways. I believe that all participants in the program grow in knowledge, maturity, and social awareness from their experiences.
Jenny Holliday, parent, 2017
I think this program is fantastic. It was a great experience for Willa. Her favorite part was experiencing a completely different culture and interviewing the people along the road. She came back with improved independence, confidence and an interest in traveling and seeing different parts of the world in the future. We would highly recommend this program and feel so fortunate that we found out about it and Willa ultimately decided to do it with your help. This is nothing like any other experience at her school. I wish there were more programs like it! It is a great experience for kids that are creative and interested in learning outside the classroom.
Jean Reinsborough, parent, 2017
I'd love to provide some feedback on CFTOR. The trip to Mississippi for the Juke Joint Blues Festival was fantastic for Keenan. To start with, you engaged him early on in the process to collaborate on designing a trip that was particularly relevant and interesting to him. You went out of your way to meet with him (and us as parents) to talk about your program and brainstorm how he might participate. You also were great about encouraging him to get others at his school interested, pushing him to take initiative and collaborating with school administrators. The amount of individualized attention and conversation you had with each student was impressive. There is a lot of mutual respect and listening to the student's ideas.
The trip itself was a great learning experience. He got to travel to a part of the country he had never seen, work and live with a group of peers and creative folks for 10 days, and build new skills in creating a documentary film. He particularly enjoyed the process of interviewing the musicians and historians and other knowledgeable people in the Blues music industry.
It was great to have the goal of the film screening to push the students to conceive of and complete a short film that documented each person's unique perspective of the experience. You were great about sending reminders, following up, providing encouragement and resources and pushing Keenan to the completion of the project. Not the easiest task, by any means! The community based film showing, not only provided family and friends the opportunity to witness the hard work of the participants but affirmed their efforts in a real world way. A big piece of your program that I appreciate is that it gives young people a stage for their creative work and voice.
I would recommend CFTOR to anyone and would be happy to talk with any parent wanting to know more about the experience. I feel Keenan grew personally from the experience in many ways.
Kiki and Krister Adams, parent 2017
How was your child's engagement with his/her CFTOR project different from and similar to school-related projects?
It (CFTOR 2 week program) was more hands on and broad in scope. It also allowed more independence in how to present her learning.
How would you position CFTOR within your child’s overall educational portfolio?
It is definitely one of the top experiences that demonstrate her creativity and passion for media. It was beneficial in her making a choice to graduate early and go on to college in a pursuit of media studies.
What are the skills/aptitudes that your child acquired and learned through this experience that you believe will help in future endeavors?
Interview skills, cinematography as well as project and time management.
Has this/How has this experience changed the way your child relates to our world?
She sees that issues are not black and white. She has more of an understanding of how complicated addiction is and how tough it is to deal with its magnitude and repercussions.
hat do you think was your child's favorite part about this experience?
The ability to go out on her own with a group of people and be treated as an adult with more trust in her choices and responsibilities.
How likely are you to recommend a CFTOR trip to your friends/colleagues?
Very. I think for the right students (and my daughter fit that profile) this is a really wonderful program!
Carla Mayo, parent of CFTOR 2014
As I write this response in mid-September, I can say that not a day has passed since her return that Eva has not brought up some aspect of her trip to Utah. While already a self-confident person, the exposure to new people in new settings has only increased her curiosity about the world around her. When I listen to her talk about the trip to her friends and relatives, I realize how deeply she continues to reflect upon what she learned throughout the trip. Not only did she learn a lot about the topic, but she learned a lot about herself as well.
The value of this program is multi-layered and complex. I truly believe that the component of the road trip is a critical piece of the experience. It would have been one thing to fly to Utah, stay in hotels and conduct the interviews. It was completely different to jump in two vans with people you don’t know and hit the road. There are so many decisions to be made and adventures to find while on a road trip. CFTOR allows the students to be part of the decision making team while on the road and this, in turn, increases their sense of belonging within the group. Educationally, the interviews and trips that were set up in advance were well planned and provided students with multiple perspectives of the topic at hand. My daughter met and spoke with people that she normally would never encounter in her daily life. She learned the most from people who were the most different from her and I appreciate that she had this opportunity. Creatively, each student was given the opportunity to preview all of the footage they collected and create something that was meaningful for them. When we attended the final showing of all of the shorts from the summer, it was really cool to see the variety of themes upon which the students chose to focus. This ability to personalize the group experience only added to the meaningfulness of the adventure. My daughter describes her two weeks as a “life changer”. I think that her words best describe the value of this program.
Eva Kamman, CFTOR 2014
As of today, I was in Utah with CFTOR 72 days ago. Out of those 72 days, there has not been a single one that I haven't thought about Utah, or the interviews, or the amazing people I met along the way. This trip gave me the best experience of this summer or, in fact, my entire life. I'm so so so glad I was given the opportunity to meet these incredible people while exploring (if possible) even more incredible places.
I told some of my teachers about this trip before I went on it back before school ended and they all thought it was an amazing experience. Now that I'm back at school, I've had all of those teachers approach me about the trip. I showed my AP US history teacher a short from Detroit on racism and she is now hoping to show it in class, if she can fit it in.
Our very first night in Utah when we were camping in Fisher Towers, I went exploring with two other people. We found an area, one so incredible that I can't possibly begin to explain it in words if I want to do it justice. While we sat there in the gathering darkness, it was as if there was another, greater presence there. We sat there for an amount of time - I have absolutely no idea how long - in complete silence. It was in that moment that I let go of everything I left in Vermont, and truly embraced what was ahead of me in Utah. It was a truly incredible moment (or moments, or hour).
Kassandra Morse, CFTOR 2014
There really isn’t a way to describe Conversations from the Open Road that would fully encompass everything it is and everything it stands for. As soon as I heard about it, I knew right away it was something I wanted to do. I had read a quote a few years ago, I don’t know who it was by, but it amounted to basically “be a traveler, not a tourist.” The trips I’d been on since I was a child had been very canned—sticking to the beaten track, only communicating with other tourists—it wasn’t really what I thought traveling could be.
The trip to Detroit with CFTOR, however, was exactly what I thought traveling meant. A small group of people, a goal in mind, no maps in hand, letting spontaneity and word-of-mouth lead us on to the next discovery. The beaten tracks of Detroit were ignored in favor of the side streets with urban gardens, and the other tourists were politely ignored in favor of the people whose city it really was. We didn’t take pictures of the water protest from a distance—we joined the crowd and held picket signs in the air with everyone who had their water turned off by the city. We didn’t drive slowly past the abandoned car plants, heads sticking out the windows—we learned why the companies and factories had shut down, and what the future might look like for the buildings and for the city itself.
It was an incredible week of interviews and exploration. Those interviews, one of the most important parts of the CFTOR journey, inspired us, challenged us, and created an image of the city that no tourist could ever hope to see. We stopped in urban gardens to learn about the communities that are grown through mutual love of food and friends; we talked to Yusef Shakur, an ex-gang member who now works to promote knowledge and understanding in his neighborhood. We learned about artists and how they create brighter futures and healthy communication with their projects.
The voices of those people came together in the group’s multimedia projects, each one exploring an aspect of the city that we felt particularly strongly about. My radio documentary explored the many ways community is being built in the city, and all the places where people step up to help other people—sometimes complete strangers—when they’re in need.
In Detroit, I learned about the struggles the people go through every day to keep their houses, their access to water, their access to school. Seeing the struggles first-hand brought me a new level of understanding—the chaos that the media loves to report is being lived every day—not by poor, faceless individuals, but by families and people just like anyone else. But instead of leaving the city, they are reaching out to one another, creating networks of support that span the city and beyond.
We returned from Detroit only a few weeks before I left Vermont a little more permanently for college. Even while creating a whole new life for myself, I draw frequently on the knowledge I gained from the Detroit trip. Most importantly, that everyone has a story to tell that will add to your image of the world. Make time to listen to everyone you can, because someone might say something so profound it changes your whole outlook on life.
Running headlong into my first year of college, this is something I try to remember every day. I’m faced with new people and new experiences every day, and I have no prior knowledge to draw on, and no maps in my hand to tell me how to be an adult. Instead, I need to draw on the knowledge of people around me—ask for help, ask for advice, talk to people on the street. I need to learn from as many sources as I can, there’s no telling when I could use someone’s advice or ideas.
But what the trip really did was turn me into a traveler. Going to new places isn’t worth it if all you do is stick to the beaten track. Step off the path to see new and beautiful things. Talk to people and learn about them and their cities and their towns. Look for the places where no one goes. Get a little scared—not terrified, just step out of your comfort zone for a little while and see where it takes you. That’s really what being a traveler means.
Mason Sawyer, CFTOR 2014
The time that I was in conversations has proved invaluable to me already. I learned so much more than just camera or editing skills on the Utah trip. I learned so much about how to network and communicate with different sorts of people. Throughout the trip we met dozens of fascinating individuals. Being able to speak with them and learn about connecting to individuals that are in different areas of the world has been amazingly useful. This school year I have begun at a new school. The speaking skills that I learned from CFTOR have let me be able to befriend other students and work with my teachers. The Utah adventure also made me realise how much I don't know about it has showed me a more worldly side of situations, which I have applied in my school. It was such a brilliant adventure. I am so grateful that I had the chance to talk to some amazing individuals, such as the news team for a local news station from Utah. Talking to them has taught me a lot about how to hold yourself on camera while articulating your ideas in fast moving situations. Overall the CFTOR trip has made me so much more confident, which has assisted me in new situations, something that I am so thankful for. The CFTOR trips have only gotten better over time. I think that if allowed to continue, CFTOR can grow into even more than it has become now. The future CFTOR will do for others what the Utah CFTOR has done for me, not only tech technical skills, but also give you a better sense of the land that is around us and the amazing individuals in it.
Alexis McCloud, CFTOR 2013
So this whole experience was the best i had this summer or perhaps any summer. The chance to travel and talk to people i met was extremely exciting for me... The other thing i'll always remember, and keep with me to this day, is just taking a second to talk to the person sitting next to you because they could say the most valuable thing you will ever hear and you'll never know if you close yourself off from the world.
I would recommend this to anyone because its just such an amazing experience that opens you to the world. I feel i really walked out of this experience a different person. I had a much harder time with anxiety before and i never would have just talked to some random fisherman about what he thought of overfishing. I feel as though i now have all these opportunities to learn stores more open to me. This trip really just helps you see how much like you the rest of the people on the planet are at their core no matter how much different of a group they fit to.
Rebecca Freedner, parent of CFTOR 2013
Tobias came home saying that this trip was probably one of the top experiences of his life. He was certainly pushed outside of his comfort zone, which resulted in interactions with people he might not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. He was incredibly moved by the personal stories everyday people shared. Since returning home, I have noticed that he is far more outgoing, engaged, and interested in the lives and stories of the people around him. For a boy of 16, I consider this quite a gift!
FROM AN ARTICLE IN THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, see the whole article at http://www.thecharlottenews.org/mind-the-gap-year.html
Miranda Selinger is a senior at CVU from Hinesburg. Although she is applying to college, she plans to defer in order to take a gap year starting after graduation this summer. Selinger explains her desire to defer is a result of advice from parents and teachers, as well as a craving for new experiences.
“I feel the need to do something new and meaningful in my life,” she said. “Right now, college seems like a continuation of what I have been doing for the past 12 years of my life—school.”
She also attributes her inspiration for adventure to a travel and documentary program called “Conversations from the Open Road,” which she was involved in this past August. Through this program she was able to visit regions of Appalachia to study the affects of coal mining via interactions with experts, activists, government employees and citizens. She was struck by the array of perspectives and fascinated with the process of documentation through filmmaking and photography.
After returning from West Virginia, the night before school started, she began to consider the impact of learning through participatory experiences versus a traditional classroom format.
“I feel like traditional education often lacks an element of the real world,” she explained. “There aren’t a lot of experiences to try things hands-on or gain a variety of perspectives on a subject. It’s also hard to learn about yourself as a person if you never do anything independent or unique.”
Melissa Scanlon, Parent of CFTOR 2013
Despite the gravity of the topic, Miles was inspired by the uplifting energy of the travelling group and the personal interactions with the people he interviewed along the way. He formed strong relationships through engaging in fun experiences and working together toward shared goals whether creating camp food, sailing or heading out at 4 am for the fisherman's diner. Venturing into community spaces to engage in conversations with people impacted by the issue at hand created a drive to work hard at exploring and documenting what now felt real to him. In one blog post, he commented that he stood in the rain for hours just to get that one photo of a fisherman. It was one of his finest memories and the portrait one of his personal favorites. That fisherman and his family touched his heart. These meaningful connections behind every photograph further emphasized the complexity of the issues for him.
By participating in this project, Miles developed the confidence to talk to question and thus genuinely appreciate the perspectives of people very different than himself. Upon his return, the depth of the connections he had made enabled him to effortlessly articulate aspects of the journey that he found poignant. Empowering teens in this way is bound to have a positive impact how they approach and tackle these challenging issues in their future.
Lynn Chlumecky, CFTOR 2013
I have no words when it comes to Conversations from the Open Road. There are so many experiences and skills this program has to offer including video, sound, and social media. However, the most important thing I learned about Conversations from the Open Road is to simply, come into new experiences with no expectations: going through the Appalachian Mountains was one of the most eye-opening and amazing experiences of my life. I was exposed to not only the beauty of the land but to the vitality of the extraordinary people living there and their passion towards their local and state issues. Conversations from the Open Road will take you out of the box and throw you into a waterfall of challenges while supporting your ideas, interests, and aspirations within the trips. You will meet people with similar or extremely different opinions. You’ll find yourself on the road and loving it. You’ll find yourself learning about local, state, and national issues- CFTOR is incredibly impressive when it comes to being open to all voices and stories: this one of the first lessons you’ll learn with the program, and one you’ll carry for the rest of your life. The one thing I can guarantee from CFTOR is that there is no doubt you will try something new.
Miranda Selinger, CFTOR 2013
Of course CFTOR was an amazing experience that I'd highly recommend...but here are some specifics: The level of guidance was great--I liked how the staff was super helpful and had great knowledge and ideas, but also let students do their own thing. I felt totally respected as an artist/individual...
I'd recommend this experience because the best way to learn about a place/issue is to go and see it first hand and talk to the people who deal with it in their lives. Looking at pictures of mountaintop removal sites and reading statistics does not compare to what we experienced in Appalachia, standing on Kayford Mountain and listening to Junior speak, hearing Carol Judy and Paul and all of those unique perspectives.