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Mary Lyon Foundation Updates

A Safe and Innovative Learning Environment

When Amber Tulloch traded in her title of teacher for principal in 2021, it was supposed to be temporary, covering for the principal of Hawlemont Regional Elementary School’s (HRES) during her maternity leave. Principal Tulloch soon went from acting to interim, and ultimately to permanent principal when the job opened up later that year. Stepping into the position with lingering questions about the sustainability of the school’s budget was a big challenge, but Principal Tulloch took it on and succeeded beyond expectation.

When Principal Tulloch joined HRES in 2015, she focused on empowerment and fostering curiosity in her fourth-grade students. Growing up nearby in Savoy, Principal Tulloch has always explored the world around her. After graduating high school, she worked as an outdoor guide before deciding to dedicate her career to teaching. Her lived experience of questioning conventional thinking has led to a massive shift for the betterment of the HRES community.

Principal Tulloch believes creating an open and safe learning environment for students begins with connection and trust. She has made every effort to meet students where they are and celebrate every aspect of their learning, whether it’s solving a challenging math problem, sounding out a long word, or climbing a tall tree during recess.

Leading by example and showing her excitement about learning something new daily has led to a massive culture shift in and out of the classroom. Students are encouraged to own their experience; if they want to have a snowball fight, they can! However, they must follow a process that engages their community: they need to draft a proposal, get signatures showing support for the initiative, and write guidelines complete with consequences for not following the rules. These lessons in agency prepare students for success in the real world.

Organizations like the Mary Lyon Foundation are vital for helping with additional funding for ideas that make an educational experience extraordinary. Rural education comes with its share of inherent challenges, but also brings opportunities to get out and see the world in an accessible way. The Mary Lyon Foundation’s support allows HRES students to become lifelong learners.

Beyond shifting the way students and teachers interact, Principal Tulloch has changed the perception of the school’s learning environment. Through this effort, she has fostered a culture of open dialogue that benefits everyone by inviting parents and community members to be a more active part of the school. Principal Tulloch understands that the community spends significant resources on education, and she encourages everyone to actively participate to see the dividends of this investment.

Reading, math, science, history, and all the academic areas of study are essential, but learning how to navigate your surroundings, ask questions, and connect with others are equally important to becoming a well-rounded person. Principal Tulloch’s work at HRES has just begun, and we’re excited to see where her determination and innovative ideas will lead our students and families.