Vicky Senni’s life reads like a fairy tale: One day while working as a quality engineer for a multinational corporation, she fell asleep at her microscope, so she switched to teaching children about nature and couldn’t sleep at all.
After substitute teaching in Cleveland during the school year and leading teens on service learning trips to Peru summers, Vicky came to check out Brattleboro.
During that visit, Vicky talked with a man at Mocha Joe’s in the morning; she bumped into him outside the Twilight Tea Lounge that afternoon; she ran into him at McNeill’s that evening. Meeting on purpose was harder, but they managed, and are now married.
But the real magic in Vicky’s life is her commitment to making the world a better place, which is what ultimately brought her to Vermont.
Raised in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, Vicky always felt like an outsider, “not white enough, not blonde,” she said. She’s the sixth and youngest child of a Syrian father and Spanish mother who came to the United States in the 1970’s. She now embraces her heritage, although she acknowledges discomfort with it as an adolescent, when she wanted to fit in.
After graduating from the University of Dayton,Vicky worked for a multinational corporation. They sent her to Switzerland and trained to set up a quality control lab for a manufacturing plant in France. She completed that job and returned to Ohio, where she woke up at her microscope, wondering why she was working indoors on a beautiful day.
So she went outdoors to teach at a school where children spent three to five days learning science in the woods. As Vicky says, “I couldn’t sleep, I was so excited and energized.” At the end of the school year, Vicky headed to Peru, where she worked with local teens building schools, installing irrigation systems for mountain farmers and teaching English. When summer ended, she returned to Cleveland, where she supported herself both as a nanny and a substitute teacher.
On her way through the metal detectors to get into school one day, she witnessed a security guard floor a student for a rough search. Later that morning, when her seventh grade students were ignoring her science lesson, she started yelling. “I felt like every teacher I ever hated as a kid. It shook me up.”
Vicky stopped subbing for a few months, during which time she did some soul searching. It wasn’t until she listened to Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk, How Schools Kill Creativity, that her spirit lifted. She returned to a fourth-grade classroom, and tried a new approach with kids whose home lives she could only guess. The kids responded to Vicky’s creative teaching style, a style that gave them freedom to complete their work in any order and in any way they saw fit. It was a happy classroom.
By then, though, Vicky had already been accepted at SIT’s Education for Social Justice program, which she’d learned about from a friend in Peru. So she drove to Vermont to check out both Brattleboro and SIT. It was her first time in New England, and as Vicky tells it, “I called my mom from the state line on Route 9 [from New York to Vermont]. It’s so beautiful here, she said. And so green!”
It was a pivotal time in her life. She’d been a nanny for twin infants and was surrounded by kids in her work. She was happy by herself and content to be single. Later that week, she met Teo, to whom she’s now married.
At SIT, Vicky earned a Masters in Intercultural Science Leadership and Management with a focus on Education and Advocacy. In the course of her studies, Vicky wondered why she was traveling to foreign countries to work when there were kids right here in Brattleboro she could teach.
She worked on the Youth Farm Program run by the UVM Extension for teens and young adults who’d struggled in school. In the course of this job, Vicky worked with the Coop’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, the position Vicky moved into next.
Known throughout the county as The Coop Lady, Vicky taught across the curriculum, using farming and food to teach everything from nutrition to environmental science. While collaborating with others, Vicky met key players at Hunger Free Vermont and partnered with the Farm to School program, running hundreds of programs and reaching thousands of people. Most popular have been cooking classes offered through HCRS, the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, and the Boys and Girls Club, to name just a few. It was through this work that Vicky became aware of the extent of poverty in Windham County, and how it affects children, in particular.
Vermont’s small size and Vermonters willingness to engage in meaningful ways to promote healthy children make her hopeful, as does her new position as the Southern Vermont Field Coordinator for Let’s Grow Kids!, a statewide campaign to educate the public in the importance of early childhood.
As Vicky is quick to point out, the general population and the state’s economic outlook all benefit from nurturing our children: every dollar spent on early education saves the state (and the taxpayers) the higher costs of special services, from education to corrections.
By working for Vermont’s children, Vicky is working for Vermont, the place she now calls home. “I found my place in the world here,” she says. “I stopped moving when I came to Vermont.”
Vermont is lucky she did.