Hartford Teacher’s Legacy Lives On

  • Hartford High School graduate Bailey Leavitt, center, processes with her graduating class on Friday, June 9, 2017, in Hartford, Vt. Leavitt won one of two Marty Layman Mendonca Scholarship Fund awards. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford High School graduate John Hawks processes with his graduating class on Friday, June 9, 2017, in Hartford, Vt. Hawks won one of two Marty Layman-Mendonca Scholarship Fund awards. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford High School graduates throw their caps in the air after receiving their diplomas on Friday, June 9, 2017, in Hartford, Vt. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Marty Layman-Mendonca, who taught at the White River School in White River Junction, Vt., in an undated photograph. (Courtesy Christopher Ashley)

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hartford — There were 131 glossy blue robes, 131 square-topped caps from which hung 131 tassels being nervously fingered as the members of the Hartford High School class of 2017 proceeded through a crowd of hundreds, walking in an imprecise lockstep to the ceremonial music of the high school band.

Among the rows of folding chairs that had been erected on the uneven blacktop of the school parking lot, what is often regarded as a bittersweet moment was particularly bitter, and particularly sweet, for two graduates — John Hawks and Bailey Leavitt, the two last recipients of scholarships from the Marty Layman-Mendonca Fund, named for a former elementary school teacher in Hartford who was beaten and killed in a random attack while hiking in Scotland in 2006.

When Hawks’ name was announced, a coterie of friends in the band cheered and hooted, causing him to blush and smile as he crossed behind the podium on the makeshift stage to receive his diploma from Superintendent Tom DeBalsi.

Before the ceremony, Hawks talked about when he was in first grade, and his concerned teachers and parents huddled together to discuss his schoolwork. He couldn’t read as well as the other boys and girls.

“I don’t think I liked reading,” Hawks, 18, of White River Junction, said. “I was a hyperactive kid. I stayed outside until dark every night, just running around for hours.”

As Leavitt crossed the stage, DeBalsi made a quiet comment that made her giggle as she accepted her diploma from him.

Leavitt also struggled with reading when she and Hawks were in the White River School’s first grade in 2006, when Layman-Mendonca was still alive.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I knew I wanted to read. It was intimidating.”

Each student cites one-on-one reading support sessons with Layman-Mendonca as the reason they caught up to their peers.

For Hawks, Layman-Mendonca taught him a measure of self-control and focus. Today, he still has the restless energy that drove him as a kid, but he said he’s learned to check it during his studies. He now takes pleasure in his own ability to understand symbolism in literature — he cited the green light described in passages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — and he also likes to read news articles about current events.

Hawks plans to attend Columbia College Hollywood in Los Angeles, where he’ll bring his cultivated academic skills to study film editing.

“Ms. Layman helped me build a base,” he said. “Everything that came after depended on it.”

Earlier this week, Layman-Mendonca’s adult daughter, Jody Layman, said via email that her mother always did whatever it took to connect with a student in her charge.

For example, she said, she remembers her mother poring over a book about skateboarding, puzzling over the meaning of skating terms like “ollie” and “grinding” in an effort to relate a skateboarding students’ passion with a love of words.

That was no surprise to Leavitt, who said one part of Layman-Mendonca’s legacy has been Leavitt’s 10-year love affair for books — a school librarian, she said, once told her she’d read more books in the library than anyone else.

“She wouldn’t let us give up,” Leavitt said of her former teacher. “You wanted to do well with her. And she never made you feel bad. She made it fun.”

Now, Leavitt is moving on to study nursing at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Leavitt and Hawks both remembered Layman-Mendonca wearing hiking clothes around the school, right down to her Teva sandals.

The sandals were an example of her sense of humor, said Christopher Ashley, who was her principal and friend.

He said she often organized (and won) contests with fellow teachers to see who could wear sandals without socks furthest into the winter.

During the contest, the teachers would huddle around a bulletin board festooned with graphs tracking the progress of the contestants, humorous comments, and pictures of their bare toes in the snowy schoolyard during recess duties.

For the past 10 years, Ashley has administered the fund and awarded $2,000 in scholarships to Layman-Mendonca’s former students. The money was amassed during a fundraising effort to bring Layman-Mendonca, who lay in a coma for months after the attack, from Scotland to the United States before her death.

The fund was designed to run out this year, when the youngest of the students that Layman-Mendonca taught — the class including Hawks and Leavitt — graduated.

It’s a legacy without bounds, said Ashley.

“As with many educators, Marty informed their adult nature, and they will make the world a better place,” he said, of Leavitt and Hawks. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg of probably a thousand kids that she helped.”

At the end of the ceremony, the band, sitting behind the stage that Leavitt and Hawks and their peers had crossed, struck up the recessional music, a signal for the graduating seniors to file away into the deepening twilight.

It was the final performance of the band, a group of students each playing a small role in a coordinated performance that was much greater than the sum of its parts until, in the end, each individual stopped playing, packed his or her instrument away, and left to find their own way in the world.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

Hartford Class of 2017

Jordan Allard, Southern New Hampshire University; Mason Archambeault, Student Exchange-Paraguay; Jensen Avery, University of Southern Maine; Lukas Bjorkman, University of Vermont; Kerri Blood; Rhianna Britt; Kristin Burlew, Saint Michael’s College; Connor Chandler, University of Cincinnati; Brett Clough; Thea Cole, University of San Francisco; Karen Cross; Halle Curley; Jazmyne Danforth, Community College of Vermont; Lucy Danger, Barnard College of Columbia University; Aubreyanna Denetsosie; Zachary Dionne; Elisabeth Doolen; Christopher Dorain, Bridgton Academy; Nicholas Dorain, Bridgton Academy; Alissa Dubois, CCV; Jack Elder; Jeremy Emerson; Carter Farnsworth, Boston University; Gavin Farnsworth, Touring US; Kaela Fisk; Corey Fogg; Breanna Gillam, Endicott College; Susan Gomez; Isabella Gray, Front Range Community College; Jennica Guy; Omega Haehnel; Cory Harriman; Kenna Hausler, University of Rhode Island; John Hawks; Kyler Hella, Saint Michael’s College; Jack Heller, Lehigh University; Naomi Hematillake, Whittier College; Gabriel Hunt, Vermont Technical College; Brooke Hurd, Saint Michael’s College; Dylan Hutchins; Keith Illingworth; Sarah Jones, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Savanna Josler; Conor Joyce, UVM; Ryan Kelley; Justin Koloski, Vermont Tech; Jennifer Ladka, East Carolina University; Bailey Leavitt, Brigham Young University-Idaho; Courtney Leavitt; Isabella Leister, Norwich University; Lilian Lerner; Matthew Libuda, Nichols College; Rachel Loseby, Keene State College; Dylan Louis, Lincoln Technical Institute; Natasha Lovell, UVM; Matthew Lucke, Iowa State University; Abigail Lukowitz; Brett MacLaren; Pearl MacLeod; Ryan Madden; Olivia Mandatta; Ryan Mangan; Kiana McCoy, CCV; Dakota McFarlin; Makala McGranaghan; Everette McReynolds; Gabriella Miller, UVM; Cicillia Moody; Myriem Moody; Brian Moran, SUNY Albany; Kerri Moses; Erin Murphy; Felicia Muszynski; Bailey Nott; Julia Nulty, UVM; Michael Osborne; Corey Ouellette, Paul Smith’s College; Jordyn Pallmerine, UVM; Brianna Parker; Summer Parkhurst, University of New Hampshire; Joshua Parmenter, Lakes Region Community College; Jacob Perry, Lakes Region CC; Brandon Pizinger, Wentworth Institute of Technology; Paige Pope; Adam Potter, military; Triston Potter; Troy Potter, Vermont Tech; Maddison Putnam; Zachary Putnam, New England College; Summer Raymond, KSC; Lyndsie Rice, Virginia Tech; Abigail Robbins, UVM; Kari Robinson; Nathan Robinson, UVM; Alexander Rogers; Jasmyn Rogers, Thomas College; Benjamin Rouillard; Spencer Rugg, Clarkson University; Jaden Sanborn, Unity College; Trevor Searles, Nashua Community College; Lyndsay Simmons, New England School of Hair Design; Brenden Smith, Lakes Region CC; Maeve Sneddon, University of California-Berkeley; Dylan Spencer; Parker Strawbridge, UVM; Alan Swett, New Hampshire Technical Institute; Jessica Sykes, KSC; Tyler Tabor; David Thibodeau; Khant Thu, UVM; Neil Tinker; Scott Tracy, Lakes Region CC; Tyler Travis; Jack Urso, Roger Williams University; Cameron Viens, Lakes Region CC; Stefani Wagar, KSC; Brianna Wardwell, Purdue University; Kalob Wheeler; Alliyah Whitcomb, Wheelock College; Brendan Whitney, Castleton University; Cody Williams, UVM; Kaylee Williams, UVM; Kevin Williams; Wyatt Williams; Kyra Wood, UVM; Jack Wozniak, Boston University; Nicholas Wright, SNHU; David York, Hofstra University; Brandon Zullo.