School Notes: Hartford students make strides in the arts

  • Hartford High School student Samantha Gibbs is the lone Vermont representative to the National Association for Music Education All-Nationals Honor Ensembles in Orlando, Fla., next month. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2019 10:00:12 PM
Modified: 10/15/2019 4:52:39 PM

Speaking with one of the student groups who came to visit the “99 Faces of Mental Illness,” an art exhibition at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center earlier this year, Arts Program coordinator Marianne Barthel asked a simple question: “How many of you are comfortable talking about your own mental wellness or a loved one’s?”

Only a few students raised their hands.

Then she asked, “How many of you are comfortable talking about art?”

Almost all of the hands went up.

By both drawing people in and providing them a safe vantage point from which to discuss mental health, the traveling exhibit has served as a powerful educational tool for student groups since it came to DHMC in April.

One of those groups even created its own art in response to the exhibition. Students in one of Andersen Thorp’s art classes at Hartford High School visited the exhibit in May, then created written reflections and art pieces highlighting different aspects of the exhibit. Several of them are now on display near the “99 Faces” exhibition, which includes sculptures, painting, videos and 99 portraits of ordinary people affected by mental illness. The 99 Faces Project’s stay at DHMC has been extended through at least the end of the month.

One student painting shows bright-colored silhouettes in a crowd. Another depicts a bearded man with wide grin; on his forehead, as though captured by X-ray, are storm clouds and rain. Besides it is a drawing of a person split down the middle, with two different colors of skin and two different genders.

The student exhibition came together by happenstance. Thorp called Barthel to inquire about a sculpture she’d seen at the medical center, and Barthel invited her to bring her class for a visit. Thorp built a lesson around the experience, focusing on several of the “transferable skills” outlined in Vermont’s Education Quality Standards.

“This particular class of students were really receptive to the content of the exhibit,” Thorp said. “They were comfortable having conversations in class about mental health and mental illness.”

The class was one of many student groups who have visited the exhibit and connected it to their learning in a variety of ways, Barthel said.

Last week, students in a Sociology of Mental Illness class at Dartmouth College visited the 99 Faces Project and wrote comparisons between what they’d viewed and what they’d learned in class about stigma and mental illness.

Such learning experiences are valuable not just to the students but to the mental health community, Barthel said. “I think, like with many issues that we’re facing as a society today, students are so much more open-minded, and they’ll bring about the change. … They’ll eliminate the stigma,” she said.

Hartford earns awards

Hartford Schools are raking in the honors this fall.

On Nov. 7, Hartford High School senior Samantha Gibbs will travel to Orlando, Fla., for the 2019 All-National Honor Ensembles concerts. Gibbs, who was part of the Vermont All State Choir and All-Eastern Honor Choir Ensemble earlier this year, is the only Vermont student attending the event. Chosen by audition, she’ll be one of 240 vocalists in the mixed choir.

Performing is nothing new to Gibbs, 17, who transferred to Hartford High School from Hanover High School last school year. She’s a member of the school’s band, pep band, concert choir and chamber choir, had the leading role in its 2018 production of Once Upon a Mattress and is a member of Northern Stage Boot Camp and the North Country Community Theatre Teen Productions.

“Samantha is an extremely dedicated musician who has committed herself to all things musical,” Hartford High School choral director Andrea Nardone wrote in an email. “She 100% prepared for every audition, whether it be a solo in choir or auditioning for All-Nationals.”

■Meanwhile, Dothan Brook School Principal Rick Dustin-Eichler has just returned from the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ National Distinguished Principals Program in Washington, D.C. Each year the program recognizes one elementary or middle school principal from each state, based on criteria including instructional standards, student achievement and school climate.

Dustin-Eichler, who has served as principal at Dothan Brook for the past eight years, was also named 2018-2019 Elementary Principal of the Year by the Vermont Principals’ Association in April. Under his leadership, the school has implemented a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system that has earned statewide recognition.

Child care grants

As part of its efforts to address the child care shortage in Vermont, the Burlington-based Let’s Grow Kids plans to award $400,000 in grants in 2020. This is the third round of grants awarded by the non-profit organization’s Make Way for Kids program, which provides funding and technical assistance to support child care start-ups, expansions and quality improvements. During the past two rounds of grants, the program supported more than 40 child care projects around the state, including the creation of a child care center in the old Bridgewater Village School.

There are two upcoming application deadlines for the grants: Dec. 11, and March 27. Anyone interested in applying for the grants can participate in an informational call on Tuesday at 1 p.m. by calling 802-448-4854. For more information, visit

Treating trauma

What presents itself as anger, defiance or indifference in a student is often, simply, pain. In an era marked by a growing awareness of the effects of trauma on children, child care professionals and educators are increasingly looking for constructive ways to address trauma in the classroom.

To that end, the Greater Sullivan County Public Health Network, in partnership with DHMC, is offering two fall training sessions on Trauma Informed Child Care Techniques. The training sessions will take place on Tuesday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at The Engine Room in White River Junction and on Monday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at River Valley Community College in Claremont.

Led by Barbara van Hoff, a licensed marriage and family therapist, the sessions will examine trauma as an underlying cause of various negative behaviors and provide techniques for helping children who have experienced trauma. To register, visit

Sarah Earle can be reached at or 603-727-3268.


The Greater Sullivan County Public Health Network is offering workshops on trauma-informed child care techniques in partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. An earlier version of this story misidentified the organization offering the training.






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