Notes from the Head of School

Highlights in the Hilltop Weekly Newsletter from our Head of School  

(click the red title for the full story)

Middle School Curriculum – January 31, 2020 This year the Middle School has been transforming their curriculum to have a focus on Climate Change, the challenging and critical topic of our times. There are many youth leaders across the globe and we are working to teach and learn information with an eye to action, while also supporting our students in developing all the competencies that have always been a part of our “skills based” program. 

A recent project that focused on Climate Action was the students’ “Society Films”. This project is presented in the curriculum every two years of the cycle. Each student chooses a person in our local community, researches them, contacts them (an adult they don’t know!), interviews them, and plans a photo shoot (to capture the themes and information developed from the interview). With the final data in hand, they learn how to edit on “Final Cut Pro”, choose music, and put together a photo-montage that conveys this person and their role in our community. This year, the people selected all fit the theme of addressing Climate Change in some way. The films were screened at a wonderfully successful event earlier in January to a community audience that included many of the subjects themselves. A collection of these films can now also be viewed on our website.

The project also involves creating a final montage in the form of a one dimensional collage. All 21 collages are on display at Amy’s Bakery during the month of February. Please stop in to Amy’s to see the collages and support this lovely local business, owned by a supportive Hilltop alum parent. 

A current parent was moved to write to the teachers after the film showing. Her note is included here:

My heart is full with deep appreciation after last night’s viewing at 118 Elliot. I am so impressed by how you all rose up to change the curriculum and develop projects for the Middle School students to address the reality of climate change. You took the thing that is causing the students and most of us so much anxiety about the future and are addressing it head on!  As a psychologist, I have learned that the best way to manage anxiety is to move TOWARD it. And here you are – .providing the knowledge to understand what is truly going on scientifically, and then sending them out to find ideas about how people already are addressing this issue – through government, local business and art. AND you taught them the tools and skills to spread the word through filmmaking.  Providing our students with this hands on knowledge base, skill, and inspiration is a true gift. This project was a demonstration of true teaching, for our students and the surrounding community. Plus, you made it fun! I am so grateful for the work that you are doing and so happy that my daughters get to be part of it.

Thank you!


Grant Application Awards – December 13, 2019   Every year, we participate in state programs and apply for grants that help to support our school activities. We’ve gotten notice of three successful grant application awards!
–  We received a “School Safety and Security Grant” from the state for almost $24,000! This has been two years in the making. Kegan applied for this last year, but independent schools ended up not being included. This year they were, so we re-applied, and got the award! These funds will be used to install an upgraded intercom and door locking system based on state recommendations in relation to notification and perimeter security. If you would like to know more about it, please consider joining the Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting on Monday, Dec 16th at 3:15 in the Arts Barn kitchen, or contact Kegan. 
– We also have just been awarded a “New England Grassroots Environmental Fund Grow Grant” for $2,625 to support the work of developing the sacred circle garden in the lower field. The Elementary programs have helped set the site and worked to build soil. This grant will allow us to continue to develop this garden project in a way that connects with the narratives of POC farmers and indigenous land tending practices. This project is in direct alignment with the H.794 Ethnic and social equity studies bill recently passed in Vermont and puts our students in direct relationship with the land and allows them to learn and experience the many contributions of non-colonizer narratives to our communities and culture. This is also an opportunity for our students who experience marginalization and oppression to see themselves reflected in empowering and liberating ways in the curriculum. We hope that this space will also be a beautiful resource for parents and community members in months and years to come. For more information, or to help with implementation of this project, please contact Amber.
– We have also been fortunate to receive a grant of $10,000 this fall from the Kahn Mason Foundation. Throughout the years, this foundation has supported our school in offering an amazing variety of art education to all program levels. Our integration of the arts not only grows students who view themselves as artists, musicians, and performers but has been proven to help children learn and retain academic skills and information. This year part of the grant funding is being used to bring Sandglass Theater’s production of “Rock the Boat”  here to engage our students in the development of this show. 
Professional Development – October 18, 2019  As a staff, we continue to do “professional development” as one of our ways to grow further and to always improve as teachers and administrators. We invite you to further develop as a parent/caregiver by taking advantage of one of the outstanding workshop opportunities that we have arranged to offer at Hilltop this fall. None of us have a degree in parenting and all of our children would benefit from us being more intentional and thoughtful in our interactions. Please join us!
Parenting for Racial Justice – We are extremely fortunate to have BOTH
Angela Berkfield and Shela Linton joining us to facilitate two workshops offered on Sundays, November 3rd and December 15th (from 1-4 pm). These advocate trainers each bring more than two decades of experience to their work. Find their full bios here – Act for Social Justice And take our word for it, you will find the time to be very worthwhile! Please register to join us by emailing Elizabeth Fisher at
Parenting to “Mean Business without being Mean” and to “Raise Problem Solvers” – We are thrilled to be able to arrange for Sara Donahue, MSW, LICSW to be able to meet with parents for two FREE parenting workshops. Sara is a Hilltop parent and has decades of experience providing individual and group counseling for children and adolescents, behavior intervention and crisis response in the school setting, and family support. She has been working as a school social worker for fourteen years, while also maintaining a private practice in Brattleboro. Sara has been an independent facilitator for the Love and Logic Institute® for eight years. Currently, Sara is most enthusiastic about her work coaching parents to become more confident in handling tricky situations with their children around behavior.
  • Thursday, November 7th 5:30-7:00 pm for a session on working with children ages 0-6.
  • Tuesday, November 19th 7-8:30 pm for a session geared towards elementary and middle school aged children.
Hilltop becomes AMS Accredited – September 27, 2019 We are proud to announce that Hilltop Montessori School is now fully accredited by the American Montessori Society (AMS). We are the first Montessori school in VT to become Montessori accredited. Only 15% of the Montessori schools in the country are accredited by AMS. Being accredited is an official certification and confirmation that we have the qualified teachers, child-centered facilities, and solid management that enable us to implement the Montessori pedagogy authentically! 

Summer Faculty Training – August 30, 2019   The summer is a time for teachers to rest and rejuvenate. It is also often a time for thoughtful professional development, feeling less rushed than during the school year. Many of our teachers and staff were involved in different trainings and Professional Development over the summer. Below are a few highlights of information learned that will be brought back to school.

Making Bathrooms Safer Spaces –  May 31, 2019 As you may have read about or heard, the Equity & Anti- Bias Workgroup is underway! They have had several meetings with parents, staff, and Middle School students participating in the discussions. I was thrilled to hear that the Taskforce’s first recommendation is something we’ve wanted to address for some time, and that their proposal is an easy one to roll out for next school year: although the Arts Barn is the newest building, it is the only building with gendered bathroom design and signage.

2019 Parent Survey ResultsApril 26, 2019 A huge thank you to all of you who took the time to respond to our survey! In order to be responsive to the needs of our families and consider future plans, we sent the annual surveys via email a few weeks ago. We were thrilled with the response rate and responses from our families. We received feedback from almost half of the families (46) and there was a nice distribution across programs.

Curriculum Morning and Anti-Bias Resources –February 15, 2019 We greatly appreciate the strong turnout of parents for the curriculum morning on Saturday…We were thrilled with all the support and interest from parents. While much of the discussion focused on race, we are also doing work in the areas of anti-bias regarding economic status, class, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, learning differences, ableism, etc. Many parents were interested in how they could further their own learning in the area of anti-bias generally and “white privilege” specifically. We have several initiatives ongoing and just starting that are open to parents.

Futhering Our Anti-Bias Work– December 7, 2018 In fulfillment of the priorities set out in the Strategic Plan, we as a school are furthering our work in the areas of diversity and equity. We are applying an “anti-bias” lens to our curriculum and practices as we work to support all members of our current and future community. We have been doing this work as a staff and will soon be more directly involving parents in more of these conversations.

Hilltop’s AMS Accreditation Self-Study Approved!– November 20, 2018 It was very gratifying to hear back from the AMS Accreditation Department that our 200 pages self-study was approved with flying colors! They gave specific comments on many aspects of our program and of how we presented our material, concluding with:

Executive Function at School and Home – October 19, 2018 This year Hilltop will be offering a special presentation on November 15 at 6:30pm:  “Executive Function at School and Home: What is it and Why does it matter?” with speaker Debbie Tracht, a Learning Specialist with expertise in Literacy, ADHD and the emerging field of Mind, Brain and Education.

American Montessori Society Accreditation Self-Study Report – September 21, 2018 We submitted our American Montessori Society Accreditation Self-Study report this morning!!!

Fair Isn’t Always Equal September 7, 2018 One piece of our anti-bias work comes up regularly and has been a focus in some programs at the start of school: we all have differences, and we work to own, acknowledge, and embrace those differences.

Our Anti-Bias Work – August 27, 2018 One of the Professional Development areas that we had identified for all staff to work more on is related to Anti-Bias work as part of our diversity/equity goals. 

Bead Ceremony – June 15, 2018 The Bead Ceremony recognizes each group of children who are rising from one program to the next. 

A Reflection on “Practice – April 6, 2018.  Within the process of re-evaluation of our Mission Statement the word “practice” was enthusiastically embraced as a satisfying way to describe the way we engage in Responsible Independence.

The “Spicy Announcement” Big Reveal! – March 30, 2018  The Board, Roselle Garro (Development Director), and I shared the news of an amazing gift to the school that has helped to secure further financial stability to support the families, faculty, and facilities that make up our school currently and into the future.

Emergency Preparedness – March 2, 2018.  The event in Florida on Feb 14th reminds us, yet again, of how precious our children are, and how important their safety is. Since moving up to this campus on the hill, we have continued to improve our emergency planning and our drills.

Montessori Curriculum Morning – February 9, 2018.  Hilltop has had a strong and meaningful mission statement for the past 15 years. We all have loved that it has “responsible independence” at its core and that most students, parents, and certainly teachers, have it guide our daily activities.

Montessori Cultural Curriculum – January 26, 2018.  In a Montessori world the “Cultural Curriculum” includes science and much more, in a beautifully integrated way.

Hilltop’s Early Childhood Program Receives 5 Stars, Again! – January 19, 2018.  We are thrilled to announce that Hilltop Montessori School has been recognized once again by the State of Vermont’s Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS).

New & Improved Mission Statement – January 12, 2018
Hilltop Montessori School’s mission is for students to practice responsible independence in a caring community of curious critical learners and thoughtful citizens.

Winter Sports – December 1, 2017

“Practical Life” is a classic part of the Montessori curriculum. Students like doing real work that accomplishes something in real life and teaches practical skills. In every program we have lessons and activities in Practical Life – and in Southern Vermont, “Winter Sports” is a part of our Practical Life curriculum.

Emergency Drills – November 10, 2017
We are required to practice emergency drills. We do these for the whole school and explain it in an age appropriate way to each level. You may hear your children talk about these events, and we wanted to share a bit about what we do.

In Service Days – November 4, 2017
One day a year, we use our In-Service Day to visit other schools to get ideas for and gain perspective on our teaching and community.

Peace Presentation for Grandparents & Special Friends Day – October 6, 2017
The national political rhetoric, climate, and actions of the past year have been disturbing to me. I could have been thrown into a deep depression, finding it hard to get out of bed each day, were it not for what we are doing here at Hilltop Montessori School.

Supporting Middle School Micro-Economies – September 29, 2017
Throughout the year the middle school takes on the daunting task of raising around ten thousand dollars for our odysseys! This year we are raising money for our River of Spirit Odyssey to Boston, a comparative world religion and science of water study, connecting with many different faith communities and cultures.

Peace Day – September 22, 2017
Peace Buddies are an important and wonderful part of the Hilltop community. Each year, on or near International Peace Day, students are paired with another in a different program. This results in disparate height friends walking through the halls together, singing at All School Gathering, and developing lovely relationships across programs and ages.

Free Play – September 15, 2017
If you travel to Hilltop Montessori School around noon on a weekday, you might be surprised to hear chatter and laughter coming from the forest adjacent to the parking lot…

Montessori Tenets: “Work” – September 8, 2017
It is only week two and the classrooms are already settling in and getting “normalized”.

Hilltop Graduates on the Board of the Putney School! – April 7, 2017
We are proud to share that two of our 2015 graduates, Emmanuel Keppel and Greta Wolfe, have recently been elected to the Board of Trustees of The Putney School, a position of great responsibility and honor.

School State Re-Approval Granted – March 24, 2017
On March 21st, the Vermont State Education Board voted to renew our school’s general independent school approval!

Proud to have a Learning Specialist at Hilltop – February 17, 2017
We are thrilled that having a learning specialist has enabled us to expand the continuum of learners that we serve at Hilltop.

Building Confidence – February 10, 2017
How can we, as parents and caregivers, support our children as they grow into self-sufficient, resilient people?

State Funding Helps Hilltop Increase Equity and Accessibility – January 27, 2017
There is much discussion, both nationally and in Vermont, about how to best support our education system. As conscientious educators who want to “make the world a better place” many of us at Hilltop think about these issues regularly.

Alumni Night – October 28, 2016
Alumni Night, as we call it, has become a wonderful tradition at Hilltop. Hearing our graduates speak on topics related to how Hilltop prepared them for high school is a testament to the exceptional education they received here.

Teaching Consent at All Ages – October 28, 2016
For the youngest children, we teach them about each other’s personal space, and how to ask permission for a hug, and their right to say “No, Thank you.” For the Elementary ages, this progresses to ensuring that everyone is comfortable with an activity or discussion, and addressing potential appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the larger context of “consent”.

Emergency Preparedness – October 21, 2016
We have several types of emergency drills as part of our school safety and emergency preparedness program. You may hear your children talk about these events, and we wanted to share a bit about what we do.

Professional Development for Children’s House Teachers – January 22, 2016
Three of our teachers dedicated last Saturday to professional development and attended the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts annual conference. This year’s keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. Steve Hughes.

Montessori Principles Revisited – January 15, 2016
Yet again there have been articles noting wonderful new trends in education that are what Montessori has been doing for 100 years, and Hilltop Montessori School for more than 40 years!

Professional Development for Staff – January 8, 2016
We held an All Staff Meeting which included an activity offered by Dan Filler, Director of Elementary. As some of you may know, in addition to his teaching, administration, and art contributions to Hilltop, Dan also uses his Montessori teaching expertise for the Montessori Elementary Teacher Training Collaborative, a teacher training program based in Lexington, Massachusetts. He shared one of their activities with our staff.

Notes from the Board – December 11, 2015
Many members of the Hilltop community believe expanding our level of diversity at the school is an important goal in our developing strategic plan. We put a request for interested participants in the weekly newsletter back in October and formed the Equity Task Force.

Supporting Children Who Hear Scary News – November 20, 2015
As we hear both local and international news of tragedy, we need to process the information, and help our children process the information in age appropriate ways.

The Strategic Planning Process Continues! – October 16, 2015
As some of you may recall, last Spring we began the process of developing a new Strategic Plan for the school. The last 5-year Strategic Plan was done in 2010 (Strategic Plan 2010) and we have achieved, or made progress towards achieving, all of the goals laid out at that time.

Notes from the Board – September 11, 2015
It’s been a real privilege for me to serve on the Hilltop Board of Trustees the last six years. Hilltop has transformed itself in so many exciting ways during this time, from the creation of our beautiful new campus to the formation of a marvelously effective administrative team.

Montessori Tenets: 3 Year Cycle – September 4, 2015
There is a reason we go from Olders back to Youngers in each cycle transition. Children grow in confidence spending three years in a program, feeling at home and in control. Then, they take that confidence to a new arena and use it to grow at the next level.

Professional Development – August 28, 2015
The teachers and staff of Hilltop Montessori School are spectacular! It has been wonderful for us all to be back together this week again preparing the school for your children, and engaging in Professional Development. In other years, we have had an expert from the outside come in to educate and inspire us in a new way. This year, we decided to capitalize on all the knowledge, skills, experience, and inspiration that we have right here amongst our staff.

Not So New To Us! – May 22, 2015
So often things that are reported as new “discoveries” or trends in education are things that Maria Montessori observed 100 years ago and incorporated into the time-tested, scientifically proven approach we use at Hilltop.

Notes from the Board – May 1, 2015
We are at a terrific moment in Hilltop’s story. Through much hard work over the past several years, Hilltop has achieved stability throughout the school, and we are thus in the enviable position of being able to proactively plan for the school’s future.

Classism in the Classroom – April 16. 2015
On Wednesday, Kerstin (Lower Elementary Teacher), Rebecca (Children’s House – Willow Room Assistant) and I attended a training at the Vermont Learning Collaborative on “Classism in the Classroom”. At Hilltop, we work consciously to address diversity and inclusion in many ways.

Montessori Tenets – April 10, 2015
One of the most important components of an authentic Montessori program is a long uninterrupted work cycle. The reason for this is to embrace and increase a child’s ability to concentrate.

A Note on Reading – April 3, 2015
To read, children must be able to hear distinct sounds, turn symbols (letters) into sounds, sounds into words, and words into meaning. Reading success is built upon a foundation of specific skills. These skills are: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each of these skills must be taught to guide children toward literacy.

Montessori Tenets: Smaller vs. Bigger Class Size – March 20, 2015
Attending the American Montessori Society conference last week was inspiring. It was a wonderful reminder of the benefits of the true Montessori programs we offer. One feature, imperative to implementation of the Montessori philosophy, is class size.

An Invitation to All – December 16, 2014
We realize and appreciate that you are trusting us to educate your child and to help her or him grow in a way that, for many of you, is very different from your schooling. We know that without grades and test scores, you are having to use other measures to know that your child is growing and thriving in this environment.

Starting the Day – November 21, 2014
The mornings in our classrooms have a lovely natural rhythm. For the Toddler and Children’s House programs to start off on the playground gives those energetic students an opportunity to play with friends and get exercise first thing in the morning, before coming inside and settling down to choosing their work.

Let’s Grow Kids – November 14, 2014
Time and time again, Dr. Maria Montessori’s ideas from 100 years ago are validated by modern science. Hilltop has been participating in the statewide campaign, Let’s Grow Kids, a public education campaign to raise the awareness of the importance of the early years in development.

Hilltop Investments Moved to Socially Responsible Funds – November 7, 2014
The Hilltop board is pleased to announce that we have recently moved our investments into a socially responsible portfolio that will be managed by the local firm Prentiss Smith and Company.

Annual Fund – October 17, 2014
I was recently reminded, by a parent, about how long Hilltop has dreamed of having a Learning Specialist on staff to assist teachers and students. Wendy’s involvement with the children working hard to learn to read has indeed been a dream come true.

The Importance of Blending the Three Years Within a Program – September 12, 2014
One of the critical components of an authentic Montessori program is mixed age groups, usually three years in the same classroom. Hilltop has always had three years together for Children’s House, Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary.

Summer Notes – August 6, 2014
Well, I thought things might slow down in the summer, but they haven’t . . . It has remained extremely busy and productive up here on top of the hill!

New Mailing Address for Hilltop – July 22, 2014
The Middle School house was built in 1905. It was known as the Stafford Family Farm. We have chosen “Stafford Farm Hill” as the new name for the driveway/road leading to the school.

Notes from the Board – May 2, 2014
The Board is excited to announce two new members.

Arts Integration – April 15, 2014
Time and again, important components of the Montessori approach, developed one hundred years ago, are proven to be beneficial in a modern context. One of these is the benefits of integrating arts into other components of the curriculum.

Montessori Tenets: Nothing New – April 11, 2014
Time and again, Montessori is shown to be spot on. Often a Montessori tenet will be touted as a “new” method, yet we know Dr. Montessori developed these 100 years ago.

Montessori Tenets: Prepared Environment – December 6, 2013
There are so many things to highlight and appreciate about how Hilltop Montessori School is a true Montessori school. One that came to mind this week is how wonderfully “prepared” the HMS environment is.

Middle School-Alabama Odyssey – Day 7

Meet Sheryl Threadgill and other participants of the Voting Rights Movement
in Wilcox County at the historic Antioch Baptist Church.
Shoe Store Museum
Miss Kitty’s Restaurant in Camden for lunch,
Black Belt Treasures, Shoe Store Museum
Conversation with the BAMA Kids
Take the ferry from Camden to Gees Bend
Evening of poetry, song with Ms Afriye We-kandodis
at By the River Center for Humanity

It was great to hear the stories of the foot soldiers and it reminded me so much that the unseen people make the most difference. Not all the famous people control the entire thing. Someone later said “you don’t need a reality tv show, but you can still make change.” Where will I go? Will I be a foot soldier?

The Shoe Store Museum told a story that I have not yet encountered on this trip. The many quilts, toys, books, dresses, etc. were so present and cared for that I fell in love with the place. It reminded me in many ways of The Bush, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house in Concord which we visited earlier this year. It is cared for by the ancestor of people recognized, like Betty and her sister’s grandmother who was the president of the Quilting Bee in Gee’s Bend just a few generations ago.

Throughout this trip I have made a change. I feel like I connected to so many people through my questions and comments. I have started to really want to make change.

I really enjoyed talking to the BAMA kids because I really haven’t learned first hand how a public school looks like, especially not one that has a majority of black students. They almost seemed unaware of it. I may not really know but my guess is that the schools are basically completely segregated. It really struck me how little history the kids seemed to be learning. I feel that it’s important to know history so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.

I was surprised and felt bad that I was learning about their (the BAMA kids) history when we both should be learning about it. Just because I am white means that I get so many opportunities. Is that fair? Do I deserve it more than others? What did I do differently? Why are we treated so different? Who said it was fair that my family went to college and the girl we spoke to has uncle’s who went to jail? These kinds of things change us into who we are so, in the end, I think that’s what divides us.

They led us in their 21st Century Leader pledge. This was the time I felt most connected and also very empowered. I also felt I could begin to grasp what impact the BAMA Kids have.

This evening we visited Ms. Afriye We-kandodis and shared our songs, poetry, and speeches. She did a few of her own. Though we didn’t exchange many words with Ms. Afriye, she welcomed us with open arms into her workshop. As she has us recite a vow of self-love, I felt a powerful sense of belonging. That for me was a minute of true happiness. I needed nothing else but to be loved like that everywhere I went. I knew that I needed to love everyone else the same.

I don’t want to leave. The sun is warm here. My voice is strong and my eyes have just started opening. How can I leave this behind? I am afraid if it is not stuffed in my face, I will forget these little pieces of understanding. I will forget the things that make me want to be better.

Spending time with the BAMA Kids
Singing at By the River Center for Humanity
Marian sings her song at By the River Center for Humanity
We sing and move with Afriye We-kandodis

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 6

Day in Montgomery
Legacy Museum
National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Lunch – Filet and Vine
SPLC Memorial
Alabama Statehouse
Equal Justice Initiative
Dinner at Martha’s Place
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

The Memorial to the Confederacy at the State House was a beautiful place, but thinking of what happened there angered me. So many people with hatred in their hearts stood in the same places as me, but also justice fighters. So I was conflicted.

Embarrassed is not probably what most people would feel, but that is how I felt at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. I felt that because I couldn’t help myself from thinking that one of my ancestors might have been there and didn’t put a stop to it. Then I started to wonder, if I was there, would I be too afraid to try to stop it, or how would I even stop it. Talking to Eliot really helped me make the connection that what they want is for these 4000+ people to be remembered. And that is what I can do.

There were so many names, too many names, and so many monuments. Walking through the monuments at first was easier physically to look at, but as I kept walking, I had to look up. It became more overwhelming by the second. All of these people died hanging, and I was looking at their memory.

There were a lot of times today that I felt very sad. I saw the monuments and the names and I feel that now I’ve seen it, it is realer than ever before. How could our country do such devastating actions?

When we entered [The Legacy Museum] there were a set of videos of people behind bars. What struck me was that at one end there was a women calling for her children, a boy and a girl. At the end of the hall were a girl and a boy, looking for their mama. I wanted so desperately to connect these people.

How Dare I

A burgundy casket hung
A life taker forgotten
How dare I stand upon this ground of so many bodies
And breath the breaths of so many sisters

How dare I forget the faceless names
And meaningless faces
Every Martin Johnson
And Lewis Martin

As the metallic tears stream down
Her face
How dare I?

After a day full of essential but difficult experiences we just needed a romp

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 5

Church service at Ye Shall Know the Truth Baptist Church
– Reverend Clinton Pettway
Picnic with Mary Lee Bendolph and the folks of Gee’s Bend.
Visit with Charlie Lucas
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

Breaking down the walls of separation, two communities came together and sang one song. We sang, clapped, cheered, and prayed like we had done it for 100 years.

The service at Ye Shall Know The Truth Baptist Church was beautiful. I really felt the small-town love and history there. I even could feel the Hilltop Middle School’s history there which, though I know that so many other classes have visited Brown Chapel, Kelly Ingram Park, etc., we belonged there.

The picnic was so nice. Being able to go from not knowing anything about each other and no way alike in living to friends in one afternoon is great. It was a nice day to play, chill, and talk and be ourselves. But what you also have to realize, they don’t have it good like us. Although I didn’t play basketball, it seemed like a great way to connect all together. It made me feel a little of what it is like to live in Alabama.

At the picnic, all the kids our age and younger were kind, too. It really makes me think of how different our cultures are. I started having a really nice conversation with one of them and they are all just normal kids like us but they all seemed a bit nicer.

I have been to church services before but nothing like this. I was just so amazed how they were so free form and interested in what we wrote and wanted to take the time to listen to us. How all of them hugged us, even though they didn’t know us. I felt really welcomed and comforted. I have never had someone just come up and hug me and say “God Bless.” I felt love that I have never felt before. It was magical.

I remember a kindness that radiated off of the people. It made me smile. Not an ordinary smile but a smile that was so big, my face couldn’t hold it.

When Kayla, one of the girls closer to our age, was pulling us around and talking about boys, and I was playing “McDonalds” with Lauren, a four year old, I felt race melt away a little bit. She asked me if I wanted to be friends and she was a loud, cute little lady. I hope all those kids grow up to be what they aspire to be.

Going to Charlie’s was THE BEST THING THAT I’VE DONE IN SO LONG. It’s like my dreams in a shop and a man, to have 10 cars, all fast and exotic, is the best thing I could do. I would LOVE to come down here for the summer and fix up one of those cars. I can’t imagine anything that could top that experience.

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 4

Breakfast at 1412 Water Avenue
Brown Chapel
Charlie Lucas’s studio
History Maker’s lunch with Lynda Blackmon Lowery
Journeys for the Soul with Joanne Bland
Dinner at Healing Waters Retreat Center
and a visit with Dr. Bernard Lafayette.
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

I thought that the time we had at Brown Chapel was just so amazing. I thought the presentation we got there was so great and although I was filming, I was able to really enjoy the speeches. I thought that some of the best speeches yet were done there. Ana’s especially was so great. To see her get so out of her comfort zone and really transform.

Their voices echoed off the walls as we sat in the pews they once had years ago. Brown Chapel holds the determination of thousands of people inside it. Lynda told her story, recalling that same determination. Her sister, Joanne, made us reach into the pool of thinking and try to grasp concepts of racism. She made me realize things I hadn’t thought of before.

Ms. Lynda Blackman Lowery’s speech reminded me of Selma, Lord, Selma. The fact that she turned 15 during the march made her story even better because she probably wanted to be with her family on her birthday, but she needed to be there. She needed to march. She needed to make a difference.

The talk with Lynda was really fun, moving, and powerful, and I now have her signed book! It’s really cool getting to hear about the same moments from a bunch of different people.

They believe in us. They all believe in us so much. “We are the future.” “We need to bring our planet back.” These words have been resinating in me since our first stop at Bethel Baptist Church. Today we spoke to Joanne Bland. She was determined to make us believe we were worth something and we were the leaders.

As I was holding my rock [from Joanne Bland], I started to appreciate how much history was right there in my hand. When I get home, I’m going to find a clear case to put it in, so I can see it every day.

It was so amazing and kind of weird to meet a person [Dr. Lafayette] who I had studied so intensely for the past three months. His presence in the room made chills run down my spine, even though he was so kind. I gave my speech for him, and I think it went OK. He gave me hope for the future, and talked about the future of nonviolence and his work. I learned many things I didn’t even know about him. I just feel intoxicated by the time I spent with him.

We Cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge
Such a thrill to talk with Dr. Lafayette and so extraordinary to have him lead us in song

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 3

Sorry for the delay-Internet has been a little sporadic ….but now in full color!

Breakfast at Hargis
Meet with LaQuita Middleton Holmes
and Children’s March participants Janice Kelsey at the Bethel Baptist Church
Confederate Memorial Park
On to Selma
Dinner with our hosts – Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation
at Healing Waters Retreat Center.
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

Even though we spent much of today in the car, it felt extraordinarily full with extraordinary people and places. The morning at Bethel Baptist Church was impossible to describe. LaQuita’s power and emotion overwhelmed me. I was moved to tears by her poem about lynching and am very grateful that she drove all the way from Texas to be with us.

You could hear her voice before she even appeared. It was a voice saying words that together made something so much more than any reading ever could. She started singing of Emmett Till and lynching. Starting with a poem with so much emotion you need to almost turn away. Within three minutes, she had cried, laughed, yelled, and whispered.

Janice Kelsey came in and talked to us. She had taken part in the Children’s March and shared her experiences with us. She was also funny as heck. I thought it was interesting how she told us that she was just a normal teenager during the movement but had joined and made a huge difference. I wonder how that can happen with climate change and if the youth can really stand up. Will it be the cool thing to do?

The Confederate Memorial Park was helpful in knowing more about the confederacy and completing the story. It was not too pushy except for the gift shop. Seeing an African American fighting involuntarily with the confederacy was very maddening. He did not look at all happy and he was standing right behind his master.

LaQuita Middleton-Holmes made a very strong impression with her powerful spoken word and sung poems. She travelled 16 hours from Texas to share with us.

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 2

Breakfast at Hargis
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Kelly Ingram Park
Lunch – Zoes Kitchen
16th Street Baptist Church
Joe Minter –“Africa in America”
Dinner at Dreamland
Back to Hargis

After we left Hargis, I though the park (Kelley Ingram) was really interesting. But once we got to the museum (The Civil Rights Institute) I was fascinated. I thought that the imagery was intense, but essential in this study.

I was especially touched earlier this morning to see a bronze model of Coretta Scott King. Learning about her and reading her writing for the past few months has made me feel close to her and perk up every time I hear her name. They statue made me think of the portrait I made of her, and I was at that moment so proud to have her represented both at the Civil Rights Institute and in Brattleboro.

When I had first learned about the four girls who died at 16th Street Baptist Church, I wasn’t thinking about it too much. But today was the day it struck me; four children where murdered out of cold blood in the basement of the church. They had had friends, friends. And while they were in the basement of 16th Street, the bomb went off, ending their lives.

At first glance, it’s just an old crazy man with a whole bunch of roadside garbage. But a closer look reveals that every piece of his has a meaning, a purpose. Joe is not crazy (maybe a little bit), he just is happy. He had a glint of joy in his eyes, and I knew us being there made his day.

I want to work on feeling more comfortable with the people we are meeting. Everyone has been so nice and welcoming, but I haven’t really welcomed them. Like today, Joe Minter said something funny, and he was laughing, and his laugh is unlike anything I have heard, and it made me feel so welcomed. Myself, though, I had a hard time laughing, even though I thought it was funny. Now I wonder if I shared my laugh, would he have felt even more comfortable, and then we could have even more special moments and conversation?

I realized I am so aware of how I act around black people here. I’m always overthinking how I act, and if I’m seeming privileged, or something. I think I’m just being parinoid, but it’s uncomfortable always worrying if I’m doing something wrong.

A million foot soldiers
To hold up
Stop looking
Through the glass
Look at them
They spoke, too
They marched, too
They died, too
They held you
Thank them, too.

Joe Minter’s “African Village in America”