May 12th, 2008
By MEGAN JAMES
MIDDLEBURY — A group of Middlebury College students hoping to overhaul the college’s nearly 20-year-old sexual assault policy is finding the administration is also ready for change.
Junior Aki Ito has been working with students, faculty and administrators drawing up a proposal to update the school’s policy, pushing for more preventative approaches to sexual violence and a more extensive support system for students who have experienced it.
“When you look at the handbook, it talks about what sexual assault is at Middlebury and how you can decide to proceed with a judicial proceeding, but it doesn’t talk about what that specifically entails,” Ito said. “What we want is every single step mapped out. We want a document that says if you’re sexually assaulted, these are the things you want to do, and then list every single thing that’s going to happen.”
But Ito and her team want more than a chapter in the college handbook.
They are proposing everything from mandatory attendance to a freshman orientation show that looks at dating, sex and rape on college campuses, to implementing a system to anonymously report sexual assaults, to hiring a response team that would handle every aspect of a victim’s recovery, including counseling and gathering evidence, should that person choose to press charges.
They are modeling their proposal after programs and policies they’ve found at other colleges, particularly Bowdoin College and Lewis and Clark College.
Last year the college’s Department of Public Safety received two reports of forcible sex offenses and the year before it received four. But students say many more incidents go unreported. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, less than 5 percent of college student rapes are reported to authorities.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Leaders of the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow (VSCC) are working diligently on a plan to wipe red ink from the organization’s ledger and put it on a strong financial foundation for the future.
Deidre Healy, recently hired as Frog Hollow’s executive director, confirmed last week the 37-year-old, nonprofit arts organization is seeking to raise $200,000 within the next six months to shore up a budget deficit and help meet ongoing operating expenses. She added her board of directors later this year will announce a $1 million fund-raising campaign to invest in Frog Hollow’s staff, educational resources, facilities and other measures to ensure the operation’s future survival. The VSCC currently consists of galleries and a wide range of educational programs in Middlebury, Burlington and Manchester.
“Frog Hollow has had a challenging few years, and we are committed to restoring the organization,” said Healy, who attributed the VSCC’s current financial problems to a “perfect storm” of events — highlighted by a downturn in the economy that has seen revenues slump.
This revitalization effort will not come in time to save the VSCC’s Manchester gallery, however. The VSCC established that gallery two years ago at 4716 Main St., but it has thus far failed to pay for itself. The gallery will soon close.
“The decision was a fiscal one,” Healy explained. “Fiscally, it just wasn’t performing. So we will focus our efforts in Middlebury and Burlington.”
Healey stressed the VSCC’s scheduled programs in Manchester will continue through the summer. The organization is working with other institutions to host some offerings, and has not ruled out re-establishing itself in Manchester in the future.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The fate of Middlebury Union High School’s student newspaper hangs in the balance as organizers wait to see if journalism class will be offered at MUHS next year.
And even if journalism class does makes the cut for the 2008-2009 course lineup at MUHS, leaders of The Tigers’ Print said they are apprehensive about putting out a newspaper they said is now carefully screened — posing the prospect of censorship — by school administrators before it is published.
“I think it’s kind of up in the air,” MUHS English teacher and journalism instructor Timothy O’Leary said of The Tigers’ Print and the school’s journalism program.
The Tigers’ Print was reinvigorated two years ago, after a hiatus of a few years, by three local parents who restarted the paper as a high school club activity. They formed an alliance with the Addison Independent, which published the paper pro bono for that first year within its regular Thursday publication roughly once a month.
The effort was successful enough that the high school administration incorporated The Tigers’ Print into a journalism class within the English department worthy of a full credit. The paper is written and assembled by about a dozen students in the class — mostly seniors — who usually spend one Sunday a month pulling it all together before the week of publication. It has continued to be published in the Independent this past school year on a monthly basis.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SALISBURY — Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) officials will soon offer some recommendations on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in district schools.
The recommendations are being developed in response to a parent’s inquiry into how the Pledge is being observed at the Salisbury Community School. Sal Morana, whose daughter attends the Salisbury school, brought the matter to local school directors’ attention earlier this year out of concern that not all students were being given the opportunity to recite the Pledge each morning. He learned that the Pledge was being offered regularly in some classes, but not in others.
“Those kids should be offered the opportunity to say the Pledge every day,” Morana said. “Here we are in a rural, agricultural town with kids who may grow up to join the military … and it was surprising to me (there is no Pledge policy).”
Morana shared his views last month with the Salisbury school board and ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease. Since then, Sease acknowledged he has received more than 75 e-mails from people weighing in on the Pledge, most of them in favor of its observance in ACSU schools.
“There is support for the Pledge of Allegiance and recognizing patriotism,” said Sease, who has discovered the ACSU has no uniform policy or guidelines on the Pledge of Allegiance. He noted some ACSU schools have a student recite the Pledge over the intercom; others leave it up to individual teachers or confine it to special events.
“While this issue has come up in Salisbury, I don’t think approaching this from a single school standpoint makes much sense,” he said.
By MEGAN JAMES & CYRUS LEVESQUE
ADDISON COUNTY — Only about 70 percent of high school students in the United States graduate in four years with a regular diploma, and about 1.2 million students drop out every year, according to a new report issued by America’s Promise Alliance.
By that standard, students in Addison County are doing exceptionally well.
Over the last five years the dropout rates at the four local high schools — Middlebury Union High School, Mount Abraham Union High School, Otter Valley Union High School and Vergennes Union High School — have all gradually fallen or hovered around already tiny percentages.
Counselors and administrators at all four local high schools credit some of their success in keeping youngsters in school to the fact that they address the different learning styles of students in different ways. Catching potential dropout students early on and engaging them in alternative education programs allows students to learn in nontraditional ways and offers them a sense of belonging in a different community, said MUHS guidance counselor Mark Thuma.
“The kids who feel disenfranchised with our system can find that sense of community with an alt ed program,” Thuma said.
Vermont kids start out in school with one advantage — geography. The Alliance’s report, which was based on school district data from the 2003-2004 school year, found that students in suburban and rural public high schools are more likely to graduate than their counterparts in urban public high schools, only about half of whom receive diplomas.
Local students have it even better. The most recent data from the 2005-2006 school year shows MUHS, MAUHS and VUHS all below the state average of 2.85 percent, and OVUHS just a hair above it.
By MEGAN JAMES
MIDDLEBURY — The Maine search and rescue organization that took more than 700 aerial photographs of the Otter Creek last month in an effort to locate missing Middlebury College freshman Nicholas Garza, has confirmed that a suspicious object identified in the river during that search could have been the 19-year-old’s body. Officials said it was the color and shape of a pair of blue jeans attached to what could have been a white shoe at the end of each leg that led them to that determination.
Garza was wearing a red, button-down shirt, blue jeans and white tennis shoes on Feb. 5, the night he disappeared from the Middlebury campus.
Down East Emergency Medical Institute (DEEMI) has known about this detail since its photographs were analyzed on April 17, but until this week the public and the Garza family knew only of an “object of interest” that prompted an unplanned search of the river behind Middlebury Union High School on April 18, resulting in no new leads.
DEEMI director Richard Bowie said his organization has a policy not to reveal details of the aerial photographs it takes in missing persons cases, in an effort to be sensitive to the family and to ensure general searching doesn’t stop.
This detail became public after news leaked out.
“We want the public to continue to look,” Bowie said. “We don’t want to say, ‘He’s in the water; stop looking.’ You have to continue looking elsewhere because what if it isn’t him?”
Still, Bowie stressed the object, which searchers have not been able to locate, is well worth tracking down.
“We look for colors,” he said. “We’re looking for jeans … it’s pretty easy to pick them out among Mother Nature. So when you’re looking at this thing in the river, you start associating shapes, sizes, dimensions. Nothing about this looked natural.”
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
ADDISON COUNTY — Conditions this spring have been a mixed blessing for Addison County farmers — milk prices are relatively high but so are the costs of feed and fuel.
But a deal to extend and expand a federal dairy price support program struck on Friday could be a big help.
After a marathon negotiating session, conferees from the U.S. Senate and House agriculture committees agreed on an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program in the U.S. Farm Bill at around 1 a.m. last Friday, according Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. The Democrat is the senior member of the Senate agriculture committee.
The expansions to the program include incorporating the rising cost of feed, making base payments larger and making farms with larger herds available.
The MILC program, originally created in 2002, provides extra help for dairy farmers when the price of milk falls below a certain threshold. Under the current program, if the price of raw milk drops below $16.94 per hundredweight — about 12 gallons — extra payments for farmers are triggered. The payment is equal to the amount of milk a farmer sold in that month multiplied by 34 percent of the difference between $16.94 and the price that milk actually sold for.
Payments are capped after a farm has sold 2.4 million pounds of milk in a year.
The revised version in the program includes three significant changes.
First, the rising cost of feed will, for the first time, become a factor triggering payments under the program. When three major feed commodities — corn, hay alfalfa and soybeans — hit a certain price, payments will kick in. Rising feed costs, fueled especially by skyrocketing energy costs, are a growing strain on farmers.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Addison County residents are taking a lead role in organizing a major art exhibit that will tour through some major cities and venues next year celebrating Lake Champlain and the 400th anniversary of its naming by French explorer Samuel de Champlain.
Dubbed “Champlain’s Lake Rediscovered,” the exhibit will boast 50 works — primarily paintings — submitted exclusively by Vermont artists. In 2009, the collection will meander its way through the six major institutions: Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, the National Arts Club in New York City, the Boston Public Library, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C., the Chaffee Art Gallery in Rutland and the Southern Vermont Art Center in Manchester.
The show — the only visual arts feature from Vermont in next year’s quadricentennial celebration of Lake Champlain — is the brainchild of Middlebury artist Doug Lazarus. Lazarus is serving as curator of the exhibit, while Ripton-based artist Jean Cherouny is coordinating the endeavor.
The exhibit’s major sponsor is the nonprofit Willowell Foundation, an Addison County-based organization that supports projects connecting the arts, education and the environment.
“This is the first time, according to the Vermont Arts Council, that Vermont art has every traveled to major cities as ‘Vermont art,’” Lazarus said of the exhibit. “This (show) will declare that Vermont has a seriously competent art community in it.”
Lazarus conceived of the exhibit last year as a way to showcase Vermont artists, export images of the lake in this special anniversary, and provide an added incentive for tourists to come to the Green Mountain State.