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Thursday event planned to build community with film and history

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School on Thursday evening will host a first-of-its-kind summit that will screen two short documentary films about life in Addison County in the past and present, as well as feature historical presentations by Mount Abe students.
Faculty organizers of the Addison County Community Summit hope it will provide an opportunity for local people across generations to make new connections with each other and strengthen community ties.
The summit will be held at the school beginning at 6 p.m. Two films will be screened, and Mount Abraham juniors and seniors will present history projects they produced while researching their towns.
The night will be the world premiere of “Life In Addison County.” The 25-minute film, which features interviews with residents across the county, is about life in Vermont in the 1920s and 1930s. It is dedicated to Greg Clark, a long-time Mount Abe teacher who represented Vergennes in the Legislature, who was killed in a car accident this past November.
The second film, “How To Live To Be 100,” was produced by Mount Mansfield Media and tells the story of the Stampede for the Cure annual fundraiser in the context of Bristol as a small town.
The Community Summit is an amalgamation of several different projects in the are over the last few years.
“It began with a conversation between myself and Kristen Farrell,” said Laura Mina, the library media specialist at Mount Abe.
“The root of all of this began with the Vermont Folklife Center’s course on teaching local history.”
Farrell and fellow Mount Abe social studies teachers Scott Beckwith and Lauren Parren took the Folklife Center class together, which inspired the idea of doing more local history project students. Now 10th-graders, who come from the five towns served by Mount Abe (Bristol, New Haven, Starksboro, Monkton and Lincoln), must complete a local history project.
For the project, students look through historical texts about their towns. Then, they visit their town clerk’s office and local libraries to gather information, as well as interview community members about what the towns were like in the past. In their research, students discover much about their towns they had never known.
“‘My town is so boring’ is what students say at the start,” Farrell said. “Then they learn Bristol used to have a movie theater, a bowling alley and a dance hall, and they’re amazed.”
Farrell recalled a student telling her that she had never sat down and talked with her grandmother before interviewing her for the project. Afterwards the student had an entirely different understanding and appreciation of her grandmother.
“I want students to have this insight about history now,” Farrell said. “Most of us don’t get it until later in life.”
Students use the information they’ve gathered and make a short video. After the projects are complete, students present them to the class.
Mina, for one, has been impressed.
“The content of the projects was just too good to keep to ourselves,” Mina said.
In 2012, Farrell and Bill Connor, a fellow Mount Abe teacher, held a “Tea and Talk” in the school library, where students presented their projects to the public.
“The response was excellent,” Mina said.
She and Farrell sought a way to bring the projects to a larger audience.
Farrell heard that Bill Doyle, the Johnson State College professor and longtime state senator from Washington County, was looking for a place to screen a documentary he had worked on, called “Life In Addison County.” The film was produced by Doyle’s Vermont history and government class at Johnson State and Peregrine Productions.
Farrell suggested combining her students’ projects with the screening of the film, and the planning for the first-ever Addison County Community Summit began.
It was a perfect pairing, Mina explained.
“We realized we could combine the viewing of projects from years past with the launch of the films we will be showing in an evening that would appeal to all residents of the county,” Mina said. “In turn, our 10th graders would be able to gather ideas and inspiration for this year’s research projects.”
Farrell, now in her 20th year of teaching, hopes that community members will connect with each other at the summit. She recalled the student projects from a few years ago, where several community members interviewed spoke of Hurricane Dog, which in 1951 damaged much of New England, including Vermont. Despite living in Addison County for more than a half-century, these people did not meet until the students’ history project united them. In another instance, an 84-year-old woman recognized another interview subject with whom she had been a first-grade classmate.
Farrell said she hopes connections like this will happen on a larger scale at the community summit. She has invited historical societies from across the county to attend. After the screenings and presentations, guests are invited to the Mount Abe library for refreshments and a discussion with the subjects of the films.
When asked why this project was important for the students, Farrell recalled how a former student concluded her project.
“If we don’t remember the past, we’ll have no future,” the student said.

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