On Thursday, January 12, Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) seventh- and eighth-graders gathered in the Harwood auditorium to celebrate the premiere of the eighth-grade Irene Ethnography Project documentaries. The project began on the first day of school, which was delayed for a week due to the wrath of Tropical Storm Irene. Students in Sarah Ibson’s eighth-grade social studies class, in collaboration with Jacki McCarty’'s language arts classes, took on the Hurricane Irene Flood Project: An Ethnography of Our Experiences. The project aimed to answer the essential question, How can we preserve stories about the flood so that future generations can bear witness to the devastation and remarkable recovery?

Ethnography, as a method, seeks to answer central anthropological questions concerning the ways of life of living human beings (University of Pennsylvania). Many students were directly affected by the flooding and all of them were affected in some way, so Ibson and McCarty turned to the experts at the Vermont Folk Life Center in Middlebury to give students the opportunity to prepare professional-grade ethnographies.

Master ethnographer Greg Sharrow of the Vermont Folk Life Center and his apprentice Aylie Baker were invited to Harwood in early September to conduct a workshop on ethnography. Sharrow and Baker explained the difference between a traditional interview and an ethnographical interview and facilitated a group interview with a student volunteer who told of their experiences during the flooding. Students took notes on the interviewing tips and strategies that Sharrow and Baker shared in preparation for conducting and documenting their own interviews over the weeks that followed.

The central goal of the project was to use the experiences of students and their families to create an archive of memories, stories and history from the flood of 2011. Students interviewed each other, examined pictures, videos and social media outlets and read news stories to gather information to be used for the project.

After three months of constructing and then editing down four different documentaries (one by each eighth-grade social studies class), the fruit of their efforts was finally unveiled last Thursday. HUMS student David Howes tirelessly worked through his lunches to complete the editing of the films with social studies teacher Sarah Ibson (who logged many hours on the editing of the projects over winter break). Appreciation also goes out to Dan Birdsall for his technical support during the school assembly

The final products are four succinct documentaries with sound bytes from students about what they have learned and understand about the flood, its effects on local families and how community support and outreach have helped to heal The Valley towns. The project will culminate in a public showcase of these collections at the Big Picture Theater, and they will be shared and archived at the Vermont Folk Life Center in Middlebury as well.

In addition to being used in the documentaries, student writings about the flooding have been shared on the Folk Life Center’s website blog, and many student poems were featured in the Moretown Flood Relief Fundraiser Calendar, “After the Flood,” which is available at most area convenience stores. The documentaries can be accessed on YouTube through the Harwood website. A date and time will soon be set for the public exhibition of the HUMS Irene documentaries at the Big Picture Theater; stay tuned for details about this exciting upcoming event where students will share their creations with the citizens of the area towns, many of whom are showcased in the student productions.


HUMS GeoBee competitors recently tested their map-reading skills, their knowledge of current geographic events and demographic statistics last week at an all-school assembly. On Friday, January 13, HUMS held its annual National Geographic GeoBee competition coordinated by social studies teachers Ruth Hoogenboom and Sarah Ibson. Initial competitions were conducted in social studies classes. The winners of the in-class competitions were invited to compete in the semifinals which took place on January 9.

The final competition was hosted by Associate Principal Jean Berthiaume at last Friday’s assembly. Finalists who battled it out for the school title included Christian Torsell, Lily Martin, Anna White, Anna Van Dine, Ali Harris, Ryan Gilroy, Sally Goodwin, Colin Fennelly, Scott Ward and Brendan Gaylord. After seven challenging rounds of competition, it was down to two contestants: Christian Torsell and Colin Fennelly. The two finalists went head to head for two rounds, and seventh-grader Colin Fennelly ultimately emerged as the HUMS GeoBee champion. Fennelly will now take a test to qualify for the state competition. If he wins the states, he will have the opportunity to compete in the national GeoBee as the Vermont state representative in spring 2012.