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The Commons
The Arts

First-hand research

Hilltop Montessori School receives grant for recent Middle School odyssey to Alabama

To learn more about the students’ Alabama odyssey, visit and click on “middle school odyssey.” You’ll see photos and short videos, hear songs and speeches, and read student journal entries.

Originally published in The Commons issue #202 (Wednesday, May 8, 2013).

BRATTLEBORO—Hilltop Montessori School recently received a $2,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation’s Small and Inspiring grants program for its recent middle school trip to Alabama, which offered students the opportunity to live and breathe the Civil Rights movement after an intense period of study on the topic.

“All year long the students have been exploring the evolution of the American identity with a particular look at the impact of slavery, abolition, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights movement,” said Middle School Director Paul Dedell.

“We are grateful for the VCF’s support. These funds helped our students experience first-hand the legacy of the Civil Rights era, and learn a tremendous amount about the people and places of entirely different communities.”

The students will present an original musical, “Return to Sender,” based on their experiences in Alabama, on Thursday and Friday, May 9 and 10, at 7 p.m. at the school, at 120 Summit Circle.

One important stop in the trip was Gee’s Bend, made famous for the quilts that the women of the community create. As they have for generations, the quilting women of Gee’s Bend gathered around a quilt on a sunny April afternoon singing songs they learned from their grandmothers while wielding a needle and thread, stitching distinctive lines.

On Sunday, April 7, at a picnic along the Alabama River, 27 students and staff from the Hilltop Montessori Middle School joined these quilters and enthusiastically attempted to learn this time-honored art.

Before them was a quilt that the students had pieced and put together in the classroom as a tribute and gift to a community that has embraced them for 10 years.

At Gee’s Bend, Hilltop’s students recited speeches they wrote in the spirit of a leader of the Civil Rights movement, sang songs of freedom, fished with community members, shared conversation, played with the children, and did a lot of quilting. It was an extraordinary day of respect and mutual appreciation.

The day finished with the students bestowing gifts of Vermont maple syrup, a visit to the Gee’s Bend quilt collective, and the ride back to Selma through old plantation cotton country, where history seeps from the red clay soil.

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