- Jessica Hill
Back in the 1970s, when Frog Hollow was still a ragtag operation in an old mill building in Middlebury, founder Allen Johnson envisioned a hub where local kids could work and learn side by side with professional artists and crafters. Within a year of opening, the Frog Hollow Children’s Program was offering free craft instruction to 600 area children.
Four decades later, after closing its onsite schools in Middlebury and Burlington, Frog Hollow is returning to its original education mission. This fall, the organization rolls out L.E.A.P. (Lessons Exploring Artisan Process) Frog, a pilot program that aims to integrate arts education into local classrooms.
Here’s how it works: Frog Hollow trains parents, artists and other community members to visit elementary school classrooms and teach one of three hands-on classes exploring the history and contemporary application of a craft. So far, three area schools have signed up: Ferrisburgh and Williston central schools, and the Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler in Burlington.
The pilot program, which runs through the fall, is limited to fourth grade. “We thought that would be a good grade level to come in, because we know we can make some progress,” says Frog Hollow director Rob Hunter. “They’re old enough that they’re thinking for themselves, but they’re not pushing the boundaries at that point.”
Hunter says he was inspired to start L.E.A.P. Frog when he learned about several existing community-based education programs, including the Four Winds Nature Institute, which trains parents and community members to teach science classes in New England and New York classrooms.
L.E.A.P. Frog features three classes developed by Frog Hollow artists and education committee members Carol MacDonald, Susan Raber Bray and Eliza Collins, each of whom designed a course based on a medium with which she has experience — printmaking, spinning wool and pinched-clay pottery, respectively. Each class is designed to fit in the school’s fourth-grade curriculum, helping to fulfill the state’s basic competency requirements.
It’s important to Hunter that the one-hour classes be held during the regular school day. “If we were to do it after school, there would be certain populations that wouldn’t be able to be part of it,” he explains. Hunter envisions eventually branching out from parent volunteers and enlisting seniors, high school and college students to teach classes, too. “Everything that we do, I try to make it mutually beneficial,” he adds.
Recently hired L.E.A.P. Frog educational coordinator Jessica Hill will oversee the program and train volunteers. A Vermont native, Hill, 35, worked as an art teacher in Virginia public schools for 10 years before returning to the Burlington area in 2009. Since then, she’s been part of the support staff at Williston Central School.
The L.E.A.P. Frog opportunity “is like a dream job,” Hill says, noting that her first job as a teenager was as an assistant to Jericho jeweler Bill Butler, a Frog Hollow artist at the time. “I’d go to his studio and polish his jewelry,” Hill says. “It feels like I’ve really come full circle.”
Frog Hollow is in the midst of applying for grants to cover the $20,000 cost of the pilot. “We want to keep the cost to a minimum,” says Hunter. “We don’t want to burden the schools, we want to get it into the schools.”
The program will culminate in April with an exhibit of student work at Frog Hollow’s Church Street gallery. “I love the idea of having kids from different communities seeing their artwork on display in this beautiful place,” Hill says. “I can see this as the first step for some kids in realizing that this is a great way to make a living.”