Remembering the One Room Schoolhouse

NEWPORT CITY – Many Vermonters remember the one-room schoolhouse. That memory is coming alive this month at the Memphremagog Arts Collaborative (MAC), where photojournalist Dianna Mara Henry is displaying her photography of the buildings and people of one-room schoolhouses. Her exhibit will be on display until May 28.Henry, who is in the process of moving from Springfield, MA, to Newport, said the photographs are ones she made as part of an Earthwatch Expedition. “Earthwatch is an organization that supports scientific research, field studies particularly, by recruiting volunteers who pay to go on these expeditions,” explained Henry. “It might be photographing temple monkeys in Kathmandu or collecting birds in the rain forest in Costa Rica or interviewing one-room school teachers in Vermont, which was the expedition I ended up photographing for Earthwatch.”Margret Nelson, professor of sociology from Middlebury College, headed up the research project. Henry photographed the schoolhouses during a couple weeks of the summer of 1980. Three of the schools were in operation at the time. The 21-piece exhibit includes interviews with the people of the one-room schoolhouses. The exhibit first displayed at a Brattleboro art museum in 1984. Old fashion desks, books and even an apple for the teacher complete the MAC exhibit. Those who attend the exhibit have an opportunity to write in a memory book. During Friday’s opening, a former one-room schoolteacher from Brattleboro spent a half-hour writing her memories.Some of Henry’s other work is also on display at the center. Much of includes photos of the Women’s Movement. After shooting the one-room schoolhouses in Vermont, Henry received a grant from New York State Council on The Arts to photograph the one-room schoolhouses of Ulster County. She was able to work longer because she had funding and she photographed 75 schools in that one county. “This is a smaller version and kind of the kickoff exhibit to the larger body of work,” said Henry of the MAC gallery.Many people, especially the young, may not understand how a one-room schoolhouse functioned. Several grades and one teacher were in one classroom, said Henry. There was one-on-one time with students helping students and quiet time.“There is a great sense of community in the classroom,” Henry said. “I found a great deal of peace and kind of a family atmosphere. The children can move through as many as six to eight years of school with one teacher who becomes sort of like a parent and can care awfully deeply about the students.”Henry also heard about teachers who didn’t like a student. Those instances are rare, she said, and most teachers cared if students failed, even if it meant giving a lot of extra help.Henry had quite the career as a photojournalist. She attended Radcliffe College where she photographed sports, lectures and demonstrations. With a government degree in hand, Henry worked for print and television broadcast. At one political convention, Henry ended up next to a man whom years later she realized was a young Bill Clinton.“A good photojournalist just doesn’t photograph the action in front,” said Henry. “You turn around and to the side.”Henry gave up a career in photojournalism after she moved and the birth of her daughter in 1987. Then, she started teaching photography.“Now I feel I’m sort of back into photography again,” Mara said. “I’m working on my website almost daily. There I find a lot of satisfaction.”