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Doyle: Sutton Graded School


I’m a proud graduate of the Sutton Graded School in Sutton, Vermont. Relatively speaking, there aren’t that many of us. In 1990, I was one of 8 graduates. The graduation was held in a church basement, and in addition to diplomas, the young men, one of whom had driven there that day, were given shaving cream. By the time I made it out of Mr. Belanger’s 8th grade class, I’d spent most of my life at the school.

The challenges of attending a school that size, in a community like Sutton, were easy to identify: if I had any problems with classmates, I was still stuck in the same room with them for what seemed to be the rest of my life. Unlike my future high school colleagues from the metropolis known as Lyndonville, I’d never really heard about Algebra. We didn’t have a cafeteria or a gym, so lunch came to our desks on a cart. The same one the art teacher used to wheel her supplies into our classroom once a week. School dances were held at the grange hall – but that didn’t make them any less awkward.

Despite these challenges, the strength of the school and of schools like it is the same today: this school is the heart of the community.

Things aren’t easy in Sutton. The town lost its store years ago. Then the post office closed. The town could use a new well and doesn’t receive any tax benefit from the large industrial wind farm that sits in Sheffield but that Sutton gets to look at. Still, the school remains. It’s a place where a community says that it believes in the future - not just for the students, but for itself. Across Vermont, towns like Sutton are being asked to think about how feasible it is to maintain their small schools and most importantly, about what’s best for the kids who attend them. A child’s education should never be the ransom we pay to keep a sense of community. It’s too high a price. And to do so ignores the fundamental conditions that fray a social fabric: lack of economic opportunity, inequality, and anger over dreams deferred.

But the truth is, and maybe it’s a failure of my education, I can’t imagine having graduated from anywhere other than Sutton Graded School; it was a place where kids and caring, talented adults, knew who I was and helped me become who I wanted to be.

Ben Doyle is a Community and Economic Development Specialist for USDA Rural Development. A former English teacher and arts administrator, Ben lives in Montpelier with his wife, Angela, and two children, Salvador and Rosemary.
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