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Community of Learners: Reflections on Childhood Experiences at the Hood

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Students in the Hood's Images multi-visit program explore the exhibition In Residence: Contemporary Artists at Dartmouth.

Hood Quarterly, spring/summer 2011

Sometimes we receive indications that the Hood’s educational efforts have made a difference in the community. One such affirmation came in a commentary by Annie Guyon that aired on Vermont Public Radio in mid-December. Called “Looking at Art,” the piece discussed the value of taking children to museums. Near the end of the commentary, Ms. Guyon included a beautiful tribute to the museum’s work with regional schools when she reported that Mary Lou Massucco, an art teacher at Bellows Falls Middle School, told her, “It was art class field trips to Dartmouth’s Hood Museum that had lifted a former student’s self-esteem enough to inspire her to go to college. She didn’t major in art but somehow all those discussions about art made her believe in herself in a way nothing else could.”

We were curious to learn more about this student’s experiences at the Hood and how they influenced her subsequent life journey. We contacted Ms. Massucco and very soon received the following note from the student, Jennifer Hamel, herself:

I would love to share my experiences and offer any support I can to help continue these educational opportunities for children. It made an incredible difference in my life, and I hope these types of programs continue to be funded. I know I would not have been able to go on such trips as a child if they were not funded. I am a first-generation college graduate. I never knew what college was about, as my parents never went to college. Being from a small Vermont town and of a family of modest means, it meant that things like art, unfortunately, were not a priority at home. I just knew that I loved to draw, and how I felt in art class. I never saw a museum before the Hood and I never knew what a college campus was like until Dartmouth. Thankfully, those trips did not cost my family. It would have been difficult for them to afford. After those visits, I joyfully declared to my parents (at age twelve) that I was going to college, and more specifically Dartmouth . . . Though I never went to Dartmouth, I kept that dream alive, knowing that I liked how I felt in that museum and on campus. The environment was beautiful, like home, and the galleries were inspiring. The teaching culture in the museum was so open and positive. I remember sitting on the floor in one gallery and drawing, thinking, this is what I want to be. I felt happy for perhaps the first time. Really happy. I ended up attending the University of Massachusetts and earned a BS in psychology; I was later accepted to a PhD program in Atlanta. But my heart has always been with Dartmouth.

Yes, it may sound a bit dramatic, but those visits changed me and perhaps saved me too. Currently, I work with children with suspected developmental disabilities as a psychometrist and do both diagnostic work in Atlanta and work in an outreach clinic in rural Georgia. Part of my passion still is to reach that one child, to make a difference.

My heart will always be with rural America and with those children that need mentors and hope.This is what your program at the Hood and my art teacher, Mary Lou Massucco, did for me. Gave me hope.

 We thank Jennifer for taking the time to reflect back on her childhood experiences at the Hood. If you have your own story to share, please email hoodmuseum @dartmouth.edu.

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