Our Discovering Community Summer Institute introduces educators to the methods of ethnographic field research and the techniques of documentary media-making and digital storytelling as a means to facilitate meaningful student involvement with the communities in which they live. Working with community resources and digital media tools offers rich opportunities for personalized, student-led learning experiences—with the capacity to engage both high-performing and at-risk students. This student-directed research model facilitates the development of transferable skills such as clear and effective communication, responsible and involved citizenship, creative and practical problem solving, and informed and integrative thinking.

The Discovering Community model gets students out of their classrooms to learn from their diverse communities using media-making tools to document and ultimately share their experiences. It supports educators in providing the context for students to achieve required proficiencies through real-life learning, and holds the potential to promote personal growth by deepening students’ understanding of themselves and others. It can also enhance students’ sense of identification with, and caring for, their home community and help to ensure their future involvement in its civic life.

Scenes and reflections from the participants in the 2016 Summer Institute.

VFC Discovering Community at-a-glance: Shot on location at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, and in Shoreham, Vergennes, Duxbury, and Morrisville, Vermont.


VFC Discovering Community Summer Institute Testimonial: Greg Sharrow VFC's Co-Director Greg Sharrow talks about what spawned the idea of Discovering Community.  

Shot on location at the Vermont Folklife Center, Middlebury, VT


VFC Discovering Community Summer Institute Testimonial: Joan Soble Educator Joan Soble speaks about her experience engaging with place based learning and media making.

Shot on location at the Vermont Folklife Center, Middlebury, VT



Our long-term goal is to foster a transformative experience for young people that will facilitate personal growth by deepening their understanding of others and, in turn, themselves. At the same time, community-based ethnographic research will promote a young person’s sense of identification with, and caring for, their home community and their future involvement in its civic life. Harwood Union educator and long-time Discovering Community collaborator, Steve Rand, wrote the following about the ways in which the Discovering Community model aligns with transferable skills: 

To me it is all about having students practice speaking to people, possibly strangers, and practice listening attentively to what these people have to say. Who among us has mastered these skills? One could argue, as adults, we must continue to practice these skills in our professional lives and personal relationships. Subsequently, if we're listening in earnest and asking questions we're genuinely curious about, our projects--products of a shared learning experience--end up being highly collaborative and honor those voices captured on film by students.  


The Summer Institute faculty and participants will form an ongoing network of like-minded peers who will provide feedback and support for each other’s classroom and program initiatives. Institute faculty and participants will meet again in early fall to share and receive feedback on participants' short documentaries or digital stories based on footage gathered during the Institute. The mentor relationship established during the Institute will continue as teachers return home to flesh out their projects and implement them. As part of the cost of the Institute, participants will receive 5 hours of complimentary, on-site support from Institute faculty, spread throughout the fall, to ensure the meaningful implementation of student projects. Student work is the basis of our Discovering Community website. Our Student Project Database offers a resource of curriculum exemplars and student-generated work—providing models and inspiration for other teachers and students. Institute Participants will be encouraged to stay in touch about their projects through our Discovering Community blog.


Each day of the four-day Institute focuses on developing a different aspect of the research and documentary process. The daily schedule is built around sessions led by educators, folklorists, digital media specialists, and artists who have done exemplary work as ethnographers, teachers, and documentarians. Over the course of the week participants will undertake a mini-field research project and explore the documentary potential of the digital medium of their choice: photography; audio; or video. Each day will begin and end with a peer reflection session facilitated by core faculty mentors. Participants will develop individual curriculum plans based on their Institute learning and experience.


Participants will meet eight hours per day, with the expectation of individual reading, research, and planning. Professional certificates will be issued to all participants upon completion of expectations for the week. Participants seeking three graduate credits will submit a completed curriculum plan along with a post-institute reflection. A follow-up session will be held in the fall.



Day 1: Community Ethnography & Transferable Skills

The first day focuses on place-based education, community ethnography/research, and the power and significance of personal stories—including a practicum on the interview process. Collaborators in past projects will speak about how the Discovering Community model facilitates students’ development of transferable skills.

Day 2: Methods & Approaches: Exploring Everyday Life

After learning the methods and approaches of ethnographic research and an introduction to classroom applications, participants go out into the community as participant-observer teams to literally discover the extraordinary character of everyday life. 


Day 3: Introduction to Documentary Media Production

The third day offers an introduction to video, audio, and photography as documentary media, after which media teams spread out to pre-selected field sites to gather footage to use for their own documentaries and digital stories.

Day 4: Digital Storytelling & Classroom Applications

The first part of the day is dedicated to learning how to produce a digital story or documentary: reviewing footage, finding the story, and editing a short piece. The second half of the day will be spent brainstorming classroom applications with support from VFC faculty.


The institute demonstrated how powerful ethnography can be in connecting people to each other and their communities. The principle of letting the truth come out authentically and conducting research without a set agenda is powerful. Ethnography is about connecting with everyday people and discovering the universal themes, issues, and stories that all of us hold. I felt genuinely inspired, personally and professionally.
— Jeff Novak
Discovering Community allowed me to learn, to get excited, and to be vulnerable with my own work as a storyteller. We were given permission to try out new-to-us media, to make mistakes, and to reflect. I never felt lost, or completely out of the loop. I felt supported.
— Katie Wyndorf
This program with its passionate leaders and participants was a profound joining of forces culminating in countless awareness-expanding moments of great richness. Thank you for being so kind, helpful, and sensitive to the awesome potential energies of our group.
— Emerson Gale
Everything I have taken away can (and will) directly and positively impact my practice. From the way I approach lessons, empower students and integrate media—this has been an enriching and rewarding experience.
— Melissa Wyman
This course is full of insight on the world through ethnography and all of the information learned is valuable.
— high school student participant
This course was challenging in the best ways. It was interesting, moving, and thrilling. The VFC is an amazing resource—and I am not using the term ‘amazing’ lightly but rather in a most sincere way.
— Beverly Kein
Ethnography is such a critical component for historians. I wish every social studies teacher could or would take this class.
— Marc Ducharme
It was an amazing experience. Learned SO much and have so much to think and act on!
— Nancy Mclaran
The Institute was literally one of the best courses I have ever taken.
— Marie Kittel, Bethel Middle School
We came into this with very specific needs–to learn about ethnography and we wanted the digital piece–and we got it.
— Michele Forman, Middlebury High School – 2001 National Teacher of the Year
It was a really positive experience, and the group was great. We ended up with good bonds and a lot of trust.
— Lidie Robbins, Education Director, Northern Forest Center




Kathleen Haughey, Executive Director & Ethnomusicologist

Kathleen has a diverse background in education, ethnomusicology, and collaborative ethnography and media making. As a PhD student in Ethnomusicology at Brown University, Kathleen co-led an audio and video ethnography project with Mbyá-Guarani musicians in southern Brazil. Kathleen also has years of experience as an educator, having taught in both K-12 and higher education settings. She has additional years of experience teaching early childhood music and cello in private music studios.

Kathleen received a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Literature and a Bachelor of Music in Cello Performance from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, and a Masters in Ethnomusicology at Brown University in Providence, RI.



Erica Heilman, Audio Producer 

In 2003, Erica Heilman moved back to Vermont, had a baby, and started collaborating with Greg Sharrow at the Vermont Folklife Center. She's been producing radio and audio work ever since. Her work has aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston, VPR, and other public radio affiliates nationwide. She currently produces the podcast, Rumble Strip Vermont.


Myles Jewell, Education Outreach/Media Instructor & Filmmaker

Myles graduated from the University of Vermont, where he double majored in English and Anthropology with a Film Studies minor.  He then went on to earn a Master of Arts from New York University with an Advanced Certificate in the Program of Culture and Media (technical training in Documentary and Ethnographic filmmaking). After graduate school, Myles began making documentaries (www.strangleholdthemovie.comwww.tylerjewell.com) and experimental films full time (www.mylesdavidjewell.com). To supplement his filmmaking career, he also developed media literacy workshops to promote minimal resource filmmaking in disenfranchised areas. He ran workshops for the San Francisco Film Society’s Filmmaker in the Classroom Program and ran his own independent workshops in the Bay Area, Boston, and Los Angeles.  


Mary Rizos, Director of Education & Photographer/Videographer

Mary was a high school and middle school Spanish teacher for twelve years before joining the Folklife Center. During that time, she also taught photography and Latin American Studies, and led students on international trips built around history, identity, community, and cultural exchange. Mary has a BA in Anthropology and Spanish from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and an MA in Journalism (with an emphasis on documentary photojournalism) from the University of Montana. She has produced multimedia work exploring the culture of bodybuilding, daily life on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, and microfinance and water access in the Andes. Mary has also worked collaboratively with students on projects about their personal and educational experiences in rural Vermont.