Downtown Assignments

Inspired classes and assignments that take the town as a class and the class into town

In any given term, members of the College’s faculty design courses, modules, tutorials, and assignments that bring students into the intellectual, physical, cultural, or communal life of the Bennington region. These are just some of the many examples of how they have prompted this essential engagement.


Study Place: Projects

Kerry Woods and Donald Sherefkin

How have interactions between culture and biological/physical environment shaped the history and current nature of the Bennington community and its surroundings? How does their interplay constrain and enable its future? How might planning for Bennington’s future best recognize this history and build on the landscape presented by it? All students interested in the class should submit a written (up to one page) project proposal to Donald Sherefkin or Kerry Woods. The proposal should focus on the primary questions or purposes motivating the project and on a basic framework for anticipated approach. Class meetings will be devoted to presentations to the group and for discussion and trouble-shooting by the full group of questions and materials encountered in individual projects. Each student will work closely in project development and execution with at least one of the six faculty members involved with the “Mill-Town” project, and should expect to meet with that person weekly in addition to the regular class meeting. Students should plan on committing a substantial amount of time to independent background research, development, and execution of the project. Projects will all result in a full write-up, an open presentation, and a visual presentation by poster, model, or other means.

Assignment: Students will develop projects addressed to these or similar questions. Projects may be driven by questions rooted in the social sciences, humanities, or natural sciences and student work may focus on problems of design, planning, or analysis. Projects should include original work that might include data collection and analysis, synthetic analysis or modeling based on existing data, or purposeful design, but all projects must be focused on understanding of and/or planning for the community and landscape of Bennington and its environs.

Social Kitchen: Ceramics, Food and Community

Yoko Inoue

This course will provide students with an opportunity to learn about creative community engaged practices and ethical processes that take up issues of food insecurity in the Bennington region. The class activities will be centered around a collaborative project, Empty Bowls, that links a community service organization (Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services Inc.) with students, staff, and faculty from Bennington College. Through direct dialog and face-to-face interaction with community participants and by investigating various forms of creative interventions devised by artists and community activists dealing with issues of food sovereignty and social justice, students will help design and participate in events that benefit the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services food distribution program, Kitchen Cupboard.

Assignment: Collaborate with members of a community service organization in Bennington, VT to help planning, promoting and assisting at Empty Bowls, a fundraising event for Kitchen Cupboard. Learn about local food insecurity issues through direct dialog with local residents who participate in a series of ceramic workshops at Bennington College to collectively produce 500 soup bowls for the event.

Research Methods

Noah Coburn

This course is an exploration of the basic tools that social scientists use when conducting research, particularly in the field. Students will learn how to use a variety of tools, including interview techniques, focus group discussions, participant observation, and surveys. Workshops will provide the opportunity for students to use these techniques on topics of their own interest. Methodological and theoretical perspectives will be examined, as will methods for recording, analyzing, interpreting, and writing up qualitative data. Topics including formulating research proposals and ethics will be discussed. This course is particularly encouraged for sophomores and juniors considering either study abroad or advanced work in social science with research com-ponents.

Assignment: Do a group ethnography of the Bennington Museum. Conduct interviews with patrons and staff at the museum, design a survey for visitors, and do participant observation in and around the museum. Spend time there every week and write about that work. 

Drumming: An Extension of Language 

Michael Wimberly

This course serves as an introduction to learning rhythms, chants, and songs from Africa, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and the African Diaspora. Using percussion instruments from these regions, students will experience basic hand and stick techniques while learning to recognize drumming patterns associated with these traditional rhythms. The rhythms of Lamban, KuKu, Zaouli, Samba, Yanvalu, Rhumba, and others will be explored. Weekly rehearsal is required in preparation for showing works in progress at music workshop, as well as on and off campus events.

Assignment: Use your acquired percussion skills to trigger memory in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in a local hospital.

Social Practices in Art

Robert Ransick

In this course we examine the history of social practice and focus in on how artists are moving out of the studio and into the public realm with their work. Social practices in art incorporates many diverse strategies from interactive media, online networks, public discourse, activism, manifestos, street interventions, social sculpture, design, performance, open systems, and more. Special attention is paid to how media and technology are impacting and shifting current practice. Students will work collaboratively on projects focused off-campus that critically engage topics pertinent to this moment in history and are situated in the public sphere—local or global, online or offline. There are lectures, reading assignments, studio projects, and critiques during the course.

Assignment: Working in teams, create artworks that are situated off campus and engage the residents of the town of Bennington as active participants and collaborators. 

Explorations in Public History

Eileen Scully

This class introduces students to the fundamentals of Public History, meaning history that is generated for wide audiences through collaborations with communities, stakeholders, and professional academics. Through student-led discussions and short weekly assignments, students will develop a working knowledge of Public History, its scope, controversies, and opportunities. A major component of the course is our partnership with a local elementary school, which opens the way for students to gain first-hand experience in creating and using historical materials in mentorship and educational outreach. The instructor will assist students in completing the background check that is required whenever working with elementary school students.

Assignment: Develop some form of educational outreach to improve outreach programs of an existing local facility (school, museum, monument, etc.). You should have a plan of action, an action, and a written analysis of the outreach and how it can improve.

Composing for the Choir 

Kitty Brazelton

Composers who sing (or would like to), singers who compose (or would like to), songwriters who would like to stop singing alone, writers who would like to hear their writings sung (and maybe sing some too), and anyone who’s always wanted to learn how to shape music for a vocal group—this class is for you. We will compose, rehearse, and then perform our own repertoire in several live concert effusions through the term. Fun, hard work, and more fun.

Assignment: Perform final SATB a cappella compositions workshopped in class since midterm for live audiences at the Bennington Centers for Living and Rehabilitation on the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Principle: a gig is worth 1000 rehearsals. Learn from your audience.


Regulating Toxics in Vermont

Brian Campion

The discovery that PFOA contaminated drinking water in Bennington put the Vermont legislature on a path toward further regulating toxics. Act 154, which passed the legislature in 2016, proposed a series of recommendations to protect Vermonters and our environment from harmful chemicals. Students will look at where Vermont is in the process of implementing the Act, where the struggles exist around such implementation, and work to develop solutions to those struggles. Students will hear from both sides of the toxic reform argument and also better understand where Vermont’s regulations are in relation to other states, the federal government, and the world.

Teaching Japanese Language and Culture at Bennington Elementary

Ikuko Yoshida

Students in this tutorial will learn methods and techniques of foreign language teaching and apply the knowledge and experience to actual classroom teaching. Students collaboratively develop a Japanese language and culture curriculum for Bennington Elementary School. After creating a curriculum, students are required to design Japanese language and culture lessons on the assigned dates and share the lessons with their classmates. Then, students teach the lessons to their classmates and give feedback to each other on their lesson plans. After receiving feedback, students will revise and improve their lesson plans and teach their lesson to the third graders at Bennington Elementary School. This is a service learning project of the Japanese program at Bennington College. Students learn Japanese language and culture through teaching them to the community and enrich their learning experiences and make their learning meaningful. 

Assignment: Students design Japanese language and culture lessons by applying their knowledge of foreign language teaching methods and techniques. All teaching materials will be created by students and shared with classmates and Bennington Elementary teachers. They are also required to reflect on their teaching experiences to improve their language learning and teaching skills. 


The Personal Learning Plan: Vermont Act 77 Educational Reform

Susan Sgorbati

Vermont Act 77 is a recent bill passed in the Vermont Legislature to enact educational reform. It includes implementing a Personal Learning Plan for all Middle and High School students in public education in Vermont. It is a radical new vision of public education and shares many of the same goals as a Bennington College Plan Process. This Module will introduce Bennington College students to VT Act 77, and ask them to engage with Middle and High School students locally by mentoring them through their personal learning plan process. 

Working Class

A selection of local sites where Bennington College students have worked and volunteered as part of their class or during Field Work Term.

  • Akin Studios 
  • Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless (BCCH)
  • Bennington County Head Start 
  • Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC)
  • Bennington Early Childhood Center
  • Bennington Elementary School
  • Bennington Free Clinic
  • Bennington Free Library 
  • Bennington Museum 
  • Bennington Project Independence 
  • Bennington Rescue Squad
  • Blooming Chefs 
  • Center for Restorative Justice
  • DREAM Program
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Hiland Hall School
  • Hoosic River Hydro 
  • Kimberly Farms 
  • The Lightning Jar 
  • Maple Street School
  • McCullough Free Library
  • Mighty Food Farms
  • Molly Stark School
  • Mount Anthony Union High School & Union Middle School
  • Project Against Violent Encounters (PAVE)
  • Recurrent Hydro 
  • Rhythm Hollow Stables 
  • Second Chance Animal Center
  • Spirit Hollow 
  • Southwestern Vermont Center for Disease Control
  • Southwestern Vermont Medical Center
  • Sunrise Family Resource Center 
  • Threshold Collaborative 
  • Turning Point 
  • United Counseling Service
  • Vermont Arts Exchange
  • Vermont Legislature: Senator Brian Campion
  • Veterans Home
  • Village School of North Bennington