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Missisquoi Valley Union High Teacher Presented with 2019 Swenson Humanities Educator Award

Jason Barney with Victor Swenson’s wife Judith Yarnall and Board Chair Rolf Diamant

The Vermont Humanities Council (VHC) has named Jason Barney, a social studies teacher at Missisquoi Valley Union High School, as its 2019 Humanities Educator of the Year. VHC presented Barney with the annual Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award on November 16 at UVM’s Dudley H. Davis Center at VHC’s Fall Conference, Searching for Home: Journeys, Quests and Migrations. VHC Board Chair Rolf Diamant presented the award along with a $1,000 check.

The presentation marked the seventeenth year of the Swenson Award, and the first without VHC founding executive director Victor Swenson, who passed away in July.

Barney has taught history and civics at MVU since 2003. In nominating him for the Swenson Award, colleagues pointed to his engaging teaching style and to the design of his classes, which provide students with immersive, hands-on learning experiences that have greatly enriched the learning culture at MVU.

“Creating a connection with students is one of the most important teaching skills,” wrote one of Barney’s students in a letter of nomination. “[Mr.] Barney taught to different groups of kids and everyone got exactly what they needed out of his classes. Honestly, he’s pushed me harder than any teacher has. I was so close to giving up this year and he motivated me to stay in school. He’s one of those people you know was made for teaching.”

“He has a passion for local history and civics that is infectious for students, staff, and the community,” wrote MVU colleague Jennifer DeSorgher. “His commitment to high-quality, engaging, place-based education is unwavering and clearly demonstrated by the high enrollment in his courses.” One of Barney’s courses, Digging into Local History, which includes field work at Abenaki sites and the local historical society, required seven sections to fill demand when it launched in 2018. Some of Barney’s former students have gone on to pursue degrees in social studies education, attributing that decision to their classes with him.

DeSorgher and others also noted Barney’s unwavering mentorship of his fellow teachers and his ability to build relationships both within and outside the school. “He gives freely of his time and many colleagues seek him out to talk over issues pertinent to themselves or the school at large,” said fellow teacher Julie Curtis.

Outside of school, Barney serves as president of the Swanton Historical Society, presents historical talks to local audiences several times a year, and is author of the recently published book Northern Vermont in the War of 1812. He is also a former member of the Vermont House of Representatives.

“Because of Jason’s extensive knowledge of the community and his relationships with the people in it, his students discover and develop personal connections to the history of our community and the human experience of its inhabitants,” noted Curtis. “Jason Barney is the teacher we all want for our children.”

About the Swenson Award

VHC created the Swenson Award in 2003 to recognize a Vermont educator on an annual basis and to honor Victor R. Swenson, the Council’s first executive director. The award is given to a Vermont educator in grades 6 through 12 who exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities.

About the Vermont Humanities Council

A statewide nonprofit organization founded in 1974, the Vermont Humanities Council seeks to engage all Vermonters in the world of ideas, foster a culture of thoughtfulness, and inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning.