Imagine Sheffield’s 1847 Town House on a misty, chilly October morning as 21 eighth graders from the Miller’s Run School trek in to conduct a mock town meeting. The official warning for this meeting, prepared by the eighth grade class, calls for the election of a moderator, town clerk, and a selectman — and to entertain several articles. One article considered from the floor reads “Shall the eighth grade class have more outside time?” which passes in a decisive voice vote.
The architect of this hands-on experience with town government and direct democracy is Miller’s Run eighth grade teacher Patrick Ham, who is himself the moderator of the Sheffield town meeting — not to mention a volunteer firefighter, announcer at the annual Sheffield Labor Day parade and master of ceremonies for the Sheffield Fiddle Contest. Deeply committed to ideals of community and service, Patrick teaches both by example and through the special experiences he creates for students, such as the annual Sheffield Mock Town Meeting.
Patrick has taught school for 20 years, 13 of these at Miller’s Run as a middle school history/social studies and math teacher. Among other recent projects, he and his students have mapped the path of Roger’s Rangers’ retreat through the towns of Sheffield and Wheelock in 1759 and walked the route taken by Sheffield and Wheelock men in 1810 to the site of Glover’s Runaway Pond.
Patrick’s teaching is expressive of several tremendously important concepts in contemporary education, most notably — for this award — the way in which his work with students is anchored in the culture and history of a specific place.
As Harman Clark observed in his nomination letter for Patrick, “When the notice of the award came to the Sheffield Historical Society, one of our officers remarked, ‘It sounds like this was designed just for Patrick Ham.’” We wholeheartedly agree, and in the presence of Patrick’s family, friends, and neighbors we join in congratulating him on a job well done. Thank you for nurturing a thoughtful, humane, engaged citizenry of the future.
—Gregory Sharrow, Vermont Folklife Center