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Grant Provides Hill-Stead Museum Educational Outreach Opportunities

For the 12th year, the Hill-Stead Museum, in Farmington, has received a key grant that will allow the nonprofit to continue educating students in East Hartford, Vernon, and Manchester.

Kate Ebner, the museum's director of educational programs, said the $32,500 grant from the SBM Charitable Foundation will impact around 800 students this school year.

By working with teachers at schools in those three towns, the museum creates a personalized lesson that works right along with what students are learning in the classroom, whether that be language, art, history, or writing.

"We have developed curriculum for specific subject areas," Ebner said. "Art, history, French, and poetry. Teachers can choose from whichever focus they'd like, or we can customize it for them."

If a teacher chooses art, Ebner said, they'll bring the class into the Colonial Revival style mansion to look at the family's vast art collection.

"They'll have moments for close looking at art," Ebner said. "They can practice visual thinking strategies, which help develop critical thinking skills. It will give students an opportunity to look at these amazing works of art in person, which is a really unique and incredible experience."

All of this comes free of charge to the teachers and students, thanks to the grant the museum has been receiving annually for the last 12 years. The museum is typically working with students in the third grade all the way up through high school.

"Those regions were selected because they're undeserved," Ebner said. "They are east of the Connecticut River. It's that whole idea of connecting our state and reaching out across it to new areas. We are bringing people here who wouldn't normally have the opportunity."

Ebner said the experience is one of her favorite things that happens at the museum.

"I'm honored to be a part of being able to see these students come in," Ebner said. "For many of them, it's the first time they've been to a museum. Being part of that experience, and helping provide this opportunity to share an amazing collection, I'm really grateful for that."

Ebner said it's great that the museum can share its history and collection with those students, because of what a unique educational setting they have.

"You have to see and experience art in person to really understand it," Ebner said. "It's really important. This experience allows that. We definitely use our amazing resources, collection, and our property to help drive home those lessons that the teachers are trying to get across in class."

Dressed For The Holidays

The Hill-Stead Museum is currently dressed with holiday decorations, as is the museum's annual tradition. Each year, the day after Thanksgiving, the museum reveals its festive look.

Lisa Lappe, the museum's director of marketing, said touring the home at this time of the year is something people make a necessary part of their annual holiday tradition.

"The holidays at Hill-Stead is the best time of the year to come visit the museum," Lappe said. "We're always looking for new ways to interpret the collection and new reasons for people to keep coming back to Hill-Stead."

This year, especially, guests will have the unique opportunity to tour the house, see the holiday decorations, and also take in the museum's current exhibit, a display of costumes from the Goodspeed Opera House, which is on display until Jan. 1.

Lappe said that frequent guests to the museum use the holidays as a reason to take another tour of the house.

"To see their beloved historic house decorated for the holidays is really exciting for our regulars and our members," Lappe said. "They always come back to see what's new this year. It's always a little different each year."

Decorations range from the obvious - like the Christmas tree in the library that is adorned with ornaments of well-known literary figures. And there are the more subtle ones, like era-specific holiday cards or a well-placed plate of cookies.

"Some of the pieces have meaning to the history of the home," Lappe said. "Some of it is period. Like the way we decorate the table, it's all period pieces."

Museum Curator Melanie Bourbeau said getting the chance to decorate the house in different ways for the holidays each year gets her in the spirit of the season.

"We needed to mix it up and do something different, so this year, we hit on the theme of thematic Christmas trees," Bourbeau said. "It always puts me personally in the spirit. It's very lively and festive in the house and it's always fun to come in to see."

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