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click to enlarge Jonathan Mingle - COURTESY
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Jonathan Mingle was supposed to be in Louisiana — not Lincoln, Vt. At the beginning of last year, he won a prestigious journalism fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to spend a year traveling, researching and writing about the natural gas industry. He'd already written a book, Fire and Ice, focused on the deleterious effects of black carbon pollution. That particular study focused on a remote village in northern India, where the soot from cooking fires is changing the climate and way of life.

When the pandemic changed his plans, Mingle found a different kind of existential threat in Vermont's Green Mountains: school consolidation. A Lincoln landowner since 2012, he was "dimly aware" that the town was struggling to find the money to keep its schools open. "The bond vote for the high school had been voted down several times, and I knew there had been staff cuts year after year," Mingle said. Vermont's aging demographic is exacerbating the problem in rural towns and school districts across the state.

"It was a chance to educate myself as a Vermonter about something I really didn't know much about: the quandary facing educators and administrators and town leaders around this stuff," Mingle explained. Then "the reporter part of my brain kicked in, and I thought: This sounds like something that could illuminate some larger questions about ... what's it going to be like 10, 20, 30 years from now in rural Vermont."

His multi-month investigation produced this week's cover story. In "Cliff Notes on Rural Education," Mingle doesn't shy away from the complexities of funding formulas and spending thresholds. Nor does he lose sight of the human side of local schools. In one section, he describes how a public flyer led him to wander into the Lincoln Community School to see a student play. Mud and Water: Flood Stories From Potato Hill and Downstream incorporated original songs, dances and oral histories from Vermonters who survived historic floods. He writes, "As a fresh arrival, I marveled at being plunged so deeply into the town's history, its youngest inhabitants as my guides. And I remember marveling, too, at the students' poise and confidence and thinking to myself: What kind of school is this?"

He was single when he had that experience. Now he's married with a young daughter.

Caught in Vermont, and between books and writing assignments, Mingle was looking for an outlet for his extensive local reporting. He queried Seven Days, and we engaged him as a freelancer. Mingle tackled the story like the professional he is: reliable, patient and thorough. Even at half the length of what he originally submitted, the article is decidedly long-form — the kind of in-depth analysis perfectly suited for Seven Days.

In normal times, Mingle would be searching beyond the state's borders for the stories of our time. We're lucky that, at least for now, he's looking within them.

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About The Author

Paula Routly

Paula Routly

Paula Routly came to Vermont to attend Middlebury College. After graduation, she stayed and worked as a dance critic, arts writer, news reporter and editor before she started Seven Days newspaper with Pamela Polston in 1995. Routly covered arts news, then food, and, starting in 2008, focused her editorial energies... more


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