U.S. Secretary of Education Gives Heritage Project an A+

by Eric Newhouse,
Tribune Projects Editor
June 22, 1999
Great Falls Tribune


"I believe that every state in the country should follow Montana's lead and example and create similar heritage projects."
 Richard W. Riley
U.S. Secretary of Education

"This Montana Heritage Project is planting seeds for tomorrow, and planting them in fertile soil, giving meaning to life, giving background to where you are. This is an exciting project." Richard W. Riley
Photo by Christa Umphrey


Three high school students shared their excitement Monday about leaning of Montana's history with U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley.

"Little did we know that through our (Montana Heritage) projects, we were learning the very essence of history," Alice Maahs of Libby High School told a convention of educators spearheaded by Riley.

"And we were learning in a classroom without walls," she said.

Riley later said the Montana Heritage project had been successful in energizing students, allowing them to learn modern archival methods to learn about their communities' past.

"I believe every state in the country should follow Montana's lead and create similar heritage projects, " said the education secretary.

Todd Kitto of Broadwater High School in Townsend said students from his class visited a local museum, read letters written in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s; read clippings from half-century-old newspapers; and took photos of businesses that had withstood the test of time.

"From this project I have become richer by knowing my own heritage," Kitto said. "I've asked questions I never thought to ask and I've learned more about my family stories that might have been lost if I hadn't recorded them."

Riley said the Montana Heritage Project is successful because it makes education immediate, interesting, and unique.

"You help young people discover what is personal- the history of their families, their communities and their surroundings- and in so doing, you link them to the richness of Montana's history," said Riley.

"History is less a recitation of dry facts than a journey and often a discovery that links generations together,"

John Springer of Corvallis said that he also learned how to make a joint project successful.

"This project taught me a lot of lessons, "he said. "One of them was self-governance. Nobody babies you through these projects- you're treated more like an adult than a child, which everyone likes.

"We also learned to get along with everyone else or things don't get done," he said.

"And this project had a lot of hands-on stuff," Springer added. "Instead of reading a textbook about the circumference of a circle, kids would rather measure the circumference of a pizza."

Last year there were 20 Montana Heritage Projects in classrooms across Montana. A class in Simms did a video of four towns on the Sun River Valley, students in Roundup published a monthly historical calendar, students in Fort Benton did oral histories to document their past , and a class at Chester High School looked at what made their community work.

"I had no real roots, and I began to think about that when we began discussing the Montana Heritage Project," said Liz Claiborne, whose corporation has been a major financial supporter of the project.

"When we rooted in Montana, it brought a sense of continuity and of place, "she added, "and that was very important to me."

"Earlier Monday, Riley was escorted by Sen. Max Baucus at a luncheon for educators and at a visit with young students representing the HANDS (Hands and Neighbors Down at the School) program.

"I'd particularly like to recognize Ann Hagen-Buss (of Great Falls) for her tremendous efforts in putting together such and innovative, successful program, " Riley said.


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