logophoto.jpg (13010 bytes)
Community Project Histories: 1998-1999

In the 1998-99 school year, Heritage Projects were completed in ten schools involving nearly 600 students. These are documentary histories of those projects.

Bigfork High School
Chester High School
Columbus High School
Corvallis High School
Fort Benton High School
Libby High School
Roundup High School
St. Ignatius Elementary School
Simms High School
Townsend High School

Bigfork High School

English Teacher Mary Sullivan

The Heritage Project in Bigfork focused on building relationships. "Those of us involved in the Project went far beyond research and began to develop personal relationships with our mentors," said student Easton Branam. "We were invited into their homes with our tape recorders and video cameras, we listened to stories about their lives and heard their intimate memories."

Many students offered similar testimonies in their year-end evaluations. Their enthusiasm for community-centered education was reassuring for teacher Mary Sullivan, who began to hear other teachers complaining about the class of 2000 when they were still in third grade. "This is the worst class I've ever had," was a lament she heard repeatedly during the years the students moved through the school system. They were undeniably bright and creative, but the complaints continued. "They were not a group well suited to sitting quietly in rows memorizing information," said Mary.

When they showed up in high school English, "They responded to the Heritage Project as if it had been developed specifically for them." Leaving the classroom to work with a mentor inspired them. By enlisting community members in the study of the community, Mary "became a part of a learning community that pulled together to pass on what we value to the next generation."

The Heritage Project moved from sophomore to junior level in Bigfork this year, so students continued the mentor relationships they had established during the previous year's study of the 20s. In addition to recording personal histories and essays, students also documented the contemporary community of Bigfork through audio and video taping, oral histories, and art work and photographs of their mentors. Art teacher Sarah Groenke assisted with the projects.

In 1998-99, eighty-three students in Mary's junior American Literature classes participated in the Montana Heritage Project. Writer Mark Gibbons helped them to develop heritage essays. They interviewed family members to gather stories and complied information in order to develop their own essays. This writing, along with the essays of place they worked on with Michael Umphrey the previous year, became the basis of Voices of the Millennium, the literary magazine the students published.

In addition to essays from these workshops, students decided the magazine should included a wide variety of poetry and prose. L. D. Gross, the printer, worked directly with the literary magazine student editor, Paul Sullivan. Several students spent countless hours before school, during lunch and after school working on the publication, and one even used two days during spring break to get the magazine ready for the printer.

A highlight of the year was the arrival of a National Education Association film crew from Washington D.C. They completed a documentary of innovative programs that aired statewide on March 6, 1999. "The message was that Montana's future is in its public school," said Montana Education Association communications director Sanne Porte, "and Montana's public schools work."

Bigfork community members Effie and Ernest Holmes, O'Neil Jones, Agnes and Halvor Lee, Duane (Babe) Mitchell, Joe Nelson, Margaret Ratchford, Elmer Sprunger, and John Sudan, all octogenarians living in Montana in the 20s, served as mentors. Students visited their mentors' homes several times throughout the year. On one Sunday afternoon they prepared a dinner for their mentors, and after singing a medley of 20s music and serving the mentors' favorite dishes they had time to reminisce with their historical guides. Each student read an essay about the stories their mentors had shared with them.

Ashley Ascione commented, "Not only have we achieved a better grasp on the lives that were lived in the 1920s, but we've also opened our eyes to the treasures that older people of our community have to offer." Many of the students found their experiences with their mentors and the stories they had to tell the most memorable part of their experience with the Heritage Project. "After all the hard work, it wasn't the papers, books, photographs, videotapes, or reports that made everything worthwhile," student Easton Branam commented, "It was the people."

Though the students practiced a full range of academic skills, from beginning research questions to a high-quality published magazine, other things were going on as well. "After the Project was over," Colby Farris said, "I went over to visit my mentor one day after school. Fifteen minutes turned into five hours as Mr. and Mrs. Nelson chatted with me. I plan to visit frequently."

After all the hard work, it wasn't the papers, books, photographs, videotapes, or reports that made everything worthwhile. It was the people.

Chester High School

English Teacher Renee Rasmussen

Thirty-two Chester students in Renee Rasmussen's junior English class began their research by discussing personal treasures their families had preserved. They brought objects to school and shared stories about them, focusing on the reasons they had been preserved. This led to discussions about what the larger community has preserved. The guiding questions for further research grew out of these discussions: What aspects of the community are important enough to preserve and support? What is the history of these aspects, and how have they effected the community?

Renee's track record of leading students to create high quality, research-based writing has led to requests from agencies and businesses for student assistance with community projects. This year, students wrote a series of articles for publication in Mystic Montana Magazine which unfortunately stopped publication before the articles ran.

After developing and practicing their research skills, students then used old newspapers, the local museum and genealogical society, and interviews with community members to complete ten page research papers. "After four years I still have not tired of having students explore their community," said Renee. "Each year their outlook and approach is fresh. Each year they discover things I have not known and give me additional insight into the community I call home." The students' research added a wealth of new information to Chester's historical record. The Liberty County Historical Museum is planning displays based on these articles.

The final papers included: "Academics and Sports: A Symbiotic Relationship" by Crockett Burrows and Matt Hill, "Fathers Matter" by Cassie Johnson and Candy Hawks, "Bud Swank" by Levi Johnson and Brian Schlepp, "Hospital and Clinic: Why it Affects the Community" by Trisha Hilton and Stacee Walstad, "War Games" by Clint Fredrickson and Jeff Martin, "Disclosing a Successful Relationship Between School and Community" by Brad Oraw, "Economic Relationships between Agriculture and Businesses in a Small Town" by Taylor Thorness and Dru Lyders, "The `Weaker' Sex" by Julie Martin and Devan Lalum, "School's Part in Shaping Community" by Kali Wicks and Krista McConnell, "Social Community" by Teresa Muncy and Amands Kolstad, "Banking in Small Communities" by Becky Bylund and Kendra Matkin, "Unsung Heroes"by Lisa Wickum and Megan Mattson, "A Living Faith" by Brandy Jo Johns and Janna Huhtala, "What Effect Does A Small School Have on a Community Compared to a Larger One?" by Krista McConnell, and "How Religion Affects Family Values" by Adam Ghekiere.

As all researchers learn, learning is an adventure. When Devan Lalum and Julie Gagnon wanted to know where to find names of girls basketball players from the 30s and 40s, Renee suggested they look at old annuals and trophies. When they couldn't find annuals old enough to answer their questions, they began a hunt for old trophies. Many were eventually found packed away in a storage area under the bleachers. Others were rounded up from scattered out-of-the-way places around the school.

When young people express an interest in the past, other people find it easy to join the work. After one junior class retrieved a dusty box, unpacked the trophies, and displayed them around the room, the rest of the school began to get involved. A custodian discovered several more boxes, a coach sent a couple from an equipment room, and another mentioned several on display in his room. As the trophies began to accumulate, it became clear something would have to be done.

Seventeen sophomores, thirty-two juniors, and thirty-three seniors decided to take on the task of cleaning, repairing, and displaying all the old trophies. As a result of these students' work, the trophies were all restored and will be on display for the year 2000 all-school reunion.

As students studied their community they began to understand what their parents and fellow community members valued about it. Krista McConnell, a relative newcomer to the area explained, "I came from California to little Chester, Montana. It was cool to see the importance of the school to the people and to the existence of the community. When we got to the interviews I began to see the pieces coming together. I became fascinated with the idea that small schools make a difference in people's thinkingand even their lives."

While Krista is a newcomer, even students from founding families are surprised and intrigued by what they are learning. One girl discovered the relationship between her family, Chester and the rest of the country. Her family home was used for a large dance which raised money for the Red Cross during WWI.

Brad Oraw said that at the beginning he was turned off by the word "research." But "as the project began to flow, the negative connotations of the term paper faded. I learned more about Chester as a community and as a school system. This project has enhanced my appreciation of the area where I live. Chester is a fine place to live."

Columbus High School

Librarian Norma Glock

In order to identify the connections between the community's past and its future, Columbus students began their research with three broad questions: How have blacksmith shops contributed to the economy of the area? How do the buildings of the past fit into the community of today? How have people who lived before affected our lives today?

Cultural anthropologist Larry Lahren provided guidance for students who developed extensive timelines of the area. This led to research projects on blacksmithing, mining, homesteading, Crow Indian history, and local historic buildings.

Keagan Harsha, Terry Henderson, Jake Marten, Abby Marten, Cole Meier, John Orcutt, Cole Waltner, and Keith Williams (all members of Jim Hicks' U.S. History classes) worked with Librarian Norma Glock to answer their questions. Students also explored older buildings in the county and interviewed community members who knew their history, attempting to discover how these buildings of the past had changed to fit the present-day community.

After learning some of the history of their town, students began to document their contemporary community by taking pictures of the historical buildings still in use. Students also interviewed community elders about their experiences in Stillwater County in earlier days. They found the community's reliance on the mining industry spanned across the generations. The early Benbow and Mouat Mines were forerunners of the present Stillwater Mine near Columbus. The machinery has changed as have the working conditions, but students discovered many of the people who worked in the earlier mines had the same values as those working in mining today.

Much of the research was done off campus at the Stillwater County Courthouse, the County Library, and Museum of the Beartooths. Elsie Houghton and Janie Bolzer assisted students as they looked through deeds, abstracts, and pictures. Stillwater County librarians provided their expertise in searching though the Montana and special collections for historical information, and local historian Lydia Marten assisted students with their projects throughout the year.

After completing their research students used the information they gathered to create a storytelling video with excerpts from the interviews, a web page, and digital photo archives. The twenty-two members of Jim Larson's Vo-Ag class, working with other members of the community, also constructed a replica of an early blacksmith shop which will be placed in the Museum of the Beartooths along with artifacts and interpretive signs explaining the importance of blacksmithing in the Stillwater area.

Keagan Harsha said through the Project "I was able to explore my ancestry and learn more about the history of our state and county. I am now very excited to share our information with others in our school and community. I learned that mining today is very similar to mining yesterday, and that the same heroes of that time also exist today."

Corvallis High School

English Teacher Annemarie Kanenwisher
Geography Teacher Phil Leonardi

Corvallis has been involved in the Heritage Project since it began in 1995. It is becoming a traditional part of the way schooling is done in the Bitterroot Valley. "As time passes," teacher Annemarie Kanewisher noted, "it has been easier to relay the importance of Heritage Education to both the students and their parents. It feels right to them."

Responding to widespread community support, the school district in 1998-99 offered new classes, Heritage English and Heritage Geography classes, as co-requisites that were scheduled on consecutive periods. Twenty-four freshman in Annemarie's English and Phil's geography classes worked together to find out who they were, both individually and collectively as a community and to place their local experience in a national and global context.

Students researched their personal identities by creating personal genealogical portfolios which included important documents such as birth certificates, important family stories, photographs, and a family tree of ancestors. They interviewed family members to collect stories for their personal portfolios and to practice oral interviewing. Then they moved into the larger community to gather oral histories from Corvallis residents, often revisiting interview subjects from past years.

Students added many voices to the local oral history collection. Pierina Leonardi shared her immigrant experience. Mr. and Mrs. Homer Bailey talked about their experience with German POWs during World War II. Ron Hasselfeldt shared recollections of his life as a young soldier during the Korean Conflict, and Mick DeZell relayed his experiences as an employee of the USFS.

Students also made duplicates for the local archive of historical photographs owned by community members at their annual Photo Bazaar. Students used the photographs to make comparisons of how people in the past and present lived, worked, and interacted. Additionally, they made comparisons of the landscape of the past with the landscape of the present.

Students also worked on the long-term Corvallis cemetery project. They have recorded the names and dates of all those buried prior to 1990. With this information they created a database which allowed them to create charts and graphs of simple demographic information, such as average life expectancy of both males and females. They did family member counts to see how the size of the average family has changed over time.

Each student also selected one person's headstone for more complete research, using the Ravalli County Historical Museum archives to obtain factual information about the person they chose. They combined gravestone rubbings and information into collages for display at the annual Heritage Evening.

Using images from Corvallis's past, students designed a quilt that depicted what they had learned and how they had come to their discoveries. Students were responsible for selection of images to be placed on the quilt, selection of patterns and colors of fabrics, measuring for required yardage, and some sewing for the quilt cover. In 1998, Corvallis students presented a similar quilt to Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg at a ceremony in Librarian of Congress James Billington's office in Washington D.C. This was featured in Folklife Center News published by the Library of Congress. The American Association of Geographers saw the story which led to a feature in their own magazine on the Corvallis project.

Students continued their study of Corvallis by tracing the effects of global events on the Corvallis community. They began with 1910 and progressed decade by decade through 1950. They used a variety of printed sources and the Internet to research important events. Students then compiled their findings into a concept map which they presented to the other students in their class. They picked one event from the map for further research and each wrote a description of that event"a global narrative." Students then explored how that event affected Corvallis. This required additional research, oral interviewing, and trips to the archives. The information they gathered was organized into local narratives. When both the global and local narratives were completed, students arranged their stories with selected photographs and images into a display.

With this work finished, students were ready to transform their research into a visual presentation. They edited their local narratives to a precise one minute script, then the scripts were combined with images to create the video, Corvallis Minutes. The video included twenty presentations.

They then undertook a more involved production, where they described global events and how they affected Corvallis. One group wrote the script. Another group learned the basics of video editing and production and digitally captured images to accompany the script, then produced the video. The final product, a 30-minute video, was presented to the public at Corvallis's Heritage Night.

Commenting on the class, Cody Thomas said, "We went on fun trips to places not even a ten-minute walk from school. It's one of those classes that you wish you could take all over again and do it all again even though it isn't just fun and games."

When Ashley Byron began her year with the Heritage Project she confessed, "I had really had no idea what it was." Looking back she explained, "Now I know it is about us, our class, our family and friends, our heritage." Many Corvallis students have said that their work in the Heritage Project taught them more about themselves and their community. When asked what she would tell others about her Heritage class, Ericka Stewart said, "I'd tell them this class feeds you stories you can hold onto."

Fort Benton High School

English Teacher Audra Morger-Bonllia
Eighth Grade Teacher Carley Evans
Media Specialist Pam Birkland
History Teacher Sean Donnelly

The High School Library was filled with community members at Fort Benton's Heritage Night on May 26, 1999. The event featured videos documenting key aspects of Fort Benton's history created by juniors and eighth graders, and guests visited displays set up through the room featuring research into events and people from Fort Benton's colorful past.

Fort Benton has a past as fabled as that of any town in Montana, and the community has been taking great interest in its own history, restoring an historic hotel, restoring the levee on the Missouri River that had disappeared under a century's accumulation of debris, and many citizens are involved in a large-scale re-creation of the historic fort. In Fort Benton it's natural to bring young people into an awareness of the past.

"It is an incredible experience to see students excited about stories they hear from mentors in our community," Fort Benton teacher Carley Evans explained. "This project has allowed them to find the hidden treasures of our town." Forty-one eighth grade and twenty-seven eleventh grade students used the five themes of geography to explore and preserve the hidden treasures of Fort Benton.

They explored the historical record in a number of ways. Reading May G. Flanagan's journals allowed students in Audra Morger-Bonllia's English class to imagine Fort Benton in earlier years. Community members Steve Kelly, Ron Jovanovich, Wally Morger, and Dave Parchen visited the class to explain why their families chose Fort Benton as their home, shared stories about growing up in Fort Benton, and encouraged the students to learn the important history of their small town. Students conducted interviews with mentors from the community, pursued research at the River Press archives, the public library, and the local museums. The eleventh grade students also accessed information through electronic media sources.

After gathering information, students used a variety of technologies to document their exploration of the Fort Benton Community. Still, video, and digital cameras were used to record interviews. Audio tapes were created and transcribed for each interview. Using Inspiration software students created a family tree and wrote family histories. Students created bound print collections and Powerpoint presentations of their work, and organized a Heritage Night to share their research with the community. Juniors also used their research to develop a video, a website, and a brochure for the Fort Benton Visitor's Center.

Teacher Audra Morger-Bonilla found the emphasis on discovery made the Project as rewarding for the staff as it was for the students. She said, "The students teach us every day by what engages them, and they have truly been engaged in the process."

Libby High School

Jeff Gruber

Twenty-two students in Jeff Gruber's Montana Heritage class began their year by documenting one of their community's most important celebrations. In teams of three, students interviewed locals, tourists, and vendors during Nordifest, a long-standing autumn event in Libby. Students read a community study written by a Libby High School student in 1922, to gain an appreciation for the value that documenting the present has for later historians. These early photographs and in-depth analysis of the community both informed them of Libby's past and provided a model for their own work.

In addition to writing about the celebration, students also recorded the events using black and white photography. Students presented copies of the final reports to the Nordicfest board, hoping that in the future their recording of the 1998 Libby will provide as valuable a view of the community as the student from 1922 gave them.

After Nordicfest, students learned the history and worked to preserve another aspect of their community. In September, the class traveled to the historic Leckrone Cabin. Mark White, a U.S. Forest Service archeologist, spoke about the Kootenai Indians and their history in the area. Wayne Maahs, a Plum Creek Timber Company forester, explained Plum Creek's forestry program and the types of timber in the region surrounding the cabin. Students brought tools, and after learning more of the history of the area, they worked on the grounds surrounding the cabin, cleaning and landscaping.

Students also spent an afternoon at their local Heritage Museum learning how to use historical photographs as research resources. Each was given a photograph about which they had to answer questions, attempting to analyze the image. They were then allowed to look up the image in the catalogue and gather a basic description. Next, they looked up the event documented in their photograph in the bound newspaper collection and wrote an account based on the news story.

This exposed students to basic research methods using historical photographs and newspapers, and after completing the exercise students were allowed to choose a historic photograph from the Heritage Museum's collection to present to a local business. Using the techniques they had learned, the students wrote a brief description of the event or time period recorded in their image to display with the photograph. After their research was completed, twenty framed images were placed in various locations around Libby. The academic research melded with community service, providing gifts to the community in the form of public history displays.

Students also prepared a section of a record ponderosa pine for display at the Heritage Museum. The tree was cut down in 1993 after disease and insects had killed it, and the slice was donated to the students by Stimson Lumber Company. Students sanded the disk, labeled local historical dates on the tree rings creating a time-line, and varnished the finished product before donating it for display.

All Libby Heritage students are instructed in the basics of black and white photography and archival developing techniques, and in addition to documenting contemporary community events, students also gather and catalogue historical community images. Students organized, assigned numbers, and made contact prints from approximately 2,500 4x5 negatives from the 1940-60s that had been donated to the local museum. The cataloged negatives were placed in the permanent museum archive.

Students also collected twenty oral histories from Libby residents. Interviews with loggers, miners, housewives, and businessmen were transcribed and placed in the classroom oral history collection started in 1996. After a semester of work with the Heritage Project student Alice Maahs discovered, "The history that surrounded wasn't always in written or tangible form. More and more we found it tucked in the minds and memories of the people around us." She was amazed to find these "stories of rural childhood logging camps, liberated concentration camps, army buddies, friends, family, and neighbors gone away all told by the people we pass by each and every day."

After finishing their oral histories, students continued to expand their classroom archives, by illustrating on 16" X 20" matte boards the origin of specific place names in Lincoln County. The students included copies of historical photographs (or if none where available, contemporary photographs) and research explaining how each location was named.

Students also approached Libby's early years from a creative angle. They wrote myths about the founding of Libby. The myths included a hero and all heros had to have a mysterious beginning and end, a fault, and they had to leave behind a prediction for Libby's future.

A team of community members who help with the Heritage Project has been developing. Paul Rummelhart, a local businessman; Valerie Macbeth, Lincoln County Library reference librarian; Nancy Mize, from the Lighthouse Frame Shop; Roger Morris, publisher and editor of the Wester News; and Mike Powers, typesetter and linotype operator, all shared their time and expertise to students through the year and helped make their projects successful.

Alice Maahs said "We realized there was more out there than we had first thought." Another student agreed, "I've lived here my whole life and I learned more about Libby this year than I learned my whole life."

Roundup High School

English Teacher Tim Schaff
Art Teacher Toni Gies-Grey

Each year, more staff members at Roundup High School get involved in the activities surrounding local research. For the 1998-99 school year Roundup students chose the theme "Looking Forward by Looking Back." In March students held a Heritage Kickoff to celebrate and share their work with the community. They invited thirty-two elders to see what they had accomplished so far during the year. Sherry Pertile's fashion merchandising class helped with the celebration by creating the lettering and backdrops for the display cases around the school. Mr. Schaff's classes came up with four themes for the display cases: "Roundup at War," "Early Day Roundup," "Everyday Life," and "Looking Forward by Looking Back."

Students in the fashion merchandising class developed drawings and backgrounds to make the displays more attractive. Students, teachers and clerical staff all donated items for display. The consumer sciences classes made cinnamon rolls.

On the day of the celebration, both students and elders dressed up. Students introduced themselves to their guests and served them the coffee and cinnamon rolls. Otto Krueger brought his 1929 Roundup High School annual. His family had four generations present on that day, including his great-granddaughter, Sarah Dotson, and great-grandson, Josh Dotson, who are students in the Heritage Project. His son and daughter-in-law and his granddaughter also attended.

The elders visiting the school created an attraction throughout the building. As Tim Schaff explained: "Suddenly not just eighteen students from English II period 4 were listening to these grand old people, but seniors from physics class stepped out of class into the halls and joined in. Juniors from study halls and language classes jumped in, and everywhere there was this mutual respect between young and old alike. For days later we received phone calls from the elders telling us how impressed they were with our students' demeanors and hard work. Those calls alone are enough to make us think heritage education is worth it."

About a month after the celebration, a mill levy for school maintenance passed by a 2:1 margin. Did the Heritage Project have an impact on the community's support for its school? "A few of us are convinced that thirty-two votes went our way," said Tim Schaff, "along with many of their friends, because of the Project."

Toni Gies-Grey's art classes explored the mining heritage of the community by looking at historical photographs. Shirley Parrott, the director of the Musselshell County Historical Museum, provided the art classes with photographs. Students then interpreted them and created original artwork portraying that same heritage.

In January and February, through the Montana Arts Council Artist in Residency, photographer Michael Crummett visited both Ms. Gies-Gray's art classes and Mr. Schaff's media arts classes, presenting a series of workshops on black and white photography and developing. He assisted the school in creating its own darkroom, enabling students to refine their photography skills by creating photo essays chronicling the other heritage projects they completed throughout the year.

Mr. Schaff's Media Arts Class published a monthly historical calender, noting significant national, international, and local events. Reporter Amanda Dillman used almanacs, encyclopedias, and micro-fiche of the old Roundup papers to create the calender. In addition to the calender, the "Art and Literature" section of the Panther Parade featured the heritage artwork of the art students. The media arts students also traveled to the Little Snowies area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest with Tanya Getten's advanced biology class where forest manager Steve Martin and Ranger Dean Blomquist provided the students with information on forest management. Later students arranged an expedition to Greg Eiselein's logging operation. They learned how fire scars and how the size and number of the tree rings can tell stories of drought, fire and wet years. Students were fascinated by the historical record embedded in tree rings.

While the arts classes were exploring the historical record through photographs and interpretative drawing and learning expeditions, Mr. Schaff's students read Willa Cather's short story "Neighbor Rosicky" and Amanda Muro's "Maria Tepache." They then wrote their own essays of place, documenting the locations around Roundup that hold special meaning for them. Students expanded their investigation to involve the larger community. They collected and catalogued over seventy family artifacts and began interviewing community elders.

After their interviews, they wrote essays on the theme "Looking Forward by Looking Back." Through their research, students aimed to answer the question, "What is the most important lesson our generation can learn from yours?" In addition to their written essays, students also created photo essays. "Not only have we learned new things about our town and surrounding areas" Brandi Wilson explained, "we've also learned a lot about the people in our community."

After completing their research, students invited the elders they worked with to a community pot-luck dinner and celebration to show their appreciation. The dinner was a formal thank you for the elders' help, complete with card games, dancing, and food. Brandi Wilson enjoyed having the elders from her community come to the school "so we could show them what we've been doing and talk with them about their histories to compare their childhood to ours."

"Even though we've come this far with this project," she added "I think we still have a lot to learn and do."

Simms High School

English Teacher Dorethea Susag
Special Education/History Teacher Molly Pasma
History Teacher Bill Durocher

Centering around the idea of myths in our history and the sometimes contradictory truths behind those myths, Simms students began their work by asking questions about the stories they had heard or known. In Simms, the Heritage Project is a quarter-long, cross-curricular study in both History and English. Thirty-six juniors in English and history classes and nine senior Honors English students participated. Many community members assisted the Simms project members by providing interviews, artifacts for the booths, photographs, and technical assistance, but seven community members served as mentors, consultants, and chaperones during learning expeditions: Annie Rice, Chuck Merja, Bill Norris, Dee Dee Rains, Jenny Rohrer, Gay Griffiths, and Tom Murphy.

The history class began the year by reading Killing Custer by James Welch, a nonfiction book that uses Native American oral history to "kill" a myth. The first expedition was to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls. The students observed the culinary delights eaten by the Corps of Discovery, such as buffalo heart, kidney, tongue, liver, and beaver tail. They were then divided into groups and positioned at stations throughout the center, asked to read carefully all the information within their area, compile the facts and write a first person narrative about what they, as a member of the Corps of Discovery, had experienced.

Dave Walter, research historian for the Montana Historical Society, visited Simms and presented one of his "Jerks in Montana History" tales about the Harrison Bank Robbery. After the story, students were full of questions about the research process: where were the detailed accounts found, what primary sources were used?

Students identified popular beliefs about small towns, focusing on their particular communities. They then devised strategies for researching and evaluating the degree to which such beliefs were supported by historical evidence. Students then chose topics for further research focusing on the 1925-35 time period. They participated in mock interviews to practice questioning strategies and worked together to draft a set of questions for future interviews. They then began interviewing local community members about their chosen subjects.

One learning expedition was to the Cascade County Historical Society Archives in Great Falls to explore possible topics of interest and to gather historical information about the valley. Each student took a particular month sometime in 1925-1935 to research in detail by reading archived copies of the Great Falls Tribune.

Using the information they gathered from the archives, students picked topics for essays of place. Each student interviewed at least one person who might have stories or information about their place. To further give students a sense of the folk culture of the time period they were exploring, a dance instructor from Great Falls came to teach students the Swing, the Charleston, and the Two Step.

The essays, short stories, and poems created from the written and oral research students conducted formed the basis of their literary magazine, Stories in Place II. The Senior Honors English class used Adobe Pagemaker to compile the magazine, and it reflects Simms students research of the years 1925-1935. The writing included is both historical and personal. Linda Peavy, poet and nonfiction writer, spent a week in the school working with students under the Montana Council's Artist in Residency Program. In addition to listening to and recording others' stories, through their writing, students also shared their own.

Throughout the quarter students were also working in groups on a number of other related projects. Simms students were approached by Cindy Kittredge, President of the Cascade County Historical Society, about the possibility of designing a brochure for the Sun River Valley. Mrs. Susag's Senior Honors English class accepted the challenge, and in December they began their work by compiling a list of historical locations in the Sun River Valley. As they began to create a draft of the route the guide would explain, students traveled the course to record mileage. They then began plotting their sites on a map of the area and writing concise summaries of each place.

After finishing the text, the class contacted organizations and individuals throughout the valley requesting pictures. They received photos from individuals throughout the valley, the Great Falls Tribune, Travel Montana, and also used pictures they had taken. Chuck Merja and his son Stewart, a freshman at Simms, designed the map for the brochure. After assembling a rough layout, the class sent a draft to Lloyd Keels at Image Tree Press, who agreed to donate his time and computers to show students how to graphically design the tour brochure.

In order to fund the project, the Senior Honors English wrote, together with Mrs. Susag, a Montana Arts Council Special Projects Grant. After finishing their project, Roy Knudson, Simms Shop Teacher, designed and built twenty-one boxes to place the tour guide in Sun River Valley communities.

Another group of juniors worked to produce a thirty-minute video tape which opposed the myth that the American small town is dying by telling the stories and showing the life in their own hometowns. The video aimed to showcase the distinct character of each of the four Sun River Valley Communities. Heather McDowell, Jeremy Rice, and Dustin Thompson worked to capture the spirit of Vaughn. Josh Heiser and Tammy Lehman documented Sun River. Elizabeth Beil, Sheree Ensley, Aaron McKay and Jon Skoog worked on Fort Shaw, and Chistina Copperwheat and Jessica Griffiths taped Simms. Senior Corey Stelling also worked as a videographer and served as the editor for the video.

Students composed a list of the places in each town that they would document, then set out to find the perfect shots. After students had gathered images, they loaded them onto the computer, wrote and recorded narrations, chose music to accompany the film, and edited the video. The completed videos were viewed by the community at Simms Heritage Night.

Zade Coley, Josh Crawford, Nicole Ewen, Mike Huffman, Tracey McDowell, Sarah Murray and Jesse Welling also created a website to display all the work students involved in the Heritage Project had accomplished. They compiled student poems and essays, photographs of the valley, and historical facts about Vaugh, Sun River, Fort Shaw, and Simms. In addition to showcasing Heritage Project work, their pages also provided a beginning for a Simms High School Website. The students used Adobe Page Mill to create web pages, and presented their final project to the community at Simms Heritage Night.

Planning the Heritage Fair was also a task some students chose. They organized four committees, each working on a booth for one of the Sun River Valley Communities. They searched for artifacts, maps, and old and new photographs to display. They selected music and musicians, planned for ways to honor the mentors they had interviewed, and organized and conducted the evening. The Simms Woman's Club Sociables sold pie and the High School Drama Team sold chili. In addition to the musical entertainment, Dave Walter spoke, and some students demonstrated the dances they had learned.

Helen Gray, one community member who attended the Heritage Fair said, "I went straight home after the fair and read the whole magazine for three hours without even turning on the television. I was so impressed with the talent you students have and the poems are amazing!"

After watching the community's reaction to the Heritage Fair student Stephani Aronson said, " I know this community will continue to support this school project. I saw way too many smiles for it not to continue."

St. Ignatius Elementary School

Fifth Grade Teacher Valerie Umphrey

The fifth-graders at St. Ignatius Elementary explored some of the history of the Mission Valley by studying local brands. Students researched brands, branding, ranching, and ranch life in western Montana.

The twenty-six students began by learning how to read brands. They then created a class brand and their own personal brands. Students conducted interviews with people from the school and the larger community who currently have a brand registered in Montana, or who have a brand that has been registered and used by their family in the past. They discovered a wide range of brands, from back to the early missionaries in the valley to newer brands that have come into use in the past twenty years.

Erin Barr, one of the fifth grade students involved in the research, was impressed by all the members of her community who came forward to tell about their brands and the stories behind them: "Our interviews have brought us stories of courage, change, hardship, and laughter. We have discovered a house built in 1878, over thirty years before the reservation was open to white settlement, and the rancher who wants to tell the story. We have learned of a woman over sixty who shot a bear in her back pasture. We have learned of family traditions associated with branding and ways that branding and ranching have changed. We have learned how local families are organized to help preserve the rural way of life they love."

Students collected twenty-five audio taped interviews with local ranchers and numerous photographs of present and past ranch life. Each student completed an individual quilt block depicting the local brand they researched along with the owner's name. The blocks were put together in a quilt that represented twenty-two present and past brands from across the Mission Valley.

After all their work had been completed, students invited all those who helped with their projects to school for an ice cream social where community members once again shared stories, and students displayed their final products.

Broadwater High School

English Teacher Darlene Beck

This project has shown me the personal side of history," said student Amanda Sorenson. She, along with ten other Advanced English III students and seven Advanced English II students, researched not only local historical happenings of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but, through interviews with local community members, they also gathered personal reactions to historical events.

Students in Darlene Beck's classes began their research by examining primary sources at the Broadwater County Museum. They read letters from Canton in the 1950s and read transcripts of Bill Berberet and Mildred Neild discussing how building the Canyon Ferry Dam, which flooded thirty farms and ranches, changed local people's lives. Rose Flynn, the Director of the Broadwater County Museum, spoke to students about the history of the Canton Valley.

They examined past issues of The Broadwater Bygones to research the county's history and formulate questions about its past. After they decided on topics to research, they identified possible interview subjects. With subjects in mind, they created interview outlines and contacted their subjects to set up appointments. Students recorded their interviews with either video or audio tapes.

After completing their interviews, students viewed and listened to each others' interviews, discussing the significant events community members remembered and the differences between past society and today. They watched the video Montana 1930s and discussed the impact of the Depression on Montana.

In October they visited the Townsend Star newspaper office to further research the county's history. Students read newspaper articles from the 30s, 40s and 50s, and took notes on clubs, activities, buildings, ads, events, and people. They concentrated on the Depression, Pearl Harbor, and World War II.

In November, Linda Kent, a Townsend Star reporter, spoke about research methods, and students returned to the newspaper office twice to continue their investigation. Joan Schritz, Broadwater Community Librarian; Cindy Hangas, Broadwater Community Librarian; and Virgina Poole, Broadwater Historical Society, all assisted students in their research.

Townsend students also researched places in Broadwater County. They created collages of place, then explored and photographed the court house, museum, churches, water tower, jail, and other older buildings. They read Peter Fromm's Indian Creek Chronicles and wrote their own essays of place.

As students researched places, they discovered the importance of people. To document individuals, they organized a community portrait session to create a photo archive of Broadwater County citizens. Michael Umphrey worked with students on photographic composition skills, and on March 10, students photographed thirty-eight citizens of Broadwater County. While waiting for their turn, citizens were interviewed again.

Students organized negatives, chose images to reproduce and frame, and planned display boards, which included both quotes and portraits. The photographs were labeled and placed with accompanying quotes into a computer presentation for Heritage Evening. The students also compiled the pictures of community members into a book which they donated to the museum.

On March 31 students hosted a Heritage Open House. They delivered invitations, set up seven displays, arranged for multi-media presentations, prepared refreshments, and displayed the portraits, which were given to each subject at the end of the evening. During the open house students distributed copies of The Heritage Bulletin and explained the project to newcomers and other interested staff members, sold copies of Cheer for the Home Team (a publication of previous years' work) and visited with their mentors and friends about the project and the results of their work.

Teacher Darlene Beck believes "Heritage Night was a stepping stone to further research, and it helped establish some credibility with the people in Broadwater County." As a result of students' work in the community, the museum board has requested that the students' materials be displayed for the summer months. Darlene explained: "I feel the students have established an excellent rapport with community members and they have paved the way for the future of the project." Over seventy-five community members attended the Heritage Open House.

In addition to expanding their community's archival resources, students also established personal connections with many community members. As Leah McGuire explained: "As a result of our research and findings, we have created pictorial archives, audio and video interviews, transcriptions of other interviews and presentation boards with our findings creatively displayed...Moreover, I now know my neighbor, Mrs. Frances Etzweiler."

The results of Townsend's projects were both academic and personal. "After finishing this project," student Rhea Poole reported, "I have a better understanding of who I am and where I came from."

Top
Home