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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Marching Through Time: Simms Heritage Fair
   Bigfork High School

Sphagetti Dinner for $5, as the nearest cafe to Simms is about 15 miles away.

Not just the older folks

pasma to crowd


Belinda Klick

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/22 at 09:23 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cassandra VandenBos
   Simms High School

Cassie VandenBos was born in Polson, MT. She has two brothers. She moved to Fort Shaw, Montana when she was three and is currently a senior at Simms High School where she is a member of National Student Council. Cassie has received all-state and all-conference awards in basketball, as well as being voted all-conference in volleyball. She also plays on the fast pitch softball team and enjoys competing on her horse in o-mok-sees. To write “Paving for Prosperity?” Cassie studied the ways improvements to Highway 200 impacted the Sun River Valley through the 20th century. Her essay poses fundamental questions about the losses and gains of economic development by analyzing the fate of individuals and businesses in the Sun River Valley.

Cassie’s essay: Paving for Prosperity?

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 02/08 at 12:47 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mark Gibbons works with student poets in Simms
   Simms High School

Mark Gibbons did a “poet in the schools” presentation, focusing on the ways poets create portraits of people--quoting what they say, describing them, showing them in action. The poems he handed out formed a delightful “mini-anthology” of writing about family members--fathers, aunts, grandparents, grandchildren.

“If you’ve got something burning inside you, that’s what you should write about,” he said.

Student Justin Harvey brought the binder full of poems he has written over the years, excited for the chance to work with a notable poet such as Mark.

Mark is slated to give a reading to Heritage Project teachers at the summer conference in Butte on June 20.

Larry Singleton in a new English teacher in Simms this year. He’s an experienced teacher, bringing of wealth of knowledge to Simms. He’s working with the rest of the team--Josh Clixby, Molly Pasma, and Jenny Rohrer--to get students ready for the annual Heritage Fair, that is scheduled for March 13. This year’s topic is Fort Shaw. Four students traveled to the Montana Historical Society archives with Larry on January 23, where Marcella Sherfy helped them with research in original sources.

Amy Bosnar was particularly excited. Her research subject is General DeTrobriand, and she photocopied dozens of pages from his diary, which she is eager to read.

While in Sun River country, we taped an interview with English teacher Dottie Susag, who initiated the Heritage Project at Simms High School and retired last year. For years, she drove to work from her home on the Fairfield Bench to the school near the Sun River. This view, where the Simms-Fairfield Road drops off the bench into the Sun River Valley, is her favorite. “The world seems so young,” she said.

I asked Dottie whether she missed teaching. “I don’t miss leaving home early in the morning and I don’t miss carrying papers with me and working on them everywhere I went,” she said. “But I really miss the kids.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 01/25 at 03:43 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Neah Parshall
   Montana Heritage Project

When teacher Dottie Susag asked Neah Parshall (rugby player and shopper—who admitted to owning 25 purses) what topic she was going to research for the Heritage Project, Neah answered without making eye contact: “tractors.”

This didn’t satisfy Dottie, because the class research project was on the history of transportation in the Sun River Valley, and it wasn’t clear how “tractors” fit. For her part, Neah was wondering whether she even wanted to finish high school, let alone get involved in a complicated research project for a very demanding teacher.

The Saturday that she walked a part of the Old North Trail with Métis elder Al Wiseman was much colder than she had anticipated, so she borrowed an oversized coat from her teacher’s husband and spent two hours trying to keep up, adjusting the coat sleeves so she could manage her tape recorder and write in her notebook. But by the time the project was over, Neah had not only done a quality project, she had been selected on the basis of her research and writing as one of four student ambassadors from Montana to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. This year, Neah is enrolled in Advanced Placement English and is making plans for college.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/13 at 05:49 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Students read at Festival of the Book
   Montana Heritage Project

2005 Montana Festival of the Book
Saturday morning, September 24, 2005
The Next Generation of Montana Writers

Remarks by Christa Umphrey
formerly a high school English teacher in Ronan and currently a graduate student at the University of Montana

Good morning. I have the great privilege to tell you about the Montana Heritage Project and our relationship to the Montana Festival of the Book—and Montana literature and then to introduce you to three Montana scholars—our next generation of Montana writers.

The Montana Heritage Project is a program established by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation and administratively attached to the Montana Historical Society. It engages high school students and teachers in rural Montana schools in a study of place and community—their places and their communities--through primary source research, oral interviewing, a study of our region’s literature and the context it sets for us, and through field trips—trips to visit the places and people students study. The Montana Committee for the Humanities, the Library of Congress, the Office of Public Instruction, the Montana Historical Society, and many community organizations are our partners in this work.

Students in Libby, Ronan, Corvallis, Polson, Bigfork, Chester, Simms, Centerville, Great Falls, Townsend, Fairfield, Brady-Dutton, Whitefish, Gardiner, Roundup, Harlowton, and White Sulphur Springs have the opportunity to explore topics that were important to their communities historically or right now, to conduct research, to reflect on what they’ve learned, and to give back to their communities and the state gifts of scholarship.

Students prepare many different gifts: programs, books, research finding aids, museum tours, National Register nominations. And all those gifts require them to gather real knowledge and then to write clearly and succinctly about what they have learned. Hence, the Project emphasizes great writing and the clear thinking that great writing needs.

We believe that the depth of our emphasis on clear thinking and great writing is, in fact, producing Montana’s next generation of renowned writers—continuing Montana’s uncanny tradition of applying the written word with eloquence and honesty to an understanding and appreciation of this place.

Today it is my privilege to introduce three students whose writing from the 2004-2005 school year was judged—by their teachers, by Project staff, and by outside reviewers—among the best of many submissions. We all found that reading this work renewed and refreshed our belief in the great caliber of work that young people can do.

Claire Stanfill is currently a senior attending Bigfork High School. Upon graduation, Claire plans to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she will study physical therapy as well as dance. In Claire’s essay, “Their Legacy Living through Letters,” she analyzed and interpreted a collection of war letters written home from Vietnam by Marine Captain Robert (Bob) Reed to his wife Virginia (Ginny). In addition to reading this collection of over 200 letters and researching the Vietnam era, Claire also conducted extensive interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Reed, the writer and recipient of the letters. Her essay was scored highest statewide, in large part because of the skill and sensitivity with which she discussed the difficult issues raised by the letters and interviews.

Britney Maddox was born in Olympia, Washington on March 23, 1988.  She currently is attending Ronan High School and lives with her mom and brother in Pablo.  Britney hopes to pursue a career in writing and other fine arts. The piece Britney is sharing today-- “ My Oma’s Story” --was crafted from an oral history interview with her grandmother Else, her “Oma,” recounting the horrors of her childhood in Romania, Germany, and Poland during World War II.  The essay weaves a compelling tale drawn from family history into the larger canvas of the War in Europe.

Cassie Vandenbos was born in Polson, MT.  She has two brothers.  She moved to Fort Shaw, Montana when she was three and is currently a senior at Simms High School where she is a member of National Student Council.  Cassie has received all-state and all-conference awards in basketball, as well as being voted all-conference in volleyball. She also plays on the fast pitch softball team and enjoys competing on her horse in o-mok-sees. To write “Paving for Prosperity?” Cassie studied the ways improvements to Highway 200 impacted the Sun River Valley through the 20th century. Her essay poses fundamental questions about the losses and gains of economic development by analyzing the fate of individuals and businesses in the Sun River Valley.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 09/25 at 08:36 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, May 16, 2005

2005 Ambassadors to Library of Congress
   Simms High School

Jessica Eastley, Heidi Tynes, Crystal Tetzel, and Neah Parshall were selected as student ambassadors from the Montana Heritage Project to the Library of Congress for the 2004-05 school year. They were accompanied on their expedition to Washington, D.C. by teachers Dorothea ("Dottie") Susag, Josh Clixby, and Jenny Rohrer.

They presented a report on the Simms High School year-long research project to Librarian of Congress James Billington in his office overlooking the U.S. Capitol. The research project examined transportation from many angles, including ancient trails, historical trails such as the Mullan Road, and the impacts on people in the valley of changes in highways, bridges and railroads.

Teacher Jenny Rohrer views the main reading room in the Jefferson Building from a balcony. Students were given a tour of this historic building along with “insiders” views of maps and prints, the American Folklife Center collections, and the manuscripts collection.

Crystal Tetzel examines a survey of his farm created by George Washington. It was one of the rare “treasures” director of the maps division, Jim Flatness, brought out of the vault to show the students. Since these students had done extensive work with maps of the Sun River Valley as part of their research project, they were already familiar with many of the Montana maps Jim Flatness had pulled for them to examine. In fact, many of the Library of Congress maps of Montana are now available on the internet, and students had used them in their research.

Students (with the guidance of mentor Chuck Merja) had used maps and satellite images to create a 3-dimensional “flyover” of the valley, which allows a user to move over a realistic representation of the landscape using a computer mouse.

Heidi Tynes and Crystal Tetzel change from “stylish” to “sensible” shoes Librarian James Billington’s office. Since the latter part of the day included extensive walking, they brought a change of shoes in their backpacks. After tourning the Library, they walked to Senator Burns’ office where staff provided a personal tour of the U.S. Capitol, which students reached by riding an underground rail system that connects the Senate office buildings with the capitol. Given the long lines and extensive security, going through a senator’s office may be the simplest way to get inside the capitol building.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/16 at 12:00 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

2005 Ambassadors, Part 2
   Simms High School

Jessica Eastley views the acres of graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Students visited Arlington House (General Lee’s family plantation, Kennedy’s grave, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They also visited the new Native American Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the National Air and Space Admininstration Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Spy Museum, and the National Gallery of Art.

Neah Parshall takes notes as Jim Hughes provides a tour of the Grand Hall of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

Heidi Tynes and Neah Parshall take notes.  Students will file reports on the trip based on their journals. Also, the students met with teachers and staff each evening to discuss the days events and their meanings as part of the reflective process.

After the first couple days, students used the subway routinely to get around. Becoming familiar with navigating in an urban environment is often an important part of the trip for kids from rural spaces. It isn’t hard and they take to it readily.

Jessica, Crystal, and Heidi on their way to a performance of The Tempest at the Shakespeare Theater. They also attended the Big River, a musical based on Huckleberry Finn, at the Ford Theater.

Six days in Washington, D.C. goes by quickly, given how much there is to do and see. Students from the Heritage Project, selected for their interest in cultural matters, are fun to take learning expeditions with. This group proved no exception.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/16 at 11:35 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Simms Heritage Fair
   Simms High School

Superintendent Fay Lesmeister introduced the evening, noting that there was no better form of learning, and that students “would remember the processes and procedures they went through long after they had forgotten the facts” they found.  The name of this year’s project was “Transportation and Roads in the Sun River Valley--Centuries on the Move.”

An important innovation was made this year. The entire program was presented twice--once at 2:00 in the afternoon and once at 6:30 in the evening. This allowed the middle school to attend in the afternoon, along with elders who dislike being out in the evening, while still allowing working parents to make the evening presentation.

Letting the middle schoolers see the program seems very important. They note the serious academic effort made by high school juniors, but they also know what’s ahead of them. Since the project has been doing these fairs for 8 years in Simms, and since all junior students participate, it has become part of the local culture. Students compare fairs from various years and argue over which were best.

If, instead of standardized tests, we put our energy into academic performances held in public with honors for superior work, I think we could make great gains in improving schools. Several things seem important:

  1. The performance should draw the public in. The best way to do this is probably just what we do: focus on local history and involve as many members of the community as possible in the actual work.
  2. Younger students should be involved as audience, so they know what is coming and can imitate what they most admire.
  3. High standards should be maintained, with abundant public praise for solid academic work.

The Greeks developed drama to a high level using this model, just as we have done with basketball. Simms persuades me the same processes would work well with academics. 

A powerpoint, featuring photographs and some text from each student’s research, was the main event. But the program also included numbers by the high school choir and band, as well as songs sung by the audience (recorded music with words on the powerpoint screen), and poetry readings by students.

Each student read a few words giving highlights of their findings along with photographs (all properly cited).

Right down to the last minute, Dottie works on the script with a student rehearsing at the micorphone. (Dottie, can you or a student post a comment identifying the girl, along with others in the photos below?)

The back of the gym featured an ample number of display panels featuring the researches of the various teams. The topic “transportation” was organized around 5 research groups.

One did maps--studying the changes in mapping over time as well as creating maps from the earliest time to the present into a Geographical Information System (GIS) program that lets them see the maps overlaid in various layers, so they can readily tell what changes occurred in roads and railroads and when. Students spent a lot of time mapping and photographing remnants of the Old North Trail used by the Blackfeet and of the Mullan Road, which has left faint traces on the prairie in a few places.

Another studied bridges--both the technology of building them and the impacts on the area when different places were connected--for example, the celebrations that occurred in 1912 when a bridge connected two previously separated counties.

One group examined businesses and how they were affected by changes in the railroad and roads. One, the Malmstrom Garage, sold Willys vehicles in 1928, then added gas, then closed up when people couldn’t afford gasoline in WWII. It emerged later as a gas station, then closed again when improved roads made it easier to get to Great Falls without buying gas at higher local prices.

One group studied the changes in road building technology through the decades, from horse-drawn equipment to the present.

One group studied vehicles.

Josh Clixby, the history teacher who will act as local project director next year, said “These students learned more doing these projects than I could have taught them in seven years of lectures.” He said he considered some of the writing to be “college level” work. 

One striking thing about the project is how many elderly people it attracts. I’ve never seen anything that got so much support from the “grandparent class.”

Dottie uses willing elders repeatedly, sending students back to interview them again and again as new issues come up, or asking them to phone and ask.  Many of them are strong advocates of the project.

There was a dinner (chile and pie) between the two performances, and quite a few people stayed in the school visiting with one another.

Since there is no longer really a town at Simms, much of the study focused on the loss of what had once existed. “How could something so great just vanish?” one of the students asked. Not a bad question for kids from Montana to be pondering.

One of the most stunning projects was done by a handful of talented students working with local mentor (and engineer) Chuck Merja. They used satellite photos of the area and overlaid them on topo maps with software capable of 3-dimensional modeling. The result is a computer simulation that allows you to fly over the region, seeing the landforms and buildings as they actually appear from the sky. You can “fly” down particular canyons following a creek or river, hover over the Rocky Mountains, zoom down on neighborhoods in Great Falls. Though I knew such things could be done, I didn’t know they could be done on laptops in high schools. A wonderful group of kids. What a sophisticated understanding of the landscape is within our reach!

Heidi Tynes, the girl on the right, is student body president as well as one of the leaders in the computerized mapping project. An impressive young woman. She did an exceptional job of hosting the station and drawing the elderly people into what the students had done.

It was a long program--an hour and a half--mostly built around a powerpoint that summarized the students’ most evocative findings. This included hundreds of historical photographs--and I believe every one of them was properly cited. Quite an amazing academic performance for such young people.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/15 at 09:46 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, February 07, 2005

Old North Trail Adventure
   Simms High School


Old North Trail Historical Sign - 13 miles west of Choteau on Teton Pass Road


Old North Trail Marker


At left, Sylvan Susag, mentor, and at far right, Neah Parshall, junior Heritage Project student.  Al Wiseman, in center, is a Metis historian raised in Choteau, Montana.  He is showing them the map of granite boulders he and other interested community members placed along the 10,000 year Old North Trail in Teton County. 

Posted by Dottie Susag on 02/07 at 04:46 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Bird Walking in Simms - Part 1
   Simms High School

I spent 3 days as an “embedded journalist,” shadowing Dorothea ("Dottie") Susag from the time she got up till she went to bed. She was gracious enough to allow me to stay at her house and eavesdrop on her many conversations with students, other teachers, mentors, and administrators. It took tremendous energy trying to keep up with her. Her colleague, Colleen Green, uses the term “bird-walking” to talk about Dottie’s conversational style. She’ll be talking about one thing, and, in mid-sentence she’ll begin talking about something else--the way a bird will be walking along then suddenly hop to one side, walking in a new direction.

But whatever she’s talking about, she’s paying complete attention to it. Until she isn’t. Her teaching style involves constant shifting of attention from student to student--talking between classes about one students’ essay on roads, then shifting immediately to the next students’ concern about making travel arrangement to an interview. Dozens--or hundreds--of times a day she shifts her focus to different students with different issues. The demands on a teacher’s attention are all but unimaginable to those who don’t teach.

I was only observing, and it wore me out.

Dottie has returned to teaching this year after a year of retirement. After some staff shuffles related to financial difficulties, the district ended up without enough English teachers. They discussed several staffing options involving assigning other teachers to teach English part time, but none of them seemed great. “It’s a shame,” said Colleen Green. “You’re sitting here not teaching anyone.” Colleen asked Dottie’s husband, Sylvan, if he would support Dottie’s return to the classroom. “Absolutely,” he said.  “I saw how bored she was. On the computer 8 hours a day.” Sylvan is a retired principal and counselor, who has worked at Fairfield, Augusta, and Poplar.

Colleen then discussed the idea with Dottie and with school leaders. Dottie was discussed, though with everyone carefully not mentioning her by name, at a school board meeting before anyone in authority talked to her. When the dust cleared, the board voted to rehire her. Though Dottie said she enjoyed being retired and had “things I want to do,” she accepted the position. Because of the master agreement between the union and the board, she gets no credit on the salary schedule for her years experience. She is paid only $12,000 for a half time job.”

“I’m certainly not doing it for the money,” she said. “They needed me. There wasn’t anyone else. What could I do? There wasn’t anything I could do.”

Nearly everyone’s place on the Fairfield Bench is surrounded by a shelterbelt of trees such as poplar, Russian olive, spruce, caragana, or fir. These contrived islands of forest provide protection from the wind, which is a steady feature of life on the northern plains. Houses are usually spaced about a quarter mile or a half mile apart, separated by irrigated grain fields edged with canals and ditches.  Most of the places have a house and a few outbuildings--grain silos, machinery sheds, garages--and they arise like islands, or maybe castles, in the flat landscape that looks the same in every direction to the stranger who doesn’t recognize particular places. Their looming isolation gives them a fortress-like aspect. People live spaced out in the sometimes harsh landscape, so it’s not surprising that they value independence, competence, responsibility, and, of course, neighborliness.

Dottie Susag lives on the Fairfield Bench, about 15 miles north of her job at Simms High School, and about 10 miles from Fairfield, 18 miles from Choteau. Wherever she goes, it’s four miles of gravel before pavement. The coming of the Greenfields Irrigation Project during Theordore Roosevelt’s administration led homesteaders to the area and still accounts for the place’s character.

On the first day I visited (December 13, 2004) the community mentors were in the library meeting with students, giving them background information and suggesting research strategies--who they might interview, who might have photos. There were ten students and ten mentors. Finding commuity members who are willing to help and inviting them to come to the school regularly to work with students is a vital part of Dottie’s approach to heritage education.

The overall topic this year is “transportation” and students are grouped into research teams focused on sub-topics, such as roads, railroads, bridges, vehicles, and construction.

Herb Sharp (shown) was invited in to talk about the Fort Shaw Irrigation Project, which he managed. He came to the valley in 1938, and seemingly knows everything about the history of dams, roads, railroads, and canals. As he talked, other groups paid more and more attention. By the end of the period, he was fielding questions from everyone in the library and everyone was listening to him.  “That road ended at the county line. . .â€? “There weren’t any bridges over Flat Creek. . .â€? He told stories of things that had happened, such as the man who skidded materials onto Square Butte in 1918 and drilled a well. “He got water, but it was alkali.”

His information triggered memories from other mentors. Kermit remembered riding the railroad to Great Falls. “A dollar a round trip. I’d ride the train to Sun River, jump off and run to school.�

That tub on the table is one of the main organizational tools for the project. Each group has its own tub, so that students who are working on “bridges,” for example, but in different periods can share their work. A memo pad in each tub is used as a log. Students log any research they’ve done: interviews completed, articles located, photographs found. Photocopies of photographs that might be used in the final powerpoint are placed in the tub, with complete bibliographic citations stapled to them. The Simms powerpoints excel at having every photograph that’s used properly sourced.

Tuesday (December 14, 2004) was spent at the Cascade County Library in Great Falls, which has an extensive archives.  Chuck Merja, long-time mentor in the Simms project, found detailed maps of the Mullan Road. He is doing a special projects grant with a few students (including Jessica Eastley, whom you met last summer) that involves scanning the oldest maps they can find into a GIS program, then adding layers for later changes in roads and railroads and canals. Their final product will be a local data base of geographical information. “It makes it easy to see change,” he said.

Heidi Tynes, one of the students working with Chuck (and student body president), examines newspapers clippings from the vertical file, looking for information on trails through the area--such as the Whoop-up Trail, Mullan Road, and the Old North Trail. Heidi’s individual focus is upon changes in mapping techniques and conventions.

Dottie was in constant motion, moving from student to student asking questions and suggesting research topics: “If you are interested in studying freighting, you might look in the back of the city directories. There are lists of businesses and you can find a freight company. If it mentions a family name, you can look at the obitiuaries, and you might find the names of families that are still in the valley. . .”

Photo note: The light on the third floor of the library was gorgeous, but tricky. To get this shot, I aimed the camera at the window above Heidi, then pushed the exposure lock button, so when I lowered the camera to point it at her, it woudn’t expose for her and wash out the window to white. Then I turned on the flash to light her, so she wouldn’t appear silhouetted.

After school, Dottie stopped for a 30 minute workout at the Benchmark Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine gym in Fairfield. She had already done 15 minutes in the morning before work. She tries to do 45-minutes 5 days a week, but only usually ends up getting 3 workouts a week. “I get busy doing something,” she said.

To get students thinking about transportation, Dottie had each of them write an essay about roads. After their first drafts, she began asking questions designed to get them deeper into the topic. In using roads, where do you need to get to and why? How have the purposes or destinations changed since you were able to drive yourself? When you think about roads, do you first visualize people, vehicles, landscape including buildings, or something else? Why? How does your thinking about or your use of roads and transportation reveal what you value? How might the purposes or destinations of roads or transportation have changed from a different time? Why?

She stresses specificity. No credit for generalizations. She also urges students to write things only they could write, learning to trust their own voices: “Why are you writing about a family trip? You don’t even live with your family?”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/18 at 12:16 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, December 17, 2004

Bird walking in Simms - Part 2
   Simms High School

Student Elicia Cataldo knows gold when she sees it. Alice Heisel (right) volunteers at the Cascade County Library on Tuesday mornings. She knew the Simms kids were coming to find materials related to the Sun River Valley on the general topic of transportation, so she brought copies of photos and correspondence from her private collection: two photographs of Malmgren’s Garage, a Wyllis-Wippet dealership in Simms, along with a letter from the garage written on October 22, 1930.

Dottie believes it’s important to connect the students with a tangible resource such as this before helping them develop a research focus. “The kids need something concrete. Pictures of bridges. Something to touch. Only about a third are abstract learners.”

Newspapers were one of the best source of essay topics. Though each student will create an independent research paper, they were grouped by topic--bridges, roads, vehicles, construction--and students from several groups looked at the same newspapers, each scanning the page with a different focus. “If they can find anything--even a single article--they have a place to start.”

By the end of the day, she had a list of topics selected by 29 different students, which was nearly everyone.

The work through the day was a nonstop series of one-on-one conferences with students, trying to link them with a topics, cultural artifacts such as photos or maps or articles, and resource people to interview and to ask for help. Much of the work took the form of asking question after question: “What businesses were there in 1880 aren’t there anymore? When did things fail? Why?.” “Could somebody could write an essay about–do you know how a model T engine works and how it’s different than a modern engine?”

She moves quickly from student to student, firing questions, asking about discoveries, and passing on excitement about “finds.” “Hydee Rushton found an article on the effects on businesses in Vaughn when the road was relocated, and her grandfather was in it!”

And more questions: “Look at the business directories for 1932 and 1935. What changed? Why?” “Can you write an essay about that business, because it’s not there anymore. That was somebody’s dream. What kind of hopes and dreams did people have? What happened to them?â€?

She kept directing students back to people in Simms who could help them: “What if you were to deal with floods and the railroad? That means you need to look at a flood book. One of the places you can do that is at Warren Hardings’. He’s one of the mentors that comes to the school.â€?

Between classes and after school the conferences continue. She mixes exhortation and encouragement somewhat seamlessly with the questioning. She pushes students who are ready for it toward larger questions: “What about the battle to get this 40 miles of Sun River Road–the two lane road–built? Who were the big players? Where did the money come from? What does that tell you about us? Look at the fight over what to do with the middle school that we’re having now. Look how hard it is to get something built. If you really dug into the petition to get the road–how it affected the community, what it teaches us about ourselves. You can do it. I know you can. You are so smart I’d like you to find something you could really get your brains into. Can I write you down for that?â€?

Dottie’s favorite place driving to work each morning is the break in the hill where the Fairfield Bench drops suddenly into the Sun River Valley, affording a spectacular view of the expanse, with Square Butte, Shaw Butte, and Crown Butte in the ochre distance ahead and the jagged blue Rocky Mountain front marking the horizon to the west.

“You can’t do this work if you don’t love the place. I love the changes you can see in the sky when you drive over the hill--the clouds, the colors. I never get tired of it.  You think about everything that’s happened here. We have an oral interview that mentions a two room cave on Square Butte large enough to ride a horse into. We need to go back and look at the transcript to see if we can locate it. We don’t know if anyone used it--maybe Native Americans or the army.”

She has dozens of plans for further adventures, such as taking kids to a place where Mullan Road is still visible.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/17 at 11:14 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Simms High School’s First Veterans Assembly
   Simms High School

On Wednesday, November 10, 2004, at 1:00 p.m., Simms High School hosted its first Veterans Day assembly. It was an all-school, all-district, and community effort—sponsored by the Simms High School Student Council. Vaughn schools provided the decorations. Valley middle schoolers joined high school students for the assembly. Community historical society members and veterans attended too.

Beginning with Heidi Tynes, Student Council president, and Brittanee Klick, pictured here, who began the ceremony, students served as well-spoken and gracious hosts and announcers.

Current Montana Heritage Project students Jordan Rogers, Jessica Eastley, and Chelsey Younggren presented a PowerPoint program. In an echo-and-response format, Jessica, and Chelsea acknowledged that students often do not know or understand war at all. “We ask, “ they said, “is it like a Nintendo game; do we only fight for good causes; does it stop when we want it to.â€?  They then presented insights into those questions that their Project counterparts had learned in 2002 from their veterans’ interviews. With historic and current images of those veterans in front of us, those of us in the audience got to “hearâ€? the interviewed veterans explaining why they had fought and what they remembered from their experiences. 

In several important ways, the program was crafted from work accomplished by previous Heritage Project students. At the back of the gym, students had created posters and banners listing Sun River residents who had lost their lives in war and identifying those buried at the Sun River Cemetery—information now available as a result of last year’s cemetery recording and database project.  Most of the community members attending clearly felt at home in the school—having been interview subjects and mentors for earlier Heritage Project research. As they arrived and left, these elders greeted and were greeted by students and teachers. Simms’ Veterans’ Day program not only recognized veterans—it honored the ties and civilities and memories of community.

The high school concert choir led the audience in patriotic music. New history (and Heritage Project) teacher Josh Clixby talked about how and why we need to better understand war and the experiences of soldiers. Ten members of the Montana Air National Guard provided a program called “Operation Patriotism� that described the history of the American flag and the etiquette associated with the presentation of our colors. Students gave each guard member a rose. English teacher Steve Lundgren explained the life lessons he had learned from his career in the military

Although community members got to visit over dessert in the home economics room, students returned to class. I had a great opportunity to watch as Dottie Susag and Josh Clixby reinforced their current oral history lessons by drawing on the program that students had just witnessed.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 11/18 at 10:27 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Advisory Committee brings Sun River Valley community into school
   Simms High School

Looking north along the Rocky Mountain Front where Blackfeet once travelled the Old North Trail. This was part of the discussion at the Advisory Committee meeting in the Simms’ High School Library. The focus of this year’s research will be the history of transportation in the Sun River Valley. (Click on photo for larger view)

Dottie Susag visits with new superintendent George Linthicum. George has subscribed to the Montana Heritage Project listserv ( and seems quite interested in the work of the Heritage Project. The meeting was attended by about 18 people. Dottie began by asking what products created by the project have been of most value to the community, stressing the point that one of the Project’s main points is to serve the community.

Because each year’s kids are new to the project, this years kids will need to be taught again the value that the community puts on their work, Dottie noted.

“I like the contact with young people,” said Ruth Merja (Chuck’s mother). “They get to know us and that we aren’t just old and decrepit.”

Emma Toman noted that the cemetery data base has helped her answer inquiries about where graves are located, especially unmarked graves.

Molly Pasma conducted the meeting. Other teachers present included Josh Clixby (new this year: history) and Colleen Green (Chapter).  Students who attend the valley’s historical society meeting receive extra credit at school. One student was struck with “how careful they are about their records.”

Quite a lot of discussion focused on when to schedule the annual Heritage Fair, so as not to conflict with Iowa Basics, basketball tournaments, and other schedules. Last year the fair occurred in the afternoon, though before that it had always been in the evening. Norma Olsen noted that the afternoon worked better for elderly people “who don’t always like going out at night.” Dottie noted that many parents had not been able to attend the afternoon fair. The group settled on Monday, March 14. The displays will be set up after lunch and will stay up through the evening. The main powerpoint presentation will be done twice: once in the afternoon for elders and middle school and elementary school students, and again in the evening for parents and other high school students.

The final point of business was to introduce this year’s research topic--transportation--and to learn from the community what resources might be available. Josh Clixby gave an overview of the historical topics he will introduce in the history classes. Students will be put in teams to research particular topics, and each team will be responsible for understanding “chronologoical course, causes, and consequences” related to their topic. Chuck Merja will work with a special team focusing on technological issues for each topic.

There will be 32 students participating in this year’s project. Colleen Green suggested that students be given additional training in telephone etiquette this year. Dottie requested that each student be responsible for providing two photographs related to their topic: one historical and one contemporary.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/26 at 08:03 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project
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