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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Stories of the Past: Keys to the Future (Corvallis)
   Corvallis High School

Phil Leonardi’s freshman geography class at Corvallis High School is a special place. Students have to apply to get in. In the application letter, they need to answer such questions as why they want in the class, how they fit into their family, and what they can contribute to the class. Since the class has been in operation for a number of years, at this point many of the students are younger siblings of former students. The class, which offers students the chance to explore their own family roots, has become a tradition for some families in the Bitterroot Valley.

“Heritage education is about more than documenting local history,” Phil said. “It’s about recognizing, understanding, and finally appreciating the way in which our individual lives are shaped by our communities. The premise is that by exploring local history, culture, and folklore, students will identify meaningful connections between their ‘place,’ who they are, and ultimately who they may want to become.”

Phil’s classroom is a heritage museum, with quilts and display boards created by previous classes lining the walls. His approach to geography is to help students locate themselves in the Bitterroot Valley and in their families through a series of activities built around the 5 Themes of Geography. Among the questions considered:

Who am I? Who are those who came before me?

How has the physical and cultural landscape been altered over time?

How will my life impact the future of my community? The state? The nation? The world?

Phil has students work together to create a “heritage quilt”, with each block containing an “iconic” image drawn from the Bitterroot Valley’s past. Each student selects and image from the extensive data base Phil has assembled of historic Corvallis photos and then does a writing assignment explaining why that image was chosen. When all the images are brought together, they form a mosaic of important aspects of the town’s past.

Kori DePauw sets the colors on her quilt block. The process of making a quilt block is quite simple. (1) A photograph is printed onto photo transfer paper, using a classroom printer. (2) The shirt press is used to transfer the image from the paper to a square of cotton muslim. Phil keeps a shirt press in the classroom, but the a normal clothing iron would work. (3) Each student then colorizes his or her image, using acrylic paint diluted with water. (4) After the painting, the block is again heated for a few minutes in the shirt press to set the color. (5) He then invites a local quilter to turn the individual pieces into a finished quilt.

After lunch, Jessica Gerig interviewed Jim Wood, an 83-year-old resident of the valley. He is the grandfather of Lindsy Wood, a class member who participated in the interview. Phil’s class interviews a few grandparents each year, adding to the extensive oral history collection that students have created over the years. 

Phil has students write a 700-1,000 word essay in class as their semester exam. The question is discussed in advance, and students are allowed to bring an outline they have created to the test. In addition to providing an assessment of the students, these essays provide him with the student perspective he needs to write his own year-end report to the Heritage Project about what was accomplished during the year and what it meant to students.

Phil has placed his curriculum on the web:

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/25 at 09:35 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, March 24, 2006

Then and Now
   Corvallis High School

After checking in at the office of Corvallis High School, Mike Umphrey and I were escorted by a student to Phil Leonardi’s classroom. It only took a moment of looking around the room to make me think that cloning Phil may be a good idea.

Phil has created a year-long heritage curriculum for his freshmen geography students. His students do a series of activities that, by the end of the year, fill their personal portfolios. They take a close look at their families and their community, all the while trying to figure out how they and everything else fits in the grand scheme of things.

Today, students were finishing the “Then and Now” unit. After talking about iconography, Phil asked each student to find a historical photo of a building, scene, or event that he or she thought was representative of Corvallis. Then he asked them to rephotograph the same building, scene, or event. In addition to the Then and Now photos, students had to write a brief narrative explaining the photos and the reason for choosing them.

Each year, Phil’s students incorporate their historical photos into a heritage quilt. When Mike and I walked into the classroom, we saw a nearly finished quilt block on each desk. During class, students painted a colored wash on their quilt blocks and Phil set the wash with a hot press. This student paints a photo of the Daly Mansion.

Over the last several years, Phil has become somewhat of an expert in patterns, color, and seam allowances. He’s pretty good with a hot press, too.

While looking at the photos the students had chosen, I noticed that nearly all of them were of mountains or buildings or had something to do with agriculture. Erin McConnaha’s (left) stood out. Her’s was a photo of couples dancing at a school dance. I asked her why she chose that photo. “People immediately think of the outdoors when they think of Montana,” she said, “but Montana is more than that. Montana is also about people getting together and having fun. Montana is about community.”

In the afternoon, six of the heritage geography students returned to Phil’s classroom, which he turned into a portrait studio, to interview Jim Wood, Sr. about some of his life experiences. Mr. Wood was interviewed by granddaughter Lindsy Wood and by Jesseca Gerig. The still photographers were Joe Stoker and Amy Warren. The audio of the interview was monitored by Kelsey Thompson, and the videographer was Courtney White. 

The students prepared for the interview by coming up with several good questions. During the interview, they must have paid close attention to Mr. Wood’s answers because they asked several relevant follow-up questions. But the interviewers weren’t the only ones paying close attention. All eyes were focused on Mr. Wood for the entire duration of the interview.

Lindsy and Jesseca enjoy Mr. Wood’s stories.

After many years of watching Heritage Project teachers, I’ve decided that America needs a lot more Phil Leonardis or Darlene Becks or Mary Sullivans or any other Project teacher. Our young people could do a lot worse than spend their time in organized classrooms being taught by prepared and engaged teachers who ask them to study their families and communities.

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 03/24 at 05:35 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Heritage Project in Corvallis
   Corvallis High School


Corvallis High School students Kirstin Bull and Sunni Bleibtrey complete a tombstone rubbing of one of the many pioneers of the Corvallis area.  The assignment called for the review of census records from 1990 and 1910, archival research at the Ravalli County Museum, and a review of Corvallis Cemetery records.  Completed projects featured the tombstone rubbing, archival obituaries, and representative images in a collage.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 02/09 at 10:14 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project
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