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Thursday, April 06, 2006

2006 Youth Heritage Festival
   Montana Heritage Project

The annual Youth Heritage Festival is Montana’s premiere academic conference for high school scholars. The high point of the event is the reading of research-based essays written by the students, along with multimedia presentations and displays of their work.

True Tests, keynote speech by Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch (with additional photos of the event)

A Conversation about Community, welcoming remarks by Heritage Project Director Michael Umphrey

Students presented their research to the State of Montana to be archived at the Montana Historical Society.  Lauren Vogl, Broadwater High School (Townsend) senior, did an elegant job as Master of Ceremonies. Also present were, from left, Mark Baumler (Interim Director, Montana Historical Society), Guha Shankar (American Folklife Center, Library of Congress), Linda McCulloch (Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction), John Bohlinger (Montana Lieutenant Governor), Liz Claiborne, Art Ortenberg, and Jack Copps (Executive Director, Montana Quality Education Coalition).

A team of researchers from each school presented their work to an audience of about 120--including peers from around the state, teachers, community members, and representatives from cultural agencies. These students from Broadwater High School in Townsend, taught by English teacher Darlene Beck, were selected to serve as Project Ambassadors to the Library of Congress for 2006. They will travel to Washington, D.C. to present their work before Librarian of Congress James Billington on May 10. They were selected on the basis of the combined excellence of their research-based writing, live presentation, and visual display. Their research project examined the impact the forest fires of 2000 had on people in the area.

Bigfork High School students of teacher Mary Sullivan scored highest in writing, and Great Falls Central students taught by Sarah Zook scored highest for their live presentation. 

On Tuesday morning, eight students whose writing was recognized as “distinguished” by a panel of judges met for a special breakfast with Heritage Education magazine editor Katherine Mitchell to discuss the editorial process involved in publishing their work. Each will be paid $250 for publication rights to their work. Speakers at the breakfast included Martha Kohl, former editor of the Montana Historical Society Press, and Michael Umphrey, MHP director and author of two books of poetry.

The 2006 Distinguished Writers include:

Lindsey Appell “A Tribute to the ‘Doc’” (Roundup High School) Tom Thackeray, teacher

Kari Eisenzimer “Ruth Lundin Budd” (Simms High School) – Josh Clixby, Molly Pasma, Larry Singleton, teachers

Shannon Flynn “The Flynn family fights the fires of 2000” (Broadwater High School – Townsend) – Darlene Beck, teacher

Cassandra Galloway “Tell the story and shut up” (Bigfork High School) – Mary Sullivan, teacher

Jamie Halliday “Better than Nothin’” (Bigfork High School) Mary Sullivan, teacher

Kira Lee “What Can We Learn from the Vikings--in Libby, Montana” (Libby High School) – Jeff Gruber, teacher

Abbey Newell “Just a Priest?” (Roundup High School) Tom Thackeray, teacher

Hannah Pimley, Heather Pimley, Jenni Henke “How the growth of large cities has affected small town businesses” – collaborative project (Chester High School) Renee Rasmussen, teacher

Several members of the Flynn family attended the Youth Heritage Festival to hear Shannon Flynn read her first-place essay, “The Flynn Family Fights the Fires of 2000.” The essay used diaries, primary documents, and oral interviews to trace the intertwined experiences of five family members during the historic fire season. 

Students and teachers were enthralled by Hal Cannon, Director of the Western Folklife Center, Utah, filmmaker, musician, and regular contributor to National Public Radio. Hal showed recent videos created as a part of the Deep West Project. They featured stories and meditations in the form of video documentaries from the lives of rural families in the American West. The powerful material was enhanced by Hal’s engaging presence and by the venue--the historic barn at the Kleffner Ranch outside of Helena. It was a world-class evening.

Summary of 2006 Research Projects:

Broadwater High School:
Jeannette Ingold’s book on 1910 fires, The Big Burn, sparked the interest of Townsend’s Heritage Project students to study of the Broadwater County Fires of 2000. Students compared and contrasted fire impact, management strategies, public health and safety issues, forest restoration, and economic impacts as they evolved between 1910 and 2000. Local Forest Service personnel, law enforcement officials, and community members served as primary sources for student exploration. The students conducted additional primary source research at the Montana Historical Society, the Broadwater County Museum, and Forest Service offices. The students in Darlene Beck’s junior and senior English classes also interviewed Broadwater County veterans and family members and transcribed those oral history tapes and wrote related papers. The senior class hosted the 6th annual Veterans’ Recognition Program to honor local service men and women, continuing a Montana Heritage Project tradition.

At the beginning of this year, each of the 83 students in Mary Sullivan’s junior English classes at Bigfork High School interviewed a veteran from a twentieth century conflict or from Iraq. Students also examined the role of community women during wartime. On November 11, these students hosted their annual Veterans’ Assembly. It included a color guard, taps, and additional music. Students read the veterans’ own words as they had recorded them in oral histories and recognized Gold Star mothers with long stemmed roses. Later in the year, while studying the Depression in U.S. history and reading Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, students interviewed community members who remembered the 1930’s. These interviews were recorded on video and audio tape and transcribed. While listening to their elders grapple with the essential question, “What has changed, and what has stayed the same?” students learned about life in Montana during the Great Depression. To thank their mentors, students hosted a dessert party and read portions of the oral histories they had recorded. Students ended the evening by singing “Brother, Can you Spare A Dime.”

White Sulphur Springs:
Nancy Heggen’s junior class at White Sulphur Springs started their Montana Heritage Project work by hosting the school’s first Veteran’s Program. The class invited a Vietnam veteran to speak and honored that individual and four others during the afternoon community event. The class then began their broader research into community wedding traditions and the meaning of those traditions. The class cooked lunch for several couples from the Ringling and Martinsdale areas of Meagher County and conducted interviews with them.

At Corvallis High School, in Phil Leonardi’s geography classes, heritage education engaged students in documenting local history. Course activities and assignments helped Corvallis freshmens recognize, understand, and finally appreciate the ways in which their individual lives are shaped by our community. As they explored local history, culture, and folklore, students gained primary research skills and identified connections between their “place,” who they are, and ultimately who they may want to become. Students were also encouraged to draw upon their new understanding of their “place” and their heritage to explore similar themes in the lives of other community residents. Students presented through work to the community in a variety of written, oral, and multimedia formats..

The 1910s in the Upper Musselshell Valley were much like the 1910s elsewhere in the United States—full of technological and social change. Nancy Widdicombe’s senior English students at Harlowton High School chose to study that era in first half of their research this year. They concentrated on everyday life in Valley, investigating especially clothing, food, recreation, and education. Students examined historic newspapers, magazines, and archival documents to find evidence of everyday living patterns. The Upper Musselshell Historical Society staff invited students to create a 1910 documentary using the museum as its setting. During the second phase of project work, entitled “People of the Valley,” Harlowton seniors are interviewing cowboys and cowgirls, artists, area historians and local craftspeople. These interviews will be organized into a second documentary. The community will be able to enjoy both films at Harlowton’s Open House on Monday, May 15.

Great Falls Central:
At Great Falls Central High School, Sarah Zook’s 25 sophomore Computer Literacy students researched the history of Catholic education in Central Montana in order to better understanding their own educational heritage. Students conducted interviews with alumni, former teachers, local historians, and members of the religious community. They scoured primary documents and photographs in the area archives and compiled all the information into a web site. The web site is designed to be used by all researchers, including elementary students and teachers. The site tells the tales of many different schools, incorporating the fascinating stories that students encountered in their research. In December, students also presented the first portion of their research in a public community program. In May, students will present a play for the community, drawn from their year-long research efforts.

After reading Richard Waverly Poston’s Small Town Renaissance and researching the success that other towns had with Montana Study discussions, Roundup High School Heritage Project students and teachers decided to conduct a community study of their own. Students met with members of the community that they identified as leaders in six areas: government, business, agriculture, religion, education, and medicine. The forums lead to lively discussion about Roundup’s history, its current condition, and its future. As a final gift to the community, students hosted their own forum and gave a presentation summarizing their findings. Individual students from Tim Schaff’s and Tom Thackeray’s classes, with Dale Alger’s guidance, also pursued individual research projects. Among other topics, students examined the history of Central School and the Roundup Memorial Hospital and explored Roundup’s artistic and religious communities.

This year at Libby High School, Jeff Gruber’s Local Legacies class studied how logging has affected the landscape around the community of Libby. To start, the class read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, which highlighted how advanced societies have declined or collapsed throughout history. Using Diamond’s five-point framework, students chose particular civilizations and compared their decline to America’s situation today. The Students guiding question was: what can we learn from the mistakes of the past so that America doesn’t meet the same fate? The class visited the site of a 1919 logging camp and examined the camp’s historical record. Students investigated how logging practices in 1919 affected the forest. They then observed modern logging practices and interviewed loggers and foresters to compare the effects of contemporary practices with those that occurred 85 years ago. The students wrote essays based on their findings and will host a heritage evening for the community in May.

The 2005-2006 Simms High School Heritage Project chose to research Fort Shaw’s military history, using the theme “Fort Shaw: Marching Through Time.” Students in classes taught by Josh Clixby, Jenny Roher, Molly Pasma, and Larry Singleton directed their study to three guiding questions: What can we learn from the lives of individuals who lived at the Fort and the issues that affected them; what are the popular beliefs or myths and underlying truths and contradictions related to the Fort; and what has changed and stayed the same at the Fort? In order to answer these questions, students explored the Baker Massacre site; invited local historians to come in and discuss Fort Shaw; and conducted primary source research in several archives—relying on assistance from mentors throughout. Student teams organized their research around three topical frames: the construction, creation and military regimen of the Fort; entertainment, medicine, and issues of race and culture at the Fort; and Sun River Valley families whose arrival dates to the Fort. On March 20, students presented their work to the community in their annual heritage fair.

Students in Renee Rasmussen’s junior English class in the newly consolidated Chester Joplin Inverness Public School became curators of Inverness Public School history this year. They undertook the mammoth task of cataloging Inverness school artifacts, including trophies, banners, and awards. They interviewed community members and former students. They invited Inverness alumni, teachers, parents, and community members to help retrieve—and save—three buried time capsules before the school grounds were sold. In a final community gathering, C-J-I students will present their research papers and video documentaries. They will even surprise a former Inverness High School student whose World War II service prevented him from graduating with true high school diploma.

Posted by David Hume on 04/06 at 04:18 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, October 22, 2005

MHP presents 8 workshops at MEA-AFT Conference
   Montana Heritage Project

Montana Heritage Project teachers and staff advocated using Montana and regional literature in the classroom in a series of 8 workshops [PDF] at the MEA-AFT conference in Missoula October 20. The sessions were well-attended--several of the rooms were at capacity and latecomers could not get in.

We had 88 people sign up to receive our video on doing oral history in the classroom and to receive updates on the Place-Based Learning Conference in Butte June 20-21. The 10th Anniversary Issue of Heritage Education was also popular and the copies we took disappeared quickly.  Teachers took copies of our poster announcing the Place-Based Learning Conference for Sentinel High School, Big Sky High School, CM Russell High School, and Bozeman High School.

Many thanks to Jeff Gruber (Libby), Nancy Widdicombe (Harlowton), Dottie Susag (Simms), Marcella Sherfy (Helena), Jodie Foley (Helena), Christa Umphrey (St. Ignatius), Mary Sullivan (Bigfork), and Renee Rasmussen (Chester) for the time and energy they put into creating this engaging and useful series of workshops.

The MHP booth in the Exhibitors Hall was a popular gathering place. Many teachers signed up to receive a copy of our video guide to doing oral history and to receive updates on planning for the summer conference in Butte this June. Teachers Amy Sangwin, Renee Rasmussen, and Jeff Gruber take a break from the day’s activities.

Nancy Widdicombe did two workshops to capacity crowds--one on teaching Out of the Dust and one on teaching students to see the layers of time present in every community. Was the heavy attendence due to picking topics that teachers wanted to hear about, or due to all the posters advertising the sessions that staff placed throughout Sentinel High School, or due to Nancy’s fame as past president of MATELA and MHS Teacher of the Year?

Renee Rasmussen’s presentation stressed the linkage between Heritage Project writing assignments and Montana’s language arts standards.

We should begin planning next year’s event, since the deadline for workshop proposals is in the spring. This year’s workshops were keyed to the theme of our next summer conference ("exploring where we are through literature and writing"). It would be great to have the events build on each other in that way. It might be good to emphasize the “community as classroom” theme, with a set of workshops detailing how to get students engaged “thinking critically about their community.” Or “A Hunger for Reality: Writing About Family and Place.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/22 at 11:00 AM
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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

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Great Falls Central’s Heritage Evening
   Affiliate Site


Left,Alyssa Morren talks about her interview with James Fullerton, a WWII officer who was captured by the Germans, held in Stalag III, and escaped through tunnels the prisoners dug.

Sarah Zook and her eighteen sophomores hosted Great Falls Central Catholic High School’s First Annual Heritage Evening on May 3, 2005. The evening was to present the research students did on and with selected veterans and to thank the veterans for participating in their project.

The evening began with a spaghetti dinner that students had prepared. They were gracious hosts, whether they were sitting and visiting with their veterans or circulating around the room making sure everyone had coffee or got enough to eat.

After dinner, the Great Falls Central Girls Choir sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I sat next to WWII Navy veteran William Thompson who enjoyed the choir’s singing but grumbled that they only sang two verses of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Sarah assured him that they’d sing the entire song next year.

Then students presented very brief highlights from their eleven interviews with veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Listeners heard stories about captured officers, dog trainers, and a particularly unusual story about seal skins in a footlocker. The students did a good job of choosing interesting stories to share.

The evening ended with students presenting their veteran with a DVD of their interview.

Great Falls Central will be a demonstration site next year. I’m glad because Sarah does good things and I love that drive.

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 05/04 at 01:10 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, October 22, 2004

Heritage Project teachers present series of workshops at MEA-AFT Conference in Helena

For the second year, a group of Heritage Project teachers got together to present a unified series of workshops at the annual MEA-AFT Educators Conference. The presentations were featured in full-page ad in the conference bulletin. The Project also rented 16 feet of space in the vender area and set up graphic displays to introduce the Project to other educators who were interested. The booth received a steady flow of visitors.

Using GPS to study a community through a cemetery database: Simms High School student Jessica Eastley (left) worked with Simms teacher Sarah Zook (center) and community mentor Chuck Merja (right)to put the information from 1100 graves at the Sun River Cemetery into a database. Using GPS, the data was linked to a graphical interface which allows people to look at the data in numberless ways. Though the work is just beginning, some of the names in the data base are also linked to photographs and to obituaries from historical newspapers. The data that can be added about each person in the data base, and the number of ways it can be queried, makes the data base a powerful tool for investigating the community’s history. A researcher could see everyone that died in 1965, or look at the average age of death of those who died in 1910, or in the 1940s. The American Legion even used the data base to quickly create a map of where all veterans were buried so they could place a flag on each grave on Memorial Day.

“It allows us to look at data in ways that otherwise would be impossible,” said Jessica. For example, the data revealed a dramatic increase in the average age of people who died in the 1930s and 1940s than in earlier years. Why? This pattern didn’t emerge until the data had been entered at the end of the year, so students have not researched what might account for it. 

Dorothea (Dottie) Susag, English teacher at Simms High School, presented tips for getting started on oral history projects. Her presentation was full of advice gleaned from years in which her students collected hundreds of interviews with Sun River Valley residents.  She has come to believe that oral interviewing should be included at every grade level because students learn so many valuable things from the process. In addition to strong academic skills, they learn “how people feel validated when others ask questions to probe who they are.”

Her talk was full of useful tips. For example, a common problem with novice interviews is that they tend not be be very good at asking the follow-up questions necessary to evoke full and detailed stories. Dottie has students practice with a clock. They have to ask one question and then keep their interview subject talking about that question for fifteen minutes by asking as many follow-up questions as necessary. She has them do this with guest interview subjects who come to the class, with their parents, and with each other. After they interview each other, she asks them how it feels to have another person wondering about them. They say it feels good.

C. R. Leisinger, Tiffany Mahah, and Kristin Kuhn told the story of the Veterans History Project they completed in Bigfork. This led to a woman from outside Montana learning about the last day of her brother’s life. He was killed in Vietnam when she was a small girl, and one of the interview subjects had been with him at the time. The veteran’s history project has become an annual tradition in Bigfork, culminating in a school-wide assembly on Veterans day. Veterans are honored and the entire community is invited to attend.

Each year, a new aspect of the topic is explored by collecting oral histories for the community archives. Last year, the focus was on conscientious objectors. This led to students discovering, with the help of research historian Dave Walter, that a detention camp had operated near Bigfork during World War II.

This coming year, students will focus on Gold Star Mothers--mothers who lost sons at war.

Kristin Kuhn read a 1-page version of the oral history she did. While the complete oral histories are valuable for their details, these brief versions also have many uses. For one thing, they are powerfully dramatic. All writers learn that the art of being concise is focus. To get a good one-page version, students need to identify what is most vivid, memorable, and valuable.

Hearing a half-dozen students read such narrative, especially when combined with slides of the subject’s life, creates a moving and entertaining public heritage event.

One of the audience members asked Kristin what she had learned through the project. “I learned to be more insightful,” she said without hesitation. “Before I did this work, I had no idea the things that people in this town really know--the things that people have been through. It opened my mind. They tell us things we’ll never forget.”

Nancy Brastrup, history teacher from White Sulphur Springs, talked about the experience of being a “newcomer” the Heritage Project. She focused on giving advice to those who were just starting out.

She advised teachers to do enough preliminary research to ensure the resources existed for students to researh a topic. She had started to have students research the history of their own houses and to locate the oldest houses in town and create brief histories of them. Unfortunately, a fire had destroyed most of the records needed for such a project.

She also advised teachers to seek out mentor teachers who’ve done such work before, to contact people in the community and at such agencies as the Historical Society who might be able to help, to make out outline of what is to be accomplished and what will be needed to accomplish it, and to create a timeline of the steps necessary and when they should be taken.

Mary Kohnstamm, Jana Rozar, and Ann Danczyk with Jacob Fern (not shown) read excerpts from the history of Whitefish they researched and wrote, tracing the towns development from “Stumptown” to ski resort. The freshmen class in Whitefish, guided by English teacher Beth Beaulieu, created a history book of the town and presented excerpts at a community Heritage Evening. This was Whitefish’s first year in the project, and Beth detailed the planning and implementation of the project. The emphasis was upon analyzing the information that was found, using local history to practice high-level thinking skills.

Shawnee Norick joined fellow Chester students Isaac Van Dyk and Bryce Fenger to give an overview of the seven-week community self study they completed.

The project was modelled on the Montana Study from the 1940s. Community leaders joined the students in researching and discussing their community, it’s role in the state, nation, and world, and it’s prospects for the future.

The project was led by English teacher Renee Rasmussen. After the study, some community leaders suggested this was a project that should be repeated with high school students every year.  In a way, it’s a return to an idea about education older than the institution building of recent decades that has often created great distances between the community and the school: the leaders of the community get involved in the schools not merely through the political and budget processes, but by direct and personal involvement with the youth, teaching directly some of the things they think are important.

In March, some of these teachers will present again at the regional National Council of Teachers of English conference in Lewiston, Idaho.

We are already making plans for next year’s MEA-AFT Conference, which will be held in Missoula in October, 2005.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/22 at 09:32 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project
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