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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Timely Presentation on the History of Catholic Education in Central Montana
   Great Falls Central Catholic High School

Sarah Zook’s Heritage Project class members had already planned to research the history of Catholic education in central Montana before they realized how vital their work might be to community decisions. As Sarah noted, “Some of my students saw Central Catholic High School’s history as just five years old when it reorganized back into existence. But it goes back more than five decades. I wanted them to understand the role of Catholic education’s history in the state and acquire a connection to and an honest understanding of the school’s past.”

When the Great Falls Central board began negotiating with the Great Falls Public School Board to acquire Paris Gibson Middle School--once the home of Central Catholic High--Sarah and her students realized that their research might be invaluable to a community considering the issues. So, rather than wait to organize a single concluding heritage event next spring, the first semester Heritage Project class--half of the sophomores--stepped up to present the research and analysis they had done to date. 

On Thursday evening, December 8, 2006, at the Great Falls Ursuline Centre--itself one of the schools and buildings that students had begun to study--class members presented information on topics ranging from St. Peter’s Mission to sports and dress at Great Falls Central High during the 20th century.  Here, Alyssa Amato describes her initial research about the Ursuline Centre as Sarah oversees the computer.

With help from Project mentor Dorothea Susag, Mrs. Zook guided students through primary source document research, oral histories, and analysis of a wide range of materials, including a 1954 Life Magazine article that featured Great Falls’ Catholic schools. For many students, this was the first time they had presented scholarly information to their peers, parents, and community members. Stephanie Harris, pictured here, and her classmates, did so with great poise.

As did other class members, Zander Robison used a straightforward PowerPoint program to illustrate his research as he presented a narrative of his findings. Students had worked to connect each section to the next. Students concluded by sharing their own reflections--based on the new perspectives they had forged--about what constitutes the true identity of a school and a school community.

Teacher Mary Gayle Russ, Sarah, and the students then hosted a concluding reception that gave community members an opportunity to ask questions, study story boards, read over some of the materials that students had examined--such as historic yearbooks--and volunteer to be interviewed or provide additional material to next semester’s class members.  Alyssa Amto and Rebecca Laubach greeted people at their “station,” as other classmates did at theirs. 

Sarah and her class provided the Great Falls Tribune with feature story material about their heritage evening. As Tribune staff writer Keila Szpaller observed in her December 8, 2005, article, “The students don’t shy away from talking about a government policy that led mission schools to deny Native children their traditional culture. ‘Today, the Catholic Church is working very hard to counteract their early actions made toward the Native Americans,’ class member Sarah Hood will say in ther talk.”

Sarah observed that students learned serious lessons from funny stories that they heard in their interviews with community members who had attended boarding schools. Their research brought them unexpected information, e.g. knowledge of an orphanage school in Great Falls largely forgotten now. And it brought them different understandings. Sarah Hood realized that, “No matter how big our building is, a school community is in our hearts.”

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 12/14 at 03:36 PM
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2005 Montana Heritage Project
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