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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: http://www.corvallis.k12.mt.us/high/Academics/Heritagenew/index.htm


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