A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

Libby students document the present

Jeff Gruber
Jon England
Bob Malyevac

Libby High School

History teacher Jeff Gruber has been involved with the Heritage Project since the Project began and believes it’s firmly entrenched in Libby. “More and more teachers refer to it as one of the programs in the high school that displays student excellence,” he said. “Parents talk about how they look forward to their children being in it when they get in high school. Two new teachers have joined, broadening the Project’s reach. Community members offer ideas for research. True results take time to measure but after eight years, I feel the jury is no longer out. It works.”

During the 2002–2003 school year, more than forty individuals and groups worked with twelve students in the Heritage Project class.

Students began the year writing essays of place and local legacies research papers, following the ALERT learning model. They wrote about such varied topics as family members, notorious characters from Libby’s past, the volunteer fire department, and former Governor Marc Racicot (who grew up in Libby). They also participated in the Expedition to 1910 by researching the Western News archives and creating a poster of various news articles from that time period.

All of this work was in preparation for their major project: a community documentation project focused on the closure of the Stimson Lumber Company.

The mill employed 330 workers, which made it the towns largest employer. The company announced in 2002 that they wold close the mill unless it got help from the community in two ways: a more stable supply of lumber and a solution to its increasing workmen’s compensation bills that were being exacerbated by the W.R. Grace asbestos contamination.

Jeff’s students asked broad questions about Stimson’s operation in Libby: Why do they make plywood and not lumber? What other jobs depend on the mill? Who is the Stimson Lumber Company? To answer these questions, students researched and produced a pamphlet illustrating the process of making plywood, from the arrival of logs to the yard to shipping the final product. Students presented copies of the pamphlet to employees on the last day of the mill’s operation.

Since many students had ties to the mill, this project had a special meaning for them. When Jeff asked the class what their favorite project was, they nearly unanimously said the mill pamphlet.

Jeff received a pleasant surprise in April when he was contacted by the George Lucas Educational Foundation to see if one of their writers could visit Libby to learn more about the Heritage Project. Writer Ashley Ball arrived in Libby on May 5 and stayed nearly the entire week. She interviewed teachers, students, and community members and helped to create a multi-media exhibit on the George Lucas Educational Foundation web site (http://www.glef.org). The site includes slide shows of students documenting the Stimson Mill, reading at their Heritage Evening, and working on various other projects. The site also features a streaming audio of student Amanda Shotzberger reading an excerpt from her research paper about one of Libby’s early movers and shakers: John H. Geiger

Ashley found in Libby students, teachers, and community members who see the value and importance of taking a good, hard look at their local history. Student Anders Larson said, “It’s really opened my eyes and let me see what we once were and what we could potentially be.”

And students enjoy what they’re doing and how they’re learning. Taylor Sweet said, “There is more involvement in the learning. You’re not just taking notes, studying, and then taking a test. What you do and learn really means something to you and others around you.” Kyle Koehler took it a step further when he said, “It is the most self-motivated learning process than any other class I’ve taken.”

History teacher Bob Malyevac and English teacher Jon England also did Heritage Projects this year. Bob’s focus was the building of Libby Dam and Jon’s focus was the history of all the schools in Libby.

To print a final report for the year-end binder, click here.
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© 2003 Montana Heritage Project
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