A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

Ronan students take an expedition to the sixties

Christa Umphrey

Ronan High School


Several years ago, Ronan High School adopted the Expeditionary Learning education model school-wide. English teacher Christa Umphrey has dovetailed her Heritage Project with her assigned expedition. Itís a good fit, since in the expeditionary model, students do extended, in-depth research into a topic they all share. Last yearís expedition focused on the 1960s, so forty community members were interviewed by forty juniors about different aspects of life in the sixties. During all the studentsí projects, they were asked to focus on one of several essential questions: Why do people rebel? What is worth fighting for? What was our community like in the 1960s?

Students began their study by researching how the national events of the sixties related to and influenced the local community. Each student had a specific year in the decade they were focusing on and they spent a few mornings at the local newspaper office looking through newspapers from the decade and collecting events, news, and photos from their year. They also researched what the biggest national stories were during their year, so they could compare national and local happenings.

While focusing on the Civil Rights Movement and the American Indian Movement, students read numerous speeches and articles, examined historical photographs, and analyzed documentary film clips. After gaining some knowledge of the issues and events of the time, they invited local people involved in the events to come to class and share their experiences. Students conducted whole-class interviews so guests could answer questions.

During the study of the Vietnam War, students read articles and speeches and listened to music from the time period. They read poetry and stories about the war as well as more recent articles dealing with the aftermath of the war. Then they met with local veterans to talk about specific war experiences. They also discussed the current war in Iraq among themselves and with each Vietnam veteran. They also documented their communityís reaction to the Second Gulf War.

Dan Mays said that he liked everything about the interview. “It taught me a lot I didnít know, about my dad and about the war. My dad actually fought in the field, with bullets firing above his head. I never knew he was actually in the war.”

After students completed research on their specific year, each created a visual display that compared national and local events of the time. A few students also used the research to make two web-based timelines: one that compared national and local events and another that just collected all the local events from the decade.

Students also used the knowledge they gained about civil rights issues and the Native American struggle for rights to create a childrenís book for younger students. Each junior created one page about a topic of his or her choosing. Each did individual research to write text and to find images, and then designed the page. The pages were collected and bound together, and copies of the book were made for each third grader.

A book entitled A Community and Country Divided: Vietnam, containing the interviews with the veterans, will be available to the veterans and other community members as soon as the editing and printing are complete. This book will be professionally printed and perfect-bound so the extra wait is worthwhile. Judging from the comments from community members Christa and her students received after the publication of last yearís book which focused on the stories of World War II veterans, the people of Ronan think the extra wait is worthwhile, too.

To print a final report for the year-end binder, click here.
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