Press Releases

News of Interest to Heritage Reporters and Teachers

Oral history video available

Project Director
Michael L. Umphrey

Mike Umphrey hopes that lots of teachers in Montana will engage students in learning about the people in their communities this year. To help make that possible, the Montana Heritage Project, which he directs, has created a 40-minute DVD--"When History Speaks"--to show students what they need to know to get started on oral history projects.

He believes that doing oral interview projects helps teachers and students think in fresh ways about the power of learning. “Kids--all of us really--need something that shakes us awake. We need to be stopped by wonder. That’s more likely to happen when we head out into the community and begin asking questions about what’s really happening.

“How is the drought affecting people? What happened in droughts in the past? What do people think is going to happen now?

“What’s the worst thing that ever happened here? Was it a flood or a fire or a train wreck or a war? How did it happen? What did people do? Were there any heros? What were their names? How did they end up?”

“What are those big old buildings sitting empty down the street? Who built them, and for what? Who put up the money? Who opposed them? What happened next?

“When we go out into the world and start asking people real questions, we start to wake up and so do they. If there’s one thing that makes oral history a dramatic teaching technique, it’s the potential it has for waking people up to wonder.”

“When History Speaks” was produced by the Montana Heritage Project in cooperation with the Library of Congress and the Montana Historical Society. The video covers the basics of oral history: planning a project, doing preliminary research, forming a set of questions, choosing equipment, conducting an interview, using a microphone effectively, and transcribing and archiving final products.

The Montana Heritage Project is a community of high school teachers committed to passing on to the next generation of Montanans a living heritage: our love of the people and landscapes here, our commitment to learning and thinking, and our desire to use education to serve society. Through partnerships with the Library of Congress and the Montana Historical Society, the Project began in 1995.

Oral history projects allow students to make important contributions to the history of Montana and to their own communities, and the understanding that they are doing real work of enduring worth is motivational for many young people. But a good oral history project is more than just recording the memories of elders, as important as that may be.

“A good oral history project is about asking questions, and then asking better questions, “ Umphrey said. “It is about searching for answers, and then searching for better answers.” Until we have a question, he said, all the information in the world is just noise. 

“We become more intelligent by improving our questions, figuring out better strategies for getting answers and learning more about where we are and what is going on all around us. Well done oral history projects let wise teachers guide young people into all the little secrets of being intelligent.”

“Once we have real questions, we pursue answers everywhere we can. We read old newspapers, magazine articles, letters, and books. We talk to people. We go places and walk around, looking and thinking. We follow links on web sites.”

Umphrey is quick to dispel the misconception that oral history can replace written history. “When I hear young people saying such things as ‘this was a lot more interesting than reading dusty, old books,’ I wince,” he said. “Researchers form their questions through their reading. They find partial answers and new questions through reading. They think by reading. Interviewing doesn’t replace reading, it helps us become better readers.”

“Teachers engage young people in oral history to engage them in real life. We focus on local places because that’s where the world actually exists, but there’s nothing provincial about what we are doing. 

“We hope to wake kids up to a fundamental reality: our towns and neighborhoods and families are a story--a complex order held together by ideas and knowledge. We want them to understand that the elder before them has been a participant in that story, and that the story could always have turned out differently.

“From there, they see more clearly that they are themselves participants in the story. We want them to see that the story is always changing, and that we are all linked together in it, and that something dramatic is always just about to happen, and how it turns out is not yet known.

“We want them to understand that each of us has a role, each of us has a part. Important issues are at stake. It really matters what we do, and what we do is based on what we think. That’s why we ask questions and learn things.”

How do oral history projects fit in the accountability movement that’s swept through schools? “I get asked that everywhere I speak,” said Umphrey. “It’s easy to answer. Our kids do original research, they read significant texts, they interview people, they analyze the information, and then write about their findings and present it to the public. That’s real accountability. Our motto is ‘Keep it real.’

“I don’t have any problem with tests--I tested a lot when I taught--but tests are quick and relatively low-quality measures. They’re okay to set minimums and to get some simple data quickly, but if we want kids to learn deeply and to demonstrate complex skills, we need to go way beyond paper and pencil tests.

“If you want your kid to play oboe in an orchestra, you wouldn’t be content with a music teacher who gave a paper and pencil test about Bach or about bass clefs. You want to hear the symphony--the performance.

“Well, our kids perform. They read and listen and then they write and speak. They create digital stories that they present to the community. If you want to know how well they’re learning, come to the show! Give them something that really helps: an appreciative audience!

To order the “When History Speaks” DVD, visit the Heritage Project’s Online Store.

Posted by David Hume on 06/01 at 06:47 PM
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©2007 Montana Heritage Project

The Montana Heritage Project takes standards to a new level

Today, as it was yesterday and probably will be tomorrow, the hot topic of conversation in the world of education is standards. Those of us involved in the Montana Heritage Project believe that standards are good and necessary. In fact, we have very high standards as illustrated by public displays of student mastery.

Students involved in the Heritage Project spend ten or more weeks per year studying some aspect of their community. They may focus on a historical event or period, a person, a current crisis, or the local economy. They do original research to find answers to their questions by completing oral histories with local residents, researching in archives, visiting sites of historic events, hosting community forums, and reading literature.

And they write.

Heritage Project students write a lot. They keep journals and logs; they transcribe and summarize oral history tapes; they write reports on the progress of their research; they write traditional ten-page research papers, newspaper articles, essays, poems, scripts, and plays. They write to create original gifts of scholarship which they give back to their communities.

I have the privilege of reading and publishing many of the essays that students write for their Heritage Projects. Their essays are thoughtful and thought-provoking, well-researched and well written. They present their papers in various public forums: at our statewide high school academic conference; at the Montana History Conference, sponsored by the Montana Historical Society; at the Montana Festival of the Book, sponsored by the Montana Center for the Book and the Montana Committee for the Humanities; and, of course, locally.

A few of the final products that have resulted from students’ research and writing include: several successful national register nominations, a $2.1 million performing arts center, many contributions to local archives, as well as hundreds of oral histories and publications.

The mastery displayed by students involved in the Heritage Project is sometimes astonishing. After a year of study, freshmen in Corvallis became the world’s foremost experts on the history of a forgotten gold-mining town. Students in Simms created a 3-D computer flyover of the Sun River Valley. Students in Ronan have published three books of veterans’ oral histories now available on Harlowton students were granted access to a local Hutterite community. They made such a good impression on the reserved residents that they were given permission to publish a book on Hutterite life. None of these things could have been accomplished without a thorough knowledge of the topic, great writing skills, and the technological ability to communicate their findings.

Usually, Heritage Project teachers and students stage some type of public event to present their gathered research to the community. Sometimes, these events are academic extravaganzas and in some communities, they’re as well attended as basketball games. While students sometimes view these events with trepidation, community members view them with anticipation. Community members know that students have been researching them, their history, and their stories so they show up to these events to celebrate the students’ achievement—and to make sure the details are correct. Students know the stakes and feel the pressure. Because they give their research to the community, they have to make sure their theses are sound and their research is thorough. The community is watching them and they know it.

Students want to do a good job on their projects, so they do. You can see it in their essays, in their public events, and in their eyes. Their faces show the pleasure of accomplishing something worthwhile. And they should be pleased. Many of us think they’ve reached a high standard.

Back to Heritage Education

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 11/22 at 04:19 PM
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©2005 Montana Heritage Project

Roundup Montana Study 2

These were Lindsey’s press releases about forums.  We have photos, but they didn’t paste:

Local Students Conduct Montana Study

Local community leaders met in the Musselshell Valley Historical Museum meeting room with Roundup High School students in the first of six community meetings Tuesday evening September 13.  The meetings are part of a Montana Study being conducted by students in conjunction with the Montana Heritage Project and are based on meetings held in Montana during the 1940s designed to improve life in small communities.

The discussion focused on the role and impact of government in Roundup, and the panel consisted of past and present community leaders: Senator Kelly Gebhardt, Representative Alan Olson, county commissioner Mike Kilby, mayor Bill Edwards, former mayor Almeda Moore, director of public works Pat Charlton, former director of public works Gary Thomas, and former member of the Montana Constitutional Convention Don Belcher.

Members of the group were quick to praise others, but modest about their own accomplishments.  According to Alan Olson, “What you might see as an accomplishment is often a work in progress.” Pat Charlton added, “You don’t do it for the accolades. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

While the theme of Tuesday’s meeting was Government, upcoming meetings will focus on Business September 26, Agriculture October 3, Religion October 10, Education October 17, and Medicine October 24.  A final presentation November 7 at the Roundup Community Library will provide a summary of the information gathered by the students from the six meetings.  Community members are welcome and are urged to attend.  Meetings begin promptly at 7pm and conclude by 9pm.  Questions should be directed to Roundup High School Heritage Project teachers Dale Alger, Tim Schaff, or Tom Thackeray.

Second Community Forum Discusses Business
By Lindsey Appell

The Mussselshell Valley Historical Museum basement was filled with students, as well as adult community members on Tuesday, September 27, as the second meeting of the Roundup Montana Study Group was called to order.  Present were five representatives of prominent local business.  They included Aynett Johnson (The Bloomin’ Shack and Chamber of Commerce President), Phyllis Adolph (Roundup Record Tribune), Gil Majerus (1st Security Bank), Dave Picchioni (IGA), and Pat Perrella (Mike’s GMC Truck).

After a brief introduction from Dale Alger for all newcomers to the Montana Study, the meeting launched right into discussion.  All of the representatives echoed a common theme that can be summarized as thus:  “Trade in Roundup First.” Many local businesses are losing to competition from franchises in Billings, such as Wal-Mart, and feel that they can serve the townspeople’s needs just as well, if they are given the chance. 

Trade was not the only thing discussed, however.  Youth and Roundup’s unity were also main topics of discussion.  Dave Picchioni stated a sentiment that was felt by most present:  “The community is growing apart.” There were many ideas suggested that could aid in this problem, many of them revolving around the community and school activities.

There was also much reminiscing and historical discussion, and our representatives proved themselves to be a wealth of information about Roundup’s past.  After all, if we cannot learn from the past, how can we expect to change the future?

Agriculture Forum
by Lindsey Appell

Agriculture was the focus of the third meeting of Roundup’s Montana Study, which was held on Tuesday, October 4.  Though few representatives were able to attend, many points were brought up, ranging from the government’s influence on the agricultural community 4-H, FFA, and other ways of getting the youth of Roundup involved further in agriculture.

Government regulations and acts such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act were discussed in depth by the representatives, who included Bob Goffena, John Pfister, Shirley Parrott, and Loren Appell.  Most of the representatives shared a common feeling that government restrictions are too strict and difficult to work with.  John Pfister strongly pushed for finding a happy medium in regard to these regulations.

Youth were once again an important part of Tuesday’s discussions.  Attendees discussed possibilities for increasing the interest in agriculture among youth.  Some felt that more agriculturally-oriented programs should be offered within the schools, and others thought that 4-H should be better promoted and encouraged, and an FFA program should be introduced to Musselshell County.

In the end, important topics were brought up and the question-and-answer session was a success, but the representative turnout was somewhat disappointing.  The more people who attend, the more successful the Montana Study will be, and we hope to see more representatives at future meetings.

Religion is Focus of Community Meeting
by Lindsey Appell

The turnout was excellent at the fourth meeting of the Montana Study, with five of the invited representatives present, and Dale Alger acting as a substitute for two others.  In attendance were ministers from many of Roundup’s prominent churches, and among them were Marvin Seiler of the Roundup Assembly of God, John Bennett of the First Southern Baptist Church, Tony Schuster of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, David Jones of the New Life Community Church, and John Iverson of the Emmanuel Baptist Church.  Dale Alger represented the First United Methodist Church in place of Carter and Myrna Havener.

Each of the representatives was asked his opinion on Roundup’s economic state, and two observations stood out above the rest.  David Jones described Roundup as being a “host city” with a come, get, and go economy, and Tony Schuster described our town as being a “bedroom community,” in which people live, but work elsewhere.  It was also mentioned that churches have an effect on the community by providing locations for weddings, funerals, and the like, which bring people to town.

All of the members of the Ministerial Association strongly believe that Roundup’s youth are its future.  However, they also recognize the lack of opportunities, career-wise and recreationally, in the town.  Some asked, “What can we do for you?” and others pointed out that oftentimes recreation is a matter of choice.  One minister even described putting the time and effort into setting up an event and having “three people show up, twenty-seven minutes late.” Most present thought that there was much we can do to improve out community recreationally and to provide more opportunities for the youth.

The religious leaders of our community are aware of the problems we face.  Even so, they remain optimistic and believe that Roundup’s future is a bright one.

Education is Focus of Roundup Montana Study Meeting
By Lindsey Appell

With thirteen of the invited representatives present, attendance alone made the fifth meeting of the Roundup Montana Study a success. The meeting focused on education, one of the largest employers in the community.  Forum participants included Kathy Pfister, Barb Crosby, Madeline Cooper, Margaret Lekse, Cathy Ray, Bill Milton, Anne Newell, Bill Schlepp, Chad Sealey, Kelly Haaland, Jim Schladweiler, Kim Kuzara, and Joe Ingalls.

Money is possibly the biggest problem facing Roundup’s education system. Over 50% of Roundup’s students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and many of the educators feel that a lot of money made in Roundup leaves the community and goes to Billings instead. Low enrollment causes problems as well as lower enrollment leads to less funding.

As a government institution, public education is naturally greatly influenced by the federal and state governments. Acts such as Title 9 and the No Child Left Behind act have made many changes in the school systems, both good and bad. With each new federal and state administration such changes are made, and the schools have to adapt.

The representatives believe that education has made some good forward steps, and not just through government support and funding, but through individual motivation as well. The curriculum is expanding in schools, and education is geared toward everyone at any level. Some time was also taken to honor the successes of past educators such as the late Dr. Jay Erdie.

The local economy was discussed too, and once again the feeling was expressed that many people are spending most of their time and money in Billings, turning Roundup into a bedroom community. Some teachers also pointed out that students with parents who have to commute to Billings every day face their own unique challenges. All agreed that something to stabilize the economy is greatly needed.

Despite the challenges we face, however, it seems that no one doubts that solutions can and will be found. Adaptation and searching within the community are essential to our survival and all present believe we are up to the challenge.

Medical Community Meets RHS Students
By Lindsey Appell

Seven representatives from Roundup’s medical community attended the sixth forum of the Montana Study, completing the series of forums with the exception of the final meeting and presentation to be held on Monday, November 7th.  The forum members in attendance were Marge Jorgenson, Karen Erdie, Theresa Wagner, Ken Kellum, Trish Christensen, Anne Wiggs, and Sherrie Tate.

Once again, one of the major themes of this meeting was the need to look for services in Roundup first, before heading to Billings. According to Ken Kellum, only 35 to 40 percent of Roundup’s medical needs are actually looked for in Roundup. The forum members were adamant in their belief that Roundup’s Emergency Room has the same capabilities as those in Billings, and that people often don’t realize all of the services offered by the local hospital. Many insisted that the people of Roundup need to take a long, hard look at what the hospital has to offer before taking their needs to Billings.

Government control and regulations were also topics of discussion, and the effects of Medicaid and Medicare were discussed at great length. “[The government] completely regulates what we charge,” stated Trish Christensen. Due to the fact that a high number of Roundup’s citizens rely on Medicare or Medicaid to aid them in paying for medical expenses, the government plays a key role in the medical community.

Roundup’s youth’s role in the future of this community was a topic of great concern to the medical representatives. All seemed to feel that the minds of today’s youth are needed to shape the future. They were impressed with the educational system, and the preparedness of the students in the fields of math and English. However, they would like to see more young people come back to Roundup after their higher education is completed, in order to aid in the development of Roundup. Despite this, there was a feeling of understanding present as well. Trish Christensen related to the youth, saying, “You’re not the first generation to want to get the heck out of here,” and most agreed that the community has to better identify the needs of its youth if it wants to keep them here.

Roundup’s medical community is all about perseverance and service to the community. When historical leaders of the medical field were discussed, many mentioned Dr. Harding as an example, simply because he worked so hard just to keep the hospital open. The medical workers are optimistic and working hard in that tradition, in the hopes of reaching that brighter future on the horizon.

Final Montana Study Meeting Held
by Lindsey Appell

The Montana Study finally came to a close Monday night with a student presentation and forum. In attendance were many representatives from previous meetings, as well as parents and classmates of the student forum members. The meeting began in much the same matter as the previous ones with a brief introduction for newcomers promptly followed by the start of the forum.

The forum gave to those in attendance what many of the representatives had asked for: student input. The student forum, consisting of juniors from Tim Schaff’s English III class and a sophomore from Thomas Thackeray’s Accelerated Honors English class, answered the same questions that were presented to the adult forums with passion and insight.

Education, naturally, was the central focus of the meeting, and the students felt that in-class discussion and hands-on projects are necessary for effective teaching and learning. They were not afraid to admit to boredom and frustration in school, but they also felt that things could be done to fix the problem and to make school more enjoyable.

Following the forum a Power Point created by Tessa Mosdal, Abby Newell, and Lindsey Appell was presented. The presentation reflected upon the many themes discussed throughout the study, and what we can learn from them. Photos and memories were presented in a slide show following the presentation.

The intention of the Montana Study is not to create an action committee, but rather to present ideas for improvement and to allow Roundup’s citizens a chance to reflect upon what they can do to make life better here. The purpose of the study was to remind ourselves that hope is still alive if we are willing to step up to the plate.

Posted by Thackeray on 11/16 at 05:19 PM
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©2005 Montana Heritage Project
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