Over the years at all different grade levels I happened to be teaching at the time, this type of service learning project has proven to be a good thing for the students and the community. We were doing “service learning projects” before that terminology had ever developed.
From pen pals to quilt making, photo exhibits, videos, books and a wide range of other things, each group of students has chosen the path they wanted to pursue by majority vote. This year’s project is the fifth book in the Mountain Mystery series. Mountain Mysteries V: In the Deep Dark Hills took two days of brainstorming and voting before the students settled on a title for their project.
As always, I was impressed with their long list of good choices and pleased with their final decision. The students chose to make this volume of Mountain Mysteries about coal mining and its history in Harlan County. To thoroughly cover the topic would take several volumes, but we will do the best we can in the amount of time we have to work on the project and get it in print.
At this point, the community is stepping up to participate in the project. We are gathering stories and photographs. I am issuing an invitation on the students’ behalf for stories and photos to be submitted. The students have expressed an interest in funny stories, ghost stories, or animal encounters in and around coal mining sites. We have a good amount already about the pony mines, truck mines, the early miner’s daily jobs, camp life, and the mechanization of the mining process. They are interested in the personal, the unusual, and the memorable that has yet to be told.
This type of work places a great deal more work on me. I still have to teach our traditional lessons, grade papers, keep up with computer generated reports, attendance, lesson plans, and so on. On top of that I have to do the layout and typing of the manuscript. It is a lot to add on to an already full plate. However, I am completely persuaded that my extra work is worth it in the payoff of student learning, development of decision making and leadership skills, and service to the community.
I love it when cross generational learning takes place. Students are often amazed at the history of their own family and the wisdom and knowledge possessed by parents, grandparents, other family members, community members, and friends. To have one generation passing on information to the other in a real world learning opportunity is solid gold, in my opinion. Other cultures around the world seem to still value the wisdom of their elders more than our nation. As the American culture has become more dominantly influenced by Hollywood and a variety of media formats, our younger generations have come to value the wisdom of the elders less and less.
I won’t always be teaching, but I hope the students who have passed through my classroom over the years have become lifelong learners. I hope they remember the feeling of success when they tackle something working cooperatively and see a successful outcome. I hope they learn to believe that they can do amazing things and that their work can make a difference.
I often think that the children who are working on a project are enjoying the learning experience, but I’m never sure that they fully realize how important their work is individually and as part of the whole. One of the things I hear from students who are adults now, who had a similar learning project in my classroom, is that it did make a difference to them. As adults they can realize that they were part of something pretty incredible.
As a personal motivator, my first story was printed in King Arthur’s Court, a page in the Chicago Height Star, dedicated to children’s writing, when I was in third grade. I wrote a paragraph as a class assignment about my favorite Christmas gift, a toy sewing machine. There was something magical about seeing the words I had written in print and seeing my own byline.
I definitely realize that not everyone is cut out to be a writer. However, I also realize that seeing your own words in print along with your name in print does something to your sense of selfworth. It unlocks something inside of you that says the world is full of “possibilities.”
I believe in this process so strongly, of the learning that takes place that would not take place other than in a real world setting, and the important aspect of preserving local history from real people, that I often set my own writing projects aside. I am persuaded that this gift of learning that I share with the students and the community is important to all of us on different levels. Through the 11 book projects students have completed, we have preserved 2,000 plus pages of photographs, artwork, oral histories and stories that may have gone untold and lost forever without this type of work.
If you’ve ever thought that you would have liked to share a story or a photograph for one of our projects and just didn’t get around to it, the opportunity is still before you this year. Any sixth grader attending Wallins Elementary School can see to it that your story is submitted.
We will accept stories on tape recorder, typed, email, etc. Photographs can be submitted also.
If you have questions or submissions, you may contact me at Wallins Elementary School, sixth grade book project, P.O. Box 10, Wallins Creek, Ky. 40873, or call the school and leave a message for me to return the call. Even if I teach another five years, I suspect this will be my last student book project. I hope the community will step up and help make this the best one ever.