Earlier this year, the fifth graders at Rick Marcotte Central School (RMCS) worked diligently on a nonfiction unit researching the history of their own school. The result of their research were hardcover books, presented to the public in June, containing an in-depth and fascinating compilation of their school’s history. The books’ Table of Contents list such topics as principals, academics, enrollment, stories, RMCS today, and traditions. Many students highlighted interesting anecdotes they had learned including former principal Mary Rutherford reading to students from the rooftop of the school after the students met a goal of reading 300,000 pages during an “I Love to Read” month and Principal Joe O’Brien having a pet cockroach.
The students’ research included reading many primary sources (retro annual reports, newspaper articles, and old yearbooks), studying maps, creating timelines, and interviewing many former principals and teachers as well as school board and community members.
Some of the books displayed bar graphs comparing teacher salaries from the late 1800’s to those of teachers today and some proudly displayed photos of early renditions of elementary schools in South Burlington. For example, few are familiar with the Plains School, which, according to sources, was a new school built in 1896, and later in 1900 referred to as the Plains School. From what was discovered, it was the earliest version of the current RMCS.
In addition, some students showed off pages of opinions they gathered about whether RMCS should be demolished as the City Center is created.
Fifth-grade teacher Annick Cooper designed and implemented the school history unit. “A parent, John Thomas, approached me at an open house in the fall to share with me a story of Central being used for community meetings back in the 1940’s,” Cooper explained. “Our conversation continued to the topic of RMCS potentially being torn down without anyone knowing its true history. As I reflected on our conversation, I began to wonder about the many stories to be told about our school and how I could get our fifth-grade students involved in researching our past.”
Cooper met with Thomas to gather ideas about resources and how to embark on the project. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We sent e-mails and posted fliers to invite community members for interviews and to create excitement for this project. Students were involved in the entire process, from creating the interview questions, meeting with many past alumni and principals, reading primary sources, and scanning many pictures that would move their research forward,” says Cooper.
According to Cooper, literacy consultant Nancy Tavares played a large role in the project as she searched the archives at the town offices to find relevant documents. Tavares became so engrossed in the information that her enthusiasm led her to create her own book. Tavares notes, “History is so important. While researching for this project, it felt as if the people of that era were speaking to us, letting us in on their hardships and joys. Witnessing the changes to RMCS over time in this way helped each of us understand the fascinating progression of how our school evolved.”
RMCS fifth graders say they learned a great deal compiling their school’s history. Lily Henkes noted, “The project was really hard, but at the end it was really satisfying and felt like you accomplished something.” Evan Knoth stated, “I was skeptical of it (the project) at the beginning. I wasn’t sure what to do with all the information, how it would fill a book. At the end of the project all the little pieces put together made something big worth reading.”
Cooper agrees with her students’ sentiments, adding, “This has been an amazing experience for all involved in this project, and most importantly, the many stories of the old Plain School, aka RMCS, will live on in these students forever!”
SOURCE: Bobbe Pennington