Student-Produced Documentary Projects
Diaries Project: Chief Sealth High School
Historia de Familias (Family Celebrations): Jack Straw Productions
An Oily Sky: Skykomish High School
Voices Project: Jack Straw Productions
Community Based Projects
Looking into Courtland Place
Hearing Time: A History (very brief) of Wallingford: Jack Straw Productions
Hidden Stream of Columbia City
Honoring our Ancestors
Monroe High School Oral History
Most Dangerous Women Readers Theater
Skwadatchi Ah Kwi Ahsiltalbish – Coast Salish Culture and Art
100 Years of Olympic View: Jack Straw Production
Student-Produced Documentary Projects
Many inspired teachers encourage their students to go beyond regular classroom activities -- to “step outside the box.” These projects usually target a specific group of students -- from those with specific interests and skills to those with special needs. With carefully designed and structured project plans, amazing historically motivated research projects have been produced by students in classrooms across the state of Washington.
One approach to research projects is a video or audio documentary. Producing documentaries is not a project that every classroom teacher can undertake. In most cases, these types of projects require an additional budget and specific personnel. However, it is possible to use the projects that have been produced to introduce students to unique local neighborhoods, personalities, and special events. Carefully directed discussions and activities will encourage students to analyze the information presented in the documentary and to interpret how their neighborhoods have changed and continue to change throughout the years.
Whether creating a documentary in the classroom, or watching an existing video, classroom discussions and activities can be structured to fulfill Washington state standards, EALRS and CBAs.
4Culture’s Heritage Cultural Education program has provided support funding in several separate projects that engaged high school students in designing, organizing, and producing video or audio documentaries. These projects include research, site-visits, interviews, organizational and record-keeping skills, and basic video camera techniques and production.
The Diaries Project: Chief Sealth High School
The Diaries project, a series of living history documentaries produced by students of Chief Sealth High School’s Events Marketing and Video Production class, began as a single class project to chronicle the High Point neighborhood that borders Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle. Beginning with The Diaries of High Point in 2001, students in this class have produced twelve video documentary’s featuring the distinctive history and cultures of neighborhoods and communities in King, Kitsap and Douglas counties. The intent of the ongoing Diaries Project is to capture the stories and memories that weave a community together. The voices of the community elders who are interviewed lend authenticity and originality to this history project and are an important legacy for the heritage community.
The program of study for the Events Marketing and Video Production class is a very unique learning experience developed for inner-city high school students. It guides and challenges the students to plan one large event of their choosing per year. Led by veteran teacher Gary Thomsen, the students begin at “square one” by writing necessary grants or sponsorship proposals for their identified project. The next steps include conducting research, designing logos, developing marketing plans, creating budgets, writing business letters and press releases, creating and producing websites, and producing the event. In doing so, the students learn real-world skills and earn real-world income. The Diaries of High Point was selected as the first Video Production class project in 2001, and the students set out to record the drastically changing High Point area of West Seattle by investigating and documenting its historical and cultural significance. They created a powerful film that not only improved the relationship between the neighborhood and the school, but also earned two Youth Emmy Awards.
Two of the Diaries projects were developed with the assistance of Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association to enable students to learn about local communities through research and oral history interviews. Students worked with the community to identify people to interview, wrote the interview questions and conducted the interviews. Students also videotaped and edited interviews and conducted research to collect photos, maps, and other materials about many of West Seattle’s neighborhoods. Each of the final products includes a 30- 60 minute film that interprets the individual neighborhood, a multi-media presentation, and a photographic and historical exhibit showcased in public presentations in the community. The final reports for each project contain summaries, project timelines, and “in-kind” recording forms. 4Culture Heritage Cultural Education program provided partial funding for The Diaries of White Center and Diaries of Delridge. Another funding source for the Diaries projects is the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Matching Fund.
Integrated Approach to Curriculum
The following document, prepared by teacher Gary Thomsen, is a sample of the integrated approach to curriculum that was a uniform component of all Diaries projects’ final reporting. This document was a part of the Final Report to 4Culture Heritage Cultural Education for the Diaries of White Center. All project materials, including grant applications and final reports are available for review in the 4Culture Heritage Resource Library. For appointment: contact Heritage 4Culture Program at 206-296-7580
The Diaries projects can be easily integrated into the curricula of Social Studies/History, Language Arts, Art, or even, Earth Sciences.
By using the video as a tool, Social Studies teachers can extrapolate and expand on the social/ethnic changes that have occurred in the community. These changes can be tied in to the evolution of economies that have, in themselves, changed over the years. Teachers can also look at the contributing factors that spawned various ethnic immigration patterns, and why those immigrants chose the White Center area, for example, as a place to settle.
Language Arts teachers can certainly tie in a variety of literature components to the documentary. With over 25 ethnicities in the greater White Center community, it would be easy to have students read a book or article from a variety of ethnic groups residing in White Center. LA teachers could also assign writing assignment around the project. It is always interesting to have students write a paper on what their community means to them. For a teacher interested in doing a more in-depth research project, students could design and write project overviews, research and compose interview questions as well as learning to write cover letters. Certainly, in this example, a wide range of verbal communication skills come in to play as well.
For an art teacher, researching the art of various community cultures is always interesting. Allowing students to photograph or draw what their community means to them is a very worthwhile endeavor, especially to students who have poor English language skills.
Earth Science students can study a wide variety of ecological characteristics of their community. In White Center, this manifests itself easily in studies of Lake Hicks. In general, students can look at the impact of growth, vis a vis, new housing, more traffic, or less open space on their community. For more of a classroom assignment, students can research the geological history of the areas, documenting these changes every decade or every century.
Additional Curriculum-Related Project Information
The following information was reported in Final Project report for 4Culture Heritage Cultural Education program dated 10/15/05, prepared by teacher Gary Thomsen.
Goals and Objectives of the Diaries of White Center Project:
To provide a comprehensive, historical look at the development of White Center.
To create an intergenerational learning opportunity for West Seattle/White Center area students.
To allow students and community members the opportunity to explore the cultural and ethnic diversity of the neighborhood through active and collaborative participation in the project.
Most Significant Accomplishments of the Diaries Project:
Saving a piece of neighborhood history.
Establishing positive relationships between students and community members.
Enabling students to get hands-on experience with community building while giving them exposure to how community activism works.
Allowing students the opportunity to use what they have learned in the classroom on a real world project.
How Did the Diaries Project Reflect EALRs?
The Diaries project incorporates numerous EALRs during its production, as well as allowing for cross curriculum areas of study in other programs within the school. In addition to helping students learn, practice, and apply project-based skills, the project trains students to cope with complexity and ambiguity in daily life. A partial list of life experiences achieved through immersion in project-based curricula includes:
Self-discipline and good work habits.
Self-awareness and self-responsibility.
Analytical and synthetic thinking.
Understanding the relationship of effort to achievement.
Active hands-on experiences.
Problem solving skills.
Development of written and verbal communication skills.
Time management skills.
Learning how to work in groups.
Acquisition of current job skills.
Historia de Familias (Family Celebrations): In 2001, under the direction of their teachers and Jack Straw Productions staff, Kimball Elementary School third-graders were involved in an intergenerational project for bilingual (Spanish/English) students. As a unifying topic, students were asked to describe a special holiday food and why it was important to their family and its culture. Their stories and those of other family members were recorded and then enhanced with unique sound effects in the Jack Straw Productions sound lab. The project wrapped up with a community potluck at Kimball School. Parents and students brought the special holiday food they talked about in their stories and listened to the class recordings during the feast. Each student received a CD of their classmates’ multicultural stories. Children in this project were empowered when they were asked to share unique family and cultural traditions.
This project enabled Jack Straw to initiate school programs that take place after regular school hours and could include working parents. It also provided an educational and technological prototype by which to highlight the diverse ethnic groups within King County schools and to include students of all abilities. You can learn more about Historia de Familias and hear samples of this project’s audio files at http://www.jackstraw.org/programs/ed/youth/JSP_Kimball/index.htm. Transcripts of each story are also available in both Spanish and English. This project was funded in part by the 4Culture Heritage Cultural Education program.
About Jack Straw Productions
An Oily Sky: Skykomish High School
Under Sky, In Our Backyard: Skykomish High School
The information describing this project (including the following Sample Video Release Form) was obtained from the Skykomish Historical Society website: and from the 4Culture Grant application (3-5-01)and Final Report (5-02). For more information about this project, review the Project Notebook in the 4Culture Heritage resources Library by contacting 4Culture at (206) 296-7580.
Under the direction of local high school teacher Don Emerson, Skykomish High School Speech and Communications class planned, researched, and produced An Oily Sky, a mini-documentary that narrated an impending environmental crisis in their town. For over a century, oil and heavy metals had been released into the surface soils and groundwater near where the Great Northwest Railway ran through the Skykomish. This underground leak was created when a Great Northern railroad underground fuel tank rusted and the oil leaked into the ground. The oil was seeping into the Skykomish River. The result was an underground lake of oil located underneath the town which unless aggressively cleaned, would soon significantly affect the lives of residents and visitors. In 2000, with funding from the King County Solid Waste Division’s RecycleArtist Program, Don Emerson's students worked with the 911 Media Arts Center to produce An Oily Sky, and chronicle the clean-up.
An Oily Sky was screened at the Equinox Film Festival in Leavenworth, receiving rave reviews from the professional filmmakers in attendance. In August 2002, the film won an award at the Northwest Film Center at their 24th Annual Young People's Film and Video Festival, competing against 178 videos. In addition, the students were named as King County’s Earth Heroes for October 2002 by King County Executive Ron Sims. "Students in Mr. Emerson's class worked with incredible vigor and vision to produce an outstanding documentary on the environmental situation in the Town Skykomish," said Sims. "This serves as a model for outstanding environmental activism among our youth in King County." An Oily Sky also received the President’s Environmental Award and students and staff traveled to Washington DC to receive the award from George W. Bush personally. For more information, visit
To obtain a copy of the Oily Sky project, contact the Skykomish Historical Society.
Recently, Skykomish High School students stepped up once again to document the continuing oil clean-up project in their town, naming this film Under Sky, In Our Backyard. This time it was King County’s Heritage 4Culture Cultural Education Program that supplied the needed funds for the project. Teacher Michael Moore headed up the project for Skykomish School working with Skykomish Historical Society. Professional filmmakers Malory Graham of Reel Grrls and Michael Cross of Cross Films guided and assisted the student filmmakers in recording the impact of the oil-spill clean-up on their community. Clips from the video can be found at
Copies of the video are available through Skykomish Historical Society.
Between the two environmental projects, a similar collaboration significantly funded by 4Culture produced the video History of Skykomish that also received several local video awards.
Skykomish Film Project Classes
The films were projects of the Speech/Communications classes and the Film/ Communications classes at Skykomish High School with support and funding from Skykomish Historical Society and 4Culture (formerly King County Office of Cultural Resources.) The goal of the film classes was to enhance students’ understanding of production processes and techniques and to gain an appreciation of the “attention to detail” that must be used in producing a quality film. Students in the Communication class conducted historical research and oral history interviews that were relevant to the history of the Skykomish community. In both classes through this project, students developed skills that employers value such as teamwork, punctuality, meeting deadlines, honesty, and responsibility.
Specific benchmarks and EALRs that were met included:
Communications: 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.5, 3.2, 3.3, 4.2, 4.4
Writing: 1.2, 2.2, 2.3, 3.3, 3.5
Reading: 3.1, 3.2, 4.2
Components of the Skykomish Film Projects:
Development Project Goals, Timeline, and Budget
Identification and Obtaining Necessary Funding
Establishment of Project Team
Establishment of Professional Etiquette and Release Forms (see following)
Create Storyboard for Film
Identification of Historical Photos and Location Sites
Identification and Interviews of Appropriate persons and Narrators
Film, Edit, and Re-Edit
Plan School and Community Project Presentations and Publicity
For more information:
Sample Professional Video Release (PDF)
Getting Started on a Documentary Project (PDF)
Voices Project: From 1999 through 2003, Jack Straw Productions produced a series of four individual community history projects in cooperation with selected King County elementary schools. Students from the Seattle School District’s Brighton, Bryant, Greenwood, and Olympic View Elementary Schools participated in activities such as exploring school and community history, conducting research and oral history interviews, and recording and editing audio interviews with digital equipment. Final projects included a range of outcomes from radio plays to mural projects. Each individual program was structured with a teacher training workshop and enhanced with guest speakers. This project was funded in part by the 4Culture Heritage Cultural Education Program.
About Jack Straw Productions
The communities that surround individual schools can provide important connections to curriculum projects that are meaningful to students. Many unique and successful school projects explore the history of the neighborhoods that are common to students’ homes, schools, or businesses.
One organization that has taken advantage of this concept is the Rainier Valley Historical Society. This group serves the Rainier Valley, a distinctive neighborhood originally founded by immigrant families. Now home to many new businesses and homeowners, the combination of old and new provides matchless diversity and promises that the area’s history will continue to evolve.
Several impressive heritage education projects have been conducted through this small historical society in partnership with local schools. For example, as part of their local history curriculum, the 2nd grade classes in the New School watched a slide presentation presented by the Rainier Valley Historical Society. After the presentation, four young boys from one of the classes designed and created a quilt depicting significant events in Rainier Beach history. They created the artwork, transferred the design, and helped with the sewing. This project was called the Rainier Beach History Quilt and was on display at local pubic libraries, museums, and cultural centers.
Another example of Rainier Valley Historical Society’s motivating heritage-related programming that involves neighborhood elementary students is the Whitworth School Project.
When Orca Elementary students were moved from the Columbia Building to Whitworth School in 2007, many felt that learning about their new school’s history would help them feel more connected. Rainier Valley Historical Society’s Director Mikala Woodward led an elective class for 4-6th graders that explored the history of the school by exploring primary and secondary sources provided by the historical society. The students created a slide show that revealed their research and featured their findings paired with historical photographs and documents. For more information about the Rainier Beach History Quilt Project and the Whitworth History Slide Show Project, visit
Additional projects pairing the Rainier Valley Historical Society and local elementary students include The Courtland Place and Hidden Stream of the Columbia Projects. Both of these projects uncovered history in unusual and creative ways and are featured in this Inspiring Projects section.
Oral History Project On Air Radio Show: Monroe High School in Collaboration with Women’s Legacy Project of Snohomish County
When Monroe High School teacher Jill Siano was contacted by the Women’s Legacy Project of Snohomish County to participate in its oral history project, she was thrilled that her 9th grade English/Social Studies Honors Class would have the opportunity to learn about the contributions that local women have made to family and community.
The Women’s Legacy Project (WLP) was formed to honor the women of Snohomish County and recognized that each individual had a unique story to tell. The WLP outlined goals to discover, preserve, and share these personal histories through exhibits, online publications, group presentations, and public service announcements. Special care was taken to recognize how local women adapted to the forces of change over the past 100 years and remained vigilant as stewards of the diverse cultures in society and government. Because their contributions continue to serve as a foundation for a better future, WLP members felt it was key to create an educational element of the project to encourage local youth to take an active role in discovering and celebrating women’s role in Snohomish County history.
The pilot program for Siano’s class was developed by Chris Bee, mother of one of the students, who had prior experience in interpreting history as a museum docent and tour guide. The class project included the following components:
- each student selected an older female relative who was willing to share stories for the project;
- each student participated in an “interview techniques” mini-class to gain knowledge and tools necessary to conduct a well-organized and thoughtful oral-history interview;
- each student identified interesting and/or historically significant portions of the interview and condensed them into a 90-second reading; and
- each student recorded his or her narrative on the local National Public Radio affiliate, KSER 90.7 FM.
A volunteer team made up of family members, heritage education specialists, and local community members and businesspersons all shared time and expertise to make this project successful. Everett Library NW Room history experts David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle visited the class and spoke about the importance of history, resources available for local research, and the basics of conducting an oral interview. Teri Baker, newspaper columnist for the Third Age Newspaper (now Senior Focus), shared techniques for conducting a good interview, planning appropriate questions, and writing a radio spot. KSER Public Affairs Director Ed Bremer worked with Siano’s class to produce professional radio spots using the interview excerpts that each student had prepared.
Feedback gathered from student participants demonstrates that they learned not only usable skills from the WLP class project but gained fascinating insight into the lives of the older generation of women in their families. Comments from adult participants in the project recognize the value of this type of collaborative project -- one that involves students with community, family, and history.
“I learned so much about my grandma… In the past I had never really bothered to think about where she came from and what she did when she was younger. Now I’m eager for more stories.” --Delaney Davis, student
“I learned a lot about my grandma and some interviewing skills that I can use later, like when I’m being interviewed for a job.” --Julian Trujillo, student
“She was my own grandmother and there were tons of things I didn’t know about her, like how she was poor and people thought they were gypsies … . I can save the tape for years until I’m old.” --Bryan Sonneveldt, student
“I was impressed with how well prepared the students were … . They had the material, knew the material and came in and recorded their radio spots with few problems.” --KSER Public Affairs Director Ed Bremer.
“It is important that WLP be part of the curriculum because it tells a history that is rarely told … Students identify with it because it is about real people, especially about the people who spend their lives caring for others. It provides us with examples of lives that ground us in a sense of place, a sense of community and a sense of purpose … . The stories already collected give students, and really all of us, examples that are reachable ... ones that are not sensationalized .. .ones that are grounded … . If students get ‘hooked’ by the stories of these people in their own community, possibly people related to people they know, they see that their own life has meaning.” --Kayleen Pritchard, Educational Consultant
Here we have provided the original articles about this project:
Most Dangerous Women Reader’s Theater: Seattle Girls School
During the 2007-2008 school year, Seattle Girl’s School teacher Wendy Ewbanks designed a unique research project for her young students -- one that would examine controversial issues of the twentieth century. Using Jan Maher’s Most Dangerous Women: Bringing History to Life through Reader’s Theater (http://www.heinemann.com/products/E00910.aspx)as a foundation, relevantmusic, poetry, and visual and sound bites of journalists were introduced as unconventional historical primary resources.
After several months of immersing themselves in the lives of women who were influential in the social movement of this century, the students were fascinated and empowered by their research and wanted to share their results publicly with family, friends, and classmates. Ewbanks arranged for them to work with Maher to produce a Reader’s Theater performance using their own findings. Maher, co-author of the nationally-renowned play about the women of the international women’s peace movement (Most Dangerous Women), was teaching at Antioch University at that time. The students also worked with Rebel Voices (http://www.rebelvoices.com) to sing anti-war ballads as part of the performance.
The student ensemble gave an abbreviated version of the Reader’s Theater to more than 150 people at MOHAI during Women’s History Month in March 2007. This project earned the 2008 Association of King County Historical Organization’s annual Youth Award.
The true impact of this project can be seen through these testimonials about the Most Dangerous Women project.
Skwadatchi Ah KwiAhsiltalbish -- Coast Salish Culture and Art: This project partnered five schools in the Kent School District with Native artist and storyteller Roger Fernandes to study Coast Salish culture and arts. Classroom activities for Art and Social Studies classes were based on accurate interpretation of traditional Salish stories, language, arts, and design. The curriculum examined the beliefs and values that shape the culture of the indigenous tribes of the Puget Sound region and allowed students to see Native peoples as distinct societies in a complex nation. The Kent School District had an Indian Education Program that worked with Native American students enrolled in the district and their families at the time of this project in 2000-2001. This program also had a parent advisory committee that provided input to the development of the project’s objectives. A connection to the nearby Muckleshoot Reservation was emphasized in the project plan. This project was funded in part by funding from the 4Culture HCE program. Pdfs of selected curriculum handouts can be downloaded here.
About Roger Fernandes
Native American Calendar Activity
Native American Story
Native American Storytelling Activity
100 Years of Olympic View: In 2002, the Olympic View Elementary School community celebrated the school’s 100th anniversary. For the celebration, two fifth-grade classes conducted a comprehensive, multi-media project exploring the history of their school, its community, and its neighborhood. The students' projects included two oral-history-based projects: Olympic View's Place in U.S. History, incorporating facts and anecdotes tracing the history of cultural shifts within the community; and Voices of Olympic View, original radio plays based on stories taken from oral history interviews conducted by the students with community members.
Local historian and co-founder of HistoryLink.org Walt Crowley visited the classes and personally related the history of their neighborhood and school to the students. The students then learned interview techniques to prepare for their oral history interviews with Olympic View alumni and other community members. Once the students developed their questions and practiced interviewing techniques, they interviewed community members who had volunteered their time.
While studying their school and its history, the students realized that Olympic View did not have a symbol or mascot. So they designed a school flag which featured important qualities such as compassion, integrity, and following the rules (even when no one is looking).This project was funded in part by the 4Culture Heritage Cultural Education Program. For more information as well as a selection of the audio files from these projects, visit http://www.jackstraw.org/programs/ed/youth/OV/OV_index.
About Jack Straw Productions
Looking into Courtland Place: John Muir Elementary School, Rainier Valley Historical Society, Burke Museum, and artist Don Fels
Courtland Place is a small neighborhood in the Rainier Valley of Seattle. For decades, it had dirt streets; its gullies and ravine had been filled in with debris from construction projects and garbage dumps. In recent years, the community has revitalized and initiated several neighborhood improvements projects. Looking into Courtland Place began as one of these projects but evolved into something much more.
Artist Don Fels was involved in an art project to design a sculptural hill climb in the Courtland Place neighborhood that would tell the history of the area. In the process of developing his art project, several historical artifacts were discovered at the site of his sculptural hill climb. He realized that this would provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the local John Muir Elementary School students to participate in an “urban archaeology dig.” Joining forces with the Burke Museum for professional archaeology expertise and guidance, and with the local Rainier Valley Historical Society, the project plan for Looking into Courtland Place was developed. Funding for the project was supplied by King County’s 4Culture Heritage Education Program; community participation was solicited and encouraged.
Fels and Mikala Woodward, Director of the Rainier Valley Historical Society, teamed up to teach students about the importance of community history, to provide direction on how to research appropriate primary sources, and to organize and guide students through the process of identifying and interviewing local oral history storytellers. The Burke Museum archaeologists led the 4th and 5th graders through the specialized procedures of an actual archaeological dig, which included analyzing the artifacts by using professional techniques. Finally, the students prepared an exhibition that featured all of their findings, which was displayed at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center and the Museum of History & Industry.
Upon completion of the project, Don Fels wrote,“While the John Muir students were extremely fortunate in having the Burke Museum archaeologists structure an actual dig with them, this is clearly not the norm for school activities. Therefore the guide does not assume that other classrooms will be doing a dig. However, the exhibition is set up to show how the dig was carried out and what it unearthed, so that children can appreciate the role of archaeology in understanding even fairly recent history. Planning for the dig took many months, involved several institutions, and required the writing of several grants. There are simpler ways for children to investigate the past where they live and go to school. The purpose of the exhibition and this guide is to create interest in doing community history and suggest ways to get started in its exploration.”
Looking into Courtland Place: Teachers Guide is included in the next pages. For more information, visit the Rainier Valley Historical Society’s website at http://www.rainiervalleyhistory.org/projects/project-library/pastprojects/columbia-mill. Grant application and Final reporting for this project can be reviewed at the 4Culture Heritage Resource Library (schedule an appointment by calling 206-296-7850.)
Looking into Courtland Place (PDF)
Hearing Time: A History (very brief) of Wallingford: This project was a collaborative effort between Seattle Public School’s Hamilton International Middle School and Jack Straw Productions. Under the direction and supervision of Jack Straw Productions staff and other professional artists and technicians, eighth-grade students participated in community history research, oral history interviews, and recording stories and historical narratives. Using professional up-to-date digital recording equipment, the students created an audio walking tour of the neighborhood in which their school is located. This project was funded in part by the 4Culture Heritage Cultural Education Program. This walking tour is available at http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/hamilton/wallingford./
About Jack Straw Productions
Honoring Our Ancestors: This project, which was funded by 4Culture’s Heritage Cultural Education Program, was carried out through an educational partnership between Native artist Roger Fernandes and Seattle’s Pathfinder School. Over two consecutive school years, Fernandes shared the culture of the Duwamish Tribe with staff and students by means of storytelling, songs, and an examination of art styles of local tribes. Through interactive activities, Fernandes helped the school develop a lasting relationship with the tribal organization. Planning sessions with staff and tribal leaders were conducted to outline the goals of the project and curriculum. Presentations were made at all-school assemblies and individual classrooms and included the history of the Duwamish Tribe, stories and legends, Coast Salish art, and current issues faced by the tribe. Special speakers such as noted Lushootseed linguist Vi Hilbert participated in the program. The project culminated with an end-of-the-year celebration that honored the Duwamish people. A cedar mural which interpreted a significant Duwamish myth and was created by the students during this project was unveiled, dedicated, and presented to the school. Pdfs of selected curriculum handouts can be downloaded here.
About Roger Fernandes
Native American Calendar Activity
Native American Story
Native American Storytelling Activity
Hidden Stream of Columbia City: Orca Elementary School and Rainier Valley Historical Society
The "Hidden Stream of Columbia City" won the 2006 Heritage Education Award from the Association of King County Heritage Organizations. (This article is courtesy of Rainier Valley Historical Society. For more about the historical society, including additional innovative heritage education projects, visit http://www.rainiervalleyhistory.org.
In the spring of 2005, a group of fourth and fifth graders at Orca @ Columbia School researched the history of the stream that used to run through Columbia City, and shared their findings with the community.
The project began with rumors of a creek that used to run through Columbia City. Students in Ms. Katherine Law's class at Orca School were curious: Where was the stream, exactly? What did it look like? Where did it go? With the help of RVHS Director Mikala Woodward, they set out to find some answers.
First they analyzed historic maps of Columbia City from the RVHS Collection and the Washington State University Library’s digital collection. The maps were incomplete and confusing: the street names had changed; the shoreline of Lake Washington had moved; Rainier Avenue had been realigned. Only one map even showed the historic stream. But the class worked out a way to transfer information from the old maps to the current map, using the few landmarks that had not changed. Eventually they were able to locate the path of the original stream, learning about cartographic concepts such as orientation and scale along the way.
The class then took a walk through the neighborhood looking for physical evidence of the stream, following its path from Hitt’s Hill, across the schoolyard, through Columbia Park, and on toward Lake Washington. They identified some low-lying, swampy areas, some areas that had clearly been filled in, and several storm drains that seemed to follow the path of the stream.
Ms. Woodward then brought in letters and documents from the Seattle City Archives relating to the fate of the stream in Columbia Park. These documents were difficult to make sense of – difficult to even read, at times, with their spidery handwriting – but the students pulled out important pieces of information from each document. They put all the facts they had gleaned on a big timeline, and a story began to emerge about the history of Columbia Park and the stream.
Finally, the students made their work public. They invited Kim Baldwin, a landscape architect from the Seattle Parks Department, to come to their class to discuss ways to commemorate the stream in Columbia Park. They created a temporary installation of blue irrigation flags in the grass through Columbia Park, and a display and illustrated handout to explain the flags. The installation was up on a Wednesday, during the Columbia City Farmers Market, which is adjacent to the park. Hundreds of people saw it up close, and thousands more saw it from Rainier Avenue as they drove by.
Due in part to the efforts of this class, the Seattle Parks Department incorporated the path of the historic stream into a Pro Parks improvement project for Columbia Park. A “sinuous concrete path” now meanders through the park, with a plaque at each end explaining that the path follows the course of the historic stream. Softly glowing solar-powered blue tiles are imbedded in the path, making the stream visible at night too.
This project taught the students a lot about their hidden stream. But more importantly, they learned that history is, in part, a creative art. History isn’t just a series of objective facts out there, waiting to be uncovered. Historians have to put together coherent stories based on incomplete and conflicting information, using imagination and guesswork. The students also learned that sharing those stories with the rest of the community is an important part of the process. Their work will have a lasting impact on the neighborhood. The commemoration of the stream in Columbia Park will educate Columbia City neighbors for years to come, giving them a glimpse of the landscape of the past.