They say everybody has a story. Research an entire community, and you’re bound to harvest a bushel basket of unforgettable tales. That’s the lesson all 215 students at Hardwick Elementary School learned recently.
In February, as part of our CLiF Year of the Book program, we sent Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, an inspiring and award-winning Vermont children’s book author, to spend six days teaching students how to research, capture, and write stories about a relative or other community member. Natalie believes strongly that the way to get children excited about history and writing is to make it personal and relevant, which is central to her Storykeepers program.
During her time at Hardwick Elementary School, Natalie helped the children learn how to conduct genealogical research, interview people, write stories, search records at the town clerk’s office, understand the different type of old photos, and generally serve as story detectives. On the final evening of her program the school hosted a community-wide celebration of the wonderful stories that were uncovered.
Each classroom was transformed into a small museum, and students stood proudly beside their research projects, answering questions and explaining artifacts. Despite snowy weather, more than 400 adults and children attended the event, with a steady stream of community and family members flowing through the classrooms to learn about a great-grandfather, an aunt, or a neighbor. This program is a great way to connect a community through literacy.
So what stories did the students uncover? A man who walked 900 miles to Paris to improve his circumstances. A young mother with polio who gave birth in an iron lung. Someone who traded a fawn for a car. A tooth fairy with cold feet. A hobo who jumped trains ’searching for life’. A merchant who bought a clipper ship and traded wool. An aerial gunner in World War II with 60 missions. A girl who married at 15. A family who had their house burn down, and then their barn, but never gave up.
One student said he loved discovering “all the cool and funny stories I learned about my great grandpa.” The tales are funny, tragic, and heartwarming. You can see a sampling of them in the gallery below. They are tales of days gone by, but by writing them down, children have succeeded in bringing them back to life.
When Natalie completed her six days of workshops, a Hardwick teacher commented: “It was really amazing hearing that students were going home after school to talk to family members and work on their project. Once they got started they seemed to really enjoy learning about their family member and getting the chance to talk to them and ask them questions about their experiences growing up. During the event I saw a student present his project to his grandmother and she started crying. It was a very sweet moment to witness.”
Another teacher summed up the experience in Hardwick by saying: “Natalie is truly inspiring and has lit a light that will shine forever.”