The Ozarks region is rich in history, lore and legend. The exploration of these stories is the perfect vehicle for a wide variety of place-based learning activities. Two Missouri teachers understood this intuitively, and their creativity and hard work made this opportunity a reality for their high school students.
The Ozarks' Film Festival, a partnership between Missouri's Ava and Mountain Grove High Schools, provided a wonderful forum for students to learn about their region's rich culture and garner first-hand experiences in documentary filmmaking. Facilitated by the husband-wife teaching duo of Zak and Rachel Hamby, students were guided by a research protocol and encouraged to examine any number of historical topics. Zak and Rachel, high school teachers in Ava and Mountain Grove respectively, submitted an application to the Rural School Collaborative for funding from its Grants in Place program. The Hambys, along with more than 30 other rural teachers from seven states, received funding to support their project as part of the inaugural 2015-16 Grants in Place effort.
"This project deepens the students' understanding about the area in which they live," said Rachel. "Students study the sights they drive past everyday; they get to know acquaintances on a deeper level; they research the old building at the end of their street. It gives them a deep connection that will fuel their passion to work hard for the community and make it an even better place to live."
Zak echoed Rachel's thoughts on the value of place-based learning: "One of the best things about this project is that I, the teacher, learn new things about the community right along with my students." He added, "They [the students] are the collectors, but we all benefit from the information they retrieve. In the end we all have a deeper connection to our community."
"The Smallin Civil War Cave," a documentary by Nathaniel Alexander and Laney Alsup, explores fact and legend. Go here for more student films.
Student comments on their research and filmmaking illustrated their high level of engagement and interest in the project. Logan Sicilia, an Ava High School student, noted, "During the course of my local legend research project, I learned more about the area in which I live. Now, when I look at a spooky, old house, I think about it as something other than a spooky, old house. I am curious to know if there is more to it. I guess you could say that this project has made me look deeper than just the face value of the area around me. I want to know more than just what I see."
Another Ava student, Cera Longino, commented, "I didn't really think of the Ozarks as an historical place until after the Ozarks Research Project," and fellow student, Sage Clunn, added, "The biggest thing I took away from the project is that my hometown is actually pretty cool."
While the Ozarks Film Festival appropriately focused attention on its student participants, people are quick to note the commitment and enthusiasm of its teacher-leaders, the Hambys. "Zak and Rachel epitomize what rural communities need from their teachers," commented Carol Silvey, Community Foundation of the Ozarks Senior Associate for Advancement and a former history teacher herself. "They both truly recognize the value of community involvement and the importance of teaching students local history."
Rachel and Zak Hamby kick off the Ozarks Film Festival for students from Ava and Mountain Grove, Missouri.
A Civil War cave wasn't the only historical event explored by the student filmmakers. Other topics included the Glade Top Trail, Jesse James, the economic impact of Ozark-based Bass Pro Shops, and Missouri's Mormon War. The festival was attended by students, teachers, school administrators, as well as other people from the two communities. Ava and Mountain Grove are about a half-hour apart, and the two communities are nestled in the rolling hills of the Ozarks Plateau.
Ozarks Film Festival attendees view a student-produced documentary on Jesse James, who was involved in a deadly shootout on the square of nearby Springfield, Missouri.
The Rural Schools Collaborative's Grants in Place program is open to any rural school teacher from any academic discipline. Applications for the 2016-17 Grants in Place awards were due on March 15, and this year's recipients will be announced in the near future.
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