Lou Wyman, left, shows Sunset Elementary School kindergarten students an old time tin toy May 1 at the school. Stories from the kindergartners and other Sunset Elementary students will be featured in a book that is scheduled for completion this week.

Courtesy photo

Lou Wyman, left, shows Sunset Elementary School kindergarten students an old time tin toy May 1 at the school. Stories from the kindergartners and other Sunset Elementary students will be featured in a book that is scheduled for completion this week.

Sunset Elementary School oral history project nears completion

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— They've listened.

They've written.

And, by the end of the school year, Sunset Elementary School students will see the results of their labor, said Cheryl Arnett, Sunset Elementary first-grade teacher.

The product: A book containing compositions Sunset Elementary students wrote after listening to childhood stories from longtime Craig residents, or "elders," as Arnett called them.

Arnett and Carol Jacobson, who spearheaded the project, still are finalizing details about book distribution, Arnett said.

"I can't wait to see it," she said.

Since September 2007, Sunset Elementary students in kindergarten through fourth grade have been collecting and transcribing the stories they've collected from volunteer speakers who came to the school.

Jacobson helped ready first- through fourth-grade students by introducing them to the project a week before the elders visited their classrooms.

While Jacobson was there, she gave students insight into her childhood.

"The most exciting component was telling a classroom of children, 'I didn't have a television when I was a little girl,'" she said. "All their mouths drop."

The following week, three elders spoke to students in three separate classes at Sunset Elementary. About 13 residents participated in the project, Arnett said.

Their audience, by her account, was an easy one to please.

The students were "terribly interested in the stories the people have to tell," Arnett said. "The children could have sat all day and listened to the stories."

After the presentation, students asked the speaker questions about his or her childhood.

Students' questions ranged from the kind of toys the speaker had as a child to what school was like for them, Arnett said.

And, questions often lead to more stories, she said.

But, that was only the first part of the project.

Later, students wrote the speaker's stories, either individually or as a class.

A portion of those stories will be featured in a book that is scheduled for completion this week.

Jacobson said she didn't know if or when the book will be available to the public.

Elders will receive portions of the book containing their stories, she said, and copies of the book will be distributed to Sunset Elementary classrooms.

The project taught students how to write memoirs, Arnett said.

But, this writing assignment had another purpose: To bridge the gap between older and younger generations.

In Arnett's view, the best part of the project was the bond formed between elementary students and their elders.

"The children are learning : that we all grow up," Arnett said, "and that, long ago, people who are now older people were once little children."

Jacobson also thinks the project also had an added benefit.

"Children who know where they came from and what the past looks like have far deeper roots than children who don't know," Jacobson said. "They're stronger for knowing what their family and what the elders around them have gone through."

Arnett gave credit to the residents who volunteered to speak to the students.

"The gift that people give when they : come in and share with kids is just tremendous," she said. "I think the kids benefit so much from hearing their stories."

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