By John Turner
Pictured above: Ward Vuillemot, right, with teacher Jim Ryan
“I learned more in 30 minutes than I have in my entire life.”
That enigmatic statement is from eighth grader Chris Corona, one he made after participating in Skaneateles Middle School’s Windows Project. The program, which started in September, has consisted of older Skaneateles residents visiting the school and giving short presentations about their lives and recent history, both local and abroad.
The eighth graders, who were divided into groups of four to six, further interviewed their subjects, and each group filmed the entire proceedings. Then the students edited the video footage into a creative short film that tells the subject’s story.
The project was led by middle school librarian Sharon O’Connell and social studies teachers Jim Ryan and Julie Spinelli. Numerous parents also volunteered their time by “adopting” a guest, which included monitoring the video equipment, keeping the conversation flowing and serving snacks.
O’Connell said last week that faculty members conceived the idea for the program during their summer curriculum meetings.
“We wanted to find a way for students to have a window into the past—hence the project name—and this was a great way,” she said during a telephone interview.
Pictured above: Village historian Pat Blackler talks with eighth graders as part of the middle school’s Windows Project, presented this fall.
The 20 guests have included village historian Pat Blackler, Skaneateles Festival co-founder Louise Robinson, town justice Charlie Major and retired Navy admiral John Paddock.
The program has been designed to fulfill the state Learning Standards in several areas—Social Studies, The Arts and English Language Arts. One of the Key Ideas for the middle school Social Studies standards, for example, states that students will “analyze the development of American culture, explaining how ideas, values, beliefs, and traditions have changed over time and how they unite all Americans.”
The English Language Arts standard, meanwhile, requires students to “read, write, listen, and speak for social interaction.”
Ryan said the teachers chose to combine the two by focusing on students’ communication skills while they investigated particular cultural topics.
Pictured above Bill Allyn of Welch Allyn
“This project is tied to an expectation we have here that our students become effective speakers,” he said in an email interview.
“First, the students have the opportunity to assess the responses of their interviewees and engage with them further based on their answers to specific questions; second, they have the opportunity to create a movie which conveys their person’s story.
“This is a great way for our students to learn about how people have contributed to making our community better both here locally and in some cases internationally as well,” he added.
John Paddock, a Skaneateles resident since 2000, said he was impressed by the students’ curiosity.
“Obviously, they wanted to know a lot about my Navy career,” he said by telephone. “But they were also really interested in the fact that I went to a one-room schoolhouse from first through third grade. … They said that was really different from what they’ve experienced.”
Paddock was asked why he thinks it’s important for younger generations to learn about the lives and the history of older citizens.
“It’s good for these kids to know what’s come before them,” he said. “They learn about the different kinds of challenges people have faced, and it just makes them more inquisitive about the world.”
Pictured above: Bill Leahy
Chris Corona’s speaker/interviewee was Father Peter Major, a Skaneateles native who has spent more than 30 years as a missionary in Borneo, Cairo and the Sudan.
The eighth grader explained what he meant by his ambiguous exclamation—sort of.
“I mean, with (Fr. Major), we didn’t learn just facts, but more like life lessons,” he said. “It was neat hearing about how life is on the other side of the world.”
Chris said he especially enjoyed Fr. Major’s account of when his Sudanese village was attacked by rebels in 1982, and the reverend was held hostage for two months.
“You hear about something like that, and you realize just how big the planet is,” he said.
O’Connell said the school presented a luncheon for the guest speakers and parents on Tuesday, Oct. 18, which featured a viewing of the 35 student films.
O’Connell also praised the efforts of Jim Ryan and parent Geralyn Huba, who coordinated the other parent volunteers.
“This has just been great,” she said. “Having these kids learn so much about the world…it just makes them better people.”
Pictured above: Reverent Hluchy
2011 WINDOWS PROJECT GUEST SPEAKERS
Dr. Mona Smalley
Fr. Peter Major
Dr. Umeshandra Patil
ON THE WEB
To learn more visit http://www.skanschools.org/MiddleSchool.cfm