Article Date: August 31st, 2011
Author: Pat Filer, AKCHO Awards Chair
Category: News, September 2011
Every month in Heritage Advisor weâ€™ve been profiling one of the individuals or groups honored at AKCHOâ€™s annual awards ceremony last April. This month weâ€™d like to introduce you to the Enrichment Class of Orca K-8 School, winner of the 2011 Heritage Education Award for its â€œNo Place Like Homeâ€ project.
In 1988, seven houses were torn down to make room for an expanded playfield at Whitworth School in south Seattle. The school district had long argued that Whitworth â€“ a thriving, popular elementary school at the time â€“ needed more space for its students. In addition, the building was 70 years old and deemed seismically unsafe. The neighbors, on the other hand, thought there was plenty of room and argued that renovating the existing building would be much more economical than building a new school. Besides, the new plan would involve tearing down peopleâ€™s homes. After a bitter struggle, the district prevailed and the houses came down.
Twenty years later, the school is now home to Orca, an alternative K-8 school. The playfieldâ€™s expanse of grass gives no hint of the siteâ€™s contentious history or of the seven homes that once stood there. Last spring, members of the Enrichment Middle School Class at Orca along with Rainier Valley historian and AKCHO vice president Mikala Woodward decided to find out a little more about the missing houses, beginning with the very playfield where the students had spent hundreds of hours of recess periods and physical education classes. Using property records, photographs, newspaper articles, city directories, letters, and other primary sources, they became historical detectives and gathered evidence about the houses and their occupants. They compared the schoolâ€™s â€œofficialâ€ history with the stories that they had heard from neighbors who remembered the old school and the houses that had been torn down.
Next, students imagined and wrote stories that might have taken place in the houses based on the historical evidence and documentation that they had gathered. They identified the location of each house and marked out the life-sized floor plans on the playfield. Some even used furniture to give it a more direct relationship to a live-in home. The school, neighborhood, and community were all invited to enter each space and walk through the defined spaces that had once been someoneâ€™s home. The students were on-hand to answer questions and an especially designed guidebook included information about the project and samples of the studentâ€™s stories illustrated with primary sources that were used to learn about each family.
The â€œNo Place Like Homeâ€ project was hands-on history at its best. The activities are age-appropriate and were designed to encourage historical research and stimulate the imagination of each student.
A neighbor who wrote a letter of support for this projectâ€™s nomination noted that â€œâ€¦this project gave me a concrete sense of what was lost when the houses were torn down, as well as a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived there. It brought the past vividly to life for me, creating a tangible bridge between then and now. It was clear that the students were truly engaged with the past and the evidence that they had collected.â€
Accepting the award at the presentation ceremony were students Tieran Sweeny-Bender and Irene Bowen, along with Mikala Woodward and Orca K-8 principal Concie Pedroza.