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Students learn to preserve local history

March 18, 2019

ELIOT, Maine (AP) — “When I went to school here, I was one of the bad boys,” Elwood “Zip” Zamarchi recalled during a visit to Eliot Elementary School. “When I was in trouble, they’d send me to the office and I might get 10 hits on the hand with the ruler and nobody said a word. The only thing I said to myself was that I hope they don’t call home tonight because I’ll get twice as many there!”

Zamarchi joined Esther Morrow, Jack Murphy and Helen Staples, all longtime residents of Eliot, as part of the second grade’s Local Stories Project, where children work on journals, do research and work with artists in residence to build a mural and develop performances focusing on the rich memories of older town folks.

Zamarchi planned to share a story about a plane and pilot that crashed into a field in the early 1900s, but he thought the children might find the story about his punishment in the office when he was young more compelling.

Teachers Ann Shisler and Diane Reppucci kicked off the project on Monday introducing artists Laurie Downey a visual artist/designer and educator. She started the Local Stories Project in 1998 and has been directing it since. Gretchen Berg was also introduced as she collaborates with educators and students to integrate theater, dance, visual arts, and classroom curriculum in New England schools and museums.

They both are working with the students to bring these stories shared by local elders to life and will create a lasting mural and performance with what the students collect during the project.

Helen Staples Sullivan graduated from Eliot High School in 1959. She worked in the superintendent’s office and her mother was a kindergarten teacher in the district. A plaque in the name of Verna Staples dedicating a wing to her is on a wall near her old classroom. Sullivan says that for awhile, her mother couldn’t teach because she was married. “That was the law for women back then. That changed and she taught for 29 years.”

Esther Morrow, a teacher at Eliot Elementary for 25 years, stood by a mural her class finished in 1994 with artwork representing some history about the town. She’s impacted the lives of hundreds of Eliot children over the years. “I think it’s fun to remember all the things that happened years and years ago,” Morrow said. “People forget so easily. Pretty soon, no one will remember that anything ever happened. To go back and realize the things that were, it gets me excited.”

But those aren’t the stories she wanted to share with the youngsters. She wanted to tell them something that many people don’t know. She will be telling them about the tall ship USS Nightingale which was built at Hanscom Shipyard in Eliot and launched in 1851.

Jack Murphy can’t decide which story he wants to share about the one-room schoolhouse #4 he attended. There are so many memories.

“This was 1935 to ’40. My teacher I remember the most was Barbara Wakefield. She was very patient and observant. I was in love with school. One of the things I remember was the way we celebrated Valentine’s Day. Once there was a party and I was in charge of the games. I thought of having paper hearts cut into pieces so they could fit back together again,” Murphy said. “The left side would go to the boys’ side and the right to the girls’. They would try to find their partner. At that time I had a crush on Ruth Bowman. She had these gorgeous freckles and lovely eyes. Everyone knew we liked each other. Just by chance Ruth and I got the same heart. It was complicated. I didn’t do it but how did it happen? Everyone pointed their fingers at me. Do I deny my friendship with this girl? I’ve lived with this all my life.”

Jack Murphy graduated from Eliot High School in 1946.

Storytelling brings people together. It preserves history — Eliot history.

“We are looking for more elders in town that would like to share some stories,” teacher Ann Shisler said. “It’s so important to preserve these memories and we hope there are people out there that want to share some of theirs with our students.”

Students will be researching, doing field trips, brainstorming, designing, working with the artists, and ending with the unveiling of the artwork and performance on May 9.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2TeQqcf

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Information from: Foster’s Daily Democrat, http://www.fosters.com