Documenting the Stories of Irene: An Ethnographic Journey


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Jacki McCarty, 8th grade English teacher and Sarah Ibson, 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Harwood Union Middle School partnered with the Vermont Folklife Center on a documentary project in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

In the early days after Hurricane Irene, eighty-five 8th grade students at Harwood sat down to write a prompt about the Hurricane and the Community Response. What grew out of that exercise was a semester long ethnographical interview project that culminated in 5 student produced documentaries.

This powerpoint, originally shared at the Vermont Association of Social Studies in Manchester, Vermont, details the origin of the idea, the scope and sequence of the project, and shows one of the
five final documentaries.

Including references to the tools, technology, and community resources utilized by students to successfully complete the project.

To view the final documentary, visit:

For more information, contact:

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  • MORETOWN, VERMONT August 28, 2011
  • Documenting the Stories of Irene: An Ethnographic Journey

    1. 1. Documenting the Stories of Hurricane Irene: An Ethnographic Journey A Harwood Union Middle School Project in Partnership with the Vermont Folklife Center
    2. 2. VFC: Who We Are
    3. 3. Our Education Program <ul><li>It used to be that we developed materials </li></ul><ul><li>The last 10 years, we’ve opened up our process to teach ethnography and media skills </li></ul>
    4. 4. We like to focus on <ul><li>Place – based learning </li></ul><ul><li>Service Learning </li></ul><ul><li>Student-Centered Projects </li></ul><ul><li>Civic Engagement </li></ul><ul><li>Discovery Research </li></ul>
    5. 5. How we share our skills <ul><li>The Summer Institute – Discovering Community: Students, Place-based learning, Digital media </li></ul><ul><li>School Outreach </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Offering support in the conception, design, execution of community-based learning projects </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Leading Interview Workshops </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Teaching media skills – photography, audio, video, multimedia editing </li></ul></ul>
    6. 6. A few examples <ul><li>Understanding Sustainability </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Gene Berthiaume – SS Harwood </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Interviewing members of the community who have embraced some form of sustainability in their lives. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Experiences of Adolescence </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mt. Abe 8 th graders use audio to explore </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ What is is your parents don’t understand about you but you wish they did?” </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Where can it go? <ul><li>Annual Student Exhibition at the Vision and Voice Gallery at the Folklife Center showcases student work from across the state </li></ul><ul><li>Community exhibitions, PRX, web presence. We can help! </li></ul><ul><li>Scott Miller , Student Outreach </li></ul><ul><li>Greg Sharrow , Director of Education </li></ul>
    8. 8. VFC and Hurricane Irene <ul><li>Irene Storytelling Project </li></ul><ul><ul><li>White River Valley, Mad River Valley, Brattleboro, Rutland </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We’re offering mentorship, equipment and skills trainings as community members embark on self-designed projects. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Community Meetings, Interview and Editing Workshops, Story Circles. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>One of the first people to approach us and one of the movers and shakers was Jacki McCarty </li></ul>
    9. 9. Hometown Horror McCarty’s Hometown of Wilmington, VT – Shown here on August 28, 2011
    10. 10. Hometown Horror –Part II ¼ of HUMS students are from Moretown – shown here on August 28, 2011
    11. 11. SCHOOL OPENING DELAYED . . .
    12. 12. . . . but the kids were still busy!
    13. 13. The First Day of School: 8 th Grade Language Arts Class <ul><li>Free-write on the prompt: REBUILDING VERMONT.  </li></ul><ul><li>Students were invited to write poems, short stories, anecdotes and vignettes about their experiences rebuilding their towns of Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston & Moretown after the flooding. </li></ul>
    14. 14. STUDENTS WRITE OF THEIR EXPERIENCES . . . <ul><li>When Irene struck, she took a lot with her.  Many homes were destroyed and lots of people were left not knowing what to do next.  But with the help of neighbors and friends, people started to take on the projects at hand.  Throughout the following week, everyone was chipping in.  We as the towns were brought together, and have shown that you never know what you have until it is gone.  The past week I helped the victims of Irene.  My friend (Emily Dow) and I stayed outside the drugstore and Mehuron’s and collected money and supplies for people who needed it the most.  We collected 5 carloads of supplies, and $1,200.00.  In the long run it’s not much, but it was who it was for that made us go out there everyday.  </li></ul><ul><li>– Chloe Emler </li></ul><ul><li>Last week, to support the people of Vermont who the flood had hit, some friends and I had a carwash at the Big Picture Theater.  It was a success!  We made over $100.00 to bring back to Headquarters, even though our car washing skills could use some work . . . I also went into Moretown to help with the clean-up.  I helped to rinse, wash, and bleach everyday household items for the entire afternoon with two of my friends.  Part of our road was washed out, but luckily we were prepared. </li></ul><ul><li> - Aurora Cunningham </li></ul><ul><li>Last Friday I spent the majority of the day crouched under The Green Cup.  My mother and I volunteered to shovel muck out from The Green Cup’s foundation.  It was pretty painful for my back, but it paid off in the long run.  My dad had gone to volunteer in Waterbury so I felt that I should do something, too.  I worked really hard, along side of other members of my community.  It was actually fun because it felt good to do.  </li></ul><ul><li> – Eli Leppla </li></ul><ul><li>I walk or drive down the road and see silt and debris everywhere.  Neighbors are helping neighbors.  It is a tragedy; people’s lives went down stream.  Some stranded – others alone.  What will the do – they can’t live like this.  It is sad seeing this, but we are VERMONT.  A little hurricane named Irene will not kill us – it will only make us stronger.  </li></ul><ul><li>- Monica Van Schaick </li></ul>
    15. 15. An Ethnography Project is Born! <ul><li>Students had the chance to share about their volunteer experiences . . . and they did! I published their work in the local newspaper, and shared with my exceptional colleague, social studies teacher Sarah Ibson. We both knew what we needed to do . . . call Greg Sharrow and get the Vermont Folklife Center on board for an interdisciplinary project! </li></ul><ul><li>Greg was there in a matter of days, launching our project with a phenomenal workshop on interviewing; finding stories to document that captured the authentic experience. </li></ul>
    16. 16. OUR FOCUS for the Irene Ethnography Project <ul><li>Essential Question: How can we preserve your stories about the flood so that future generations can bear witness to the devastation and remarkable recovery? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What evidence do you think there is to tell us about that event? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How did people’s experiences get recorded? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How has technology changed the ways in which we can document history? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What do we want future generations to know about this flood? </li></ul></ul>
    17. 17. Ethnography Workshop with Greg Sharrow & Aylie Baker of Vermont Folk Life Center, Middlebury, VT Monday, September 12, 2011 <ul><li>     AGENDA *prior to start – hand out note forms for students to take notes on the following info: 1.  Introduce Greg, Aylie & Folk Life Center (should we pull up the website) & Explain Purpose 2.  Explain or brainstorm difference between information and a story/ interview vs. ethnography  – interviewer must “create space” for the interviewee to tell their story. 3.  Model Interview – with Greg & a volunteer student – then kids pick up Greg’s conversation in a Circulating question panel. 4.  During the interview onlookers will make observations about what worked in the interview – write these observations on the note form. 5. GROUP INTERVIEW 1) someone willing to be interviewed 2)someone to record 3)several student volunteers to conduct the interview with Greg and Aylie’s guidance. </li></ul>
    18. 18. During the interview, REMEMBER: <ul><li>As the interviewer you are “witness to someone’s story” </li></ul><ul><li>Wait for the interviewee to say what is important to them </li></ul><ul><li>OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS to ask during interview: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tell me about . . . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What was that like? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Describe that experience. Ask about the 5 senses: What did it smell, taste, look, sound, or feel like? </li></ul></ul>
    19. 19. Ethnography Workshop Notes: HOW TO CREATE “SPACE” FOR STORIES TO BE TOLD: <ul><li>Build a rapport – make the interviewee feel like you are on “their side” </li></ul><ul><li>Make Connections – relate to what they are saying </li></ul><ul><li>LISTEN CAREFULLY </li></ul><ul><li>Show empathy – respond to emotions </li></ul><ul><li>Respect the person you are interviewing </li></ul><ul><li>Pay attention – practice active listening: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Make Eye Contact </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Nod Your Head </li></ul></ul>
    20. 20. ACCOUNTABILITY: Parent Notification <ul><li>                                        September 13, 2011 Dear Parents of 8th Graders, Welcome to the 2011-12 school year!  We wanted to take the opportunity to tell you about our first interdisciplinary project of the year:  The Hurricane Irene Flood Project:  An Ethnography of Our Experiences.  In lieu of the units we were going to start the year with, we have decided to begin with the important work of letting students share and document their recent experiences. The most influential work that we, as teachers, can do is to capitalize on what can be called “teachable moments.”  These are events that occur in every day life which we can help young people analyze and process to create their own understanding of current events, and to help them process similar events in the future.  The practice of taking advantage of these “teachable moments” provides an opportunity for students to think critically, and reflect in a way that leads to deeper understanding on a topic that is naturally of high interest to them.  In this vein, all 8th grade students will be participating in a Social Studies/Language Arts project called the Hurricane Irene Flood Project: An Ethnography of Our Experiences.  The project aims to answer the  Essential Question: How can we preserve stories about the flood so that future generations can bare witness to the devastation and remarkable recovery? Ethnography is the study and systematic recording of human cultures. It is also a descriptive work produced from such research ( Ethnography, as method, seeks to answer central anthropological questions concerning the ways of life of living human beings (University of Pennslyvania). As you know, many of our students were directly effected by the flooding, and all of them were affected in some way, so we turned to the experts at the Vermont Folk Life Center in Middlebury to give students the opportunity to prepare professional-grade ethnographies.  Master Ethnographer Greg Sharrow of the Vermont Folk Life Center, and his apprentice - Aylie Baker - joined the 8th grade class on Monday, September 12th to conduct a workshop on Ethnography.  Sharrow and Baker explained the difference between a traditional interview and an ethnographical interview, and facilitated a group interview with a student volunteer who told of their experiences during the flooding.  Students took notes on the interviewing tips and strategies Sharrow and Baker shared, in preparation for conducting and documenting their own interviews over the next week or so. The flooding that happened here has been compared to the flood of 1927. Students are encouraged to think about what was archived or preserved from that event. What evidence do you think there is to tell us about that event? How did people’s experiences get recorded? How has technology changed the ways in which we can document history? What do we want future generations to know about this flood? The central goal of this project is to use the experiences of students and their families to create and archive of memories, stories, and history from the flood of 2011. Students will interview each other, look at pictures, videos and social media outlets and read news stories to gather information that can be used for this project.  The final project will be a movie with sound bytes from students about what they learned and understand about the flood, its effects on local families and how community support and outreach have helped to heal the Valley towns.  With assistance from high school mentors who have been identified as “experts” in audio and video editing, 8th graders will create their own documentaries to tell the stories of their experiences during this unfortunate natural disaster.  The project will culminate in a showcase of these collections, and they will be shared an archived at the Vermont Folk Life Center in Middlebury as well.  In addition, student writings about the flooding will be shared on the Folk Life Center’s website blog (with student permission) to broaden the audience students are writing to, and expose readers to stories of inspiration at a time when we all need it most. We appreciate your support for this project, and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us:   [email_address] or [email_address] . Sincerely, Sarah Ibson & Jacki McCarty 8th grade SS/LA Instructors </li></ul>
    21. 21. From Workshop to Project <ul><li>Greg and Aylie from the Folklife Center worked with Sarah and Jacki of Harwood Union Middle School to develop a scope and sequence for the project. </li></ul><ul><li>Final products would be four (one per class) short films documenting the flooding from Hurricane Irene and the clean up efforts of the towns effected. </li></ul>
    22. 22. PROJECT SCOPE & SEQUENCE <ul><li>In small groups, students interview each other </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion of Sound Bytes with examples </li></ul><ul><li>In interview groups, students screen audio and choose sound bytes from the interview for the documentary </li></ul><ul><li>Students organize their sound bytes into a rough story board </li></ul><ul><li>Using the sound bytes as a guide, choose photos and video clips that go with the stories being told in the interviews </li></ul><ul><li>Create PRODUCTION GROUPS responsible for different aspects of each documentary: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Audio Tech Group (2-3 students) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Images and Video Group – decide on order of visuals in documentary </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Narration group – write and narrate the documentary and transitions for the documentary </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fact Finders – look at news stories and pull out facts that will fit into the story board </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Final Cut Team – film and audio editors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>PR Group – plan and execute the event to showcase the movies </li></ul></ul>
    23. 23. OUR FIRST DOCUMENTARY <ul><li>The “Final Cut” teams are working during lunches and study halls to finish the editing of four additional documentaries. 2 films are overseen by McCarty, 2 by Ibson (who finished one first!) The “PR” team is on standby, waiting to plan our movie premiere. We are also creating a documentary of the Moretown Pig Roast Story Corner, which HUMS students ran for that fundraiser in October. </li></ul><ul><li>AND here, DRUMROLL PLEASE, is our first completed documentary . . . </li></ul>
    24. 25. IN THE PRESS
    25. 26. REFLECTION & RESPONSE <ul><li>With a person sitting near you, discuss the following and be ready to share with the large group: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What happened in your community during and after Tropical Storm Irene? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What challenges do you foresee in trying to implement a project like this one at your school? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What aspects of this project, if any, excite you? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do you have any other questions about the project, its inception, or the scope and sequence? </li></ul></ul>
    26. 27. NEXT STEPS <ul><li>Contact Us: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Jacki McCarty, Harwood M.S </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Greg Sharrow, VFC EDU Director </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scott Miller, VFC School Outreach </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Aylie Baker, VFC Irene Outreach </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Resources: </li></ul>
    27. 28. DOWN THE PIKE <ul><li>Hurricane Irene Digital Memory Project </li></ul>