Until this year, that is.
Students often have different ideas about what type of "extra" things they would like to work on during the course of a year. The sixth-grade classes at Wallins Elementary School made a decision this year that they wanted to make a "real book" - a library type book in the format of what they check out from the library shelves.
They had a bit of trouble agreeing on one topic for a collection of short stories, but finally decided that they could include several types of stories: angel encounters, animal encounters, ghost stories, mountain tales, hunting stories and unexplained events. The collection includes some of each.
The students wrote a proposal to a publisher, and at the publisher's request the manuscript was submitted for review. The publisher liked the manuscript and decided to get the book in print. Students are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first copies of their work.
The one sidebar to my teaching career that I am most happy about are the projects that have caused students to talk to their parents, grandparents and community members. To cause generations of people to talk to each other is a wonderful thing, in my opinion. Other cultures still value the grandparents and elderly members of society. Native American elders passed on wisdom and skills to the children of their tribes. Japanese families still honor the wisdom and importance of their aging population.
The pop culture of the Unites State has devalued the significance of our elderly. The media, fashion industry and entertainment industry are all geared toward the youth of the nation. And with that arrogance, the younger generation has come to disrespect the elderly in general and remain strangers to the aging in their own families and communities.
I love it when a child writes about or tells me something like, "I didn't know my papaw was so smart. He knows a lot of cool stuff."
I have also heard comments such as, "My mamaw is a really good story teller. I never knew she could do that."
Stories about our culture deserve to be preserved. Stories from our families deserve to be cherished. Storytellers, whether their stories are told orally or on paper, are a very important part of who we are as a people. If we teach our children to value our tales, perhaps a whole new generation of storytellers will rise up in these mountains and keep alive all of the wonderful things there are to remember about our place in the world, our people and our time.
I am especially proud of this year's students who set out to find stories they considered to be worth sharing. They have done their part to help preserve the words of storytellers in print, and by so doing have become storytellers themselves.
The student book is expected to be about 160 pages in completed form. Money made from this project will go into a special account at Wallins Elementary School to fund future student projects.
Pre-orders are being taken for Mountain Mysteries: Stories that Make You Wonder. The cost is $12 plus $2 shipping. Anyone interested in purchasing a book before May 26 can make a check payable to Wallins Elementary School - P.O. Box 10, Wallins Creek, KY 40873.
After May 26, checks should be made to Judy Mason, Ascended Ideas Publishing - c/o Judith V. Hensley - P.O. Box 982, Loyall, KY 40854.