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Beechy School captures community history in new book

Impressive year-long project comes to fruition.

BEECHY - When one thinks of community history books in towns and villages that dot the Saskatchewan landscape, the work that's carried out in order to create these thick, years-encompassing, story-laden time capsules is typically done by a committed group of knowledgeable adults in such communities. Such projects might take a number of years, what with all of the story gathering, family history notes, photo assembling, and probably the hundred other tasks that come with such a sizable endeavor.

But what if such a project was carried out by young students at the local school? What if such a book that tells the stories of generations in your community was available for purchase....right now?

That's exactly what the students at Beechy School decided to do, and the end result, the Beechy School History Book 2022, is now available for $20 for anyone looking to educate themselves on some of the interesting history of the hillside community.

Teacher Brianne Denning, sitting down with The Outlook, says that the project came to fruition after deciding to conquer a number of goals that the school had.

"Every year, we have two main goals for our school," she explained. "Last year, our goals were relationships within the community and school, and our other one was writing. My role as the PeBL (Personalize Electronically Blended Learning) mentor in the school is to come up with different activities and ideas and work on those things within the school. I was hoping to find something that was engaging and also included both goals into one thing, and I thought it'd be cool to do a history book because everyone likes looking at those kind of books and reminiscing, so that's where it started."

And so, on Day 2 of each week in the school's timetable, during Period 6, that's where the future book's beginnings were started. This block of time is known as the Bonus Period, and that's where the groundwork on the book was done. Beechy students used this block of time all throughout the 2021/22 school year to write different pieces and fit it all together.

Highly impressive, given the short burst of time students had to carry out their work in those early stages of the history book.

Ms. Denning highlights the research that was done by each grade in order for the project to come together. These students over here focused on this, while these students over there concentrated on that. The end result is something that in other communities, might take years to complete.

Beechy student Taylor Schury interviews Donna Stockman, Rose Fritz, Lois Meaden, and Bernice Meaden. Photo by Brianne Denning.

"Each grade was in charge of one thing; the whole school, K-12!" she said, explaining each grade's role in the project. "Each family was asked to do a write-up about their own family, so some parents did it and some kids did it. They included things like family stories, names, things they enjoy as a family, and a picture. Those were kind of the basics of each family's histories. The Kindergarten kids, as well as Grades 1-2 were in charge of documenting the Beechy Rodeo, so they had speakers come in so they could learn about the rodeo and what it's like. Grades 3-4 were in charge of detailing the Beechy Bombers and Blazers, the senior hockey and baseball teams, so they interviewed different people and learned about those things. Grades 5-6 did interviews with different businesses and wrote about all of them. Grades 7-8 talked to different teachers and those with different schools that have been shut down, and that's where the Jonesville School came in, which is one of the pieces of the story. Finally, our Grades 9-12 students got these CDs from 1980, where kids had done interviews of people in the community, and so our students listened to those recordings and did write-ups about those members of the community that they listened to. They also hosted a Seniors Tea, where grandparents came in to enjoy some entertainment, and students conducted in-person interviews, pairing those older stories with someone from the present day."

Denning is happy to see the positive reception to the book, as it's been grabbing attention around the region. It's a good thing that copies of the book will never run out, as the school prints it themselves when someone buys a copy. As a result of this popularity, it's allowed Beechy School to give back to their community.

"It's been very good," said Brianne. "We sold a lot of books as a lot of families and other community members have been buying them. People are enjoying them and they think it's a nice idea, knowing that their grandchildren and children have written in it with stories from the community. We had enough money to donate $500 to Jonesville, but since we donated that and we've had different people such as yourself come and talk to us, we're probably going to have enough money to hopefully donate to another cause around town that has to do with writing or history."

Jonesville is a one-room former school near Beechy that's been preserved and maintained by the Jonesville School Museum Association. Students from Beechy School routinely make trips to the historical site to take in the surroundings and appreciate the experiences of the area's pioneers, and when it came to deciding where proceeds from the book sales would go, it didn't take long to find a suitable recipient.

"Jonesville is a school just south of here, and it's a very cool area because it's still all set up on the inside," said Denning. "They still have childhood books, desks, and the fireplace, and it's open 24/7. Anyone can just go in and check it out, and there's a guest register. It's still very much a part of the community, and we had a couple of girls do an interview about the school. When we'd made all this money, we were trying to figure out, 'Okay, what do we do with it?', and we heard through the grapevine that they needed a new roof, and we thought that was perfect. It's awesome that we could do that."

The book showcases the hillside community, including the history of the local Beechy Bombers hockey team. Photo by Derek Ruttle/The Outlook.

Brianne believes that Beechy School students learned some new things while carrying out this book project, particularly after having conversations with older people and learning some new perspectives and stories about their home community.

"I think they definitely did," she said. "It was nice that they were having conversations at home and with other community members. For example, one cool thing was when one student went home and she was talking to her parents about this lady she was listening to on the old recordings. Her parents knew who it was, and they actually found a news article about her where she had a jerry can, and if there was anyone that was ever stranded, they gave them a full jerry can of fuel and then they had to pass it on. The different conversations they took home and learning about people they may have known in the community, but it's more about them growing up, and kind of bringing the two worlds together is very cool to see."

The conversations had about the school itself also opened some eyes, as Denning says that students didn't realize how things were both very different and very similar in a lot of ways. In Brianne's own eyes, the endeavor of capturing local history and presenting it in book form is something that she didn't think would perhaps hit as emotionally as it did.

"I didn't realize how big it was going to be when we did it!" she said. "It was just kind of, 'Oh, this would be a fun idea!' and then as more people heard about it, you kind of realize that these will be around in peoples' homes and in the school for many years. While it's something that's cool right now, it's something that will be even cooler 20 years from now when these students have kids that see the book and go through it and see all this stuff. I think that's when it's going to be really cool."

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