Breathing sighs of relief, Maryville High School students presented the fruits of their labor to family and friends in a celebration last week.
Juniors at MHS who are enrolled in advanced honors and honors English and United States History classes completed their family history projects and displayed them in the cafeteria. The project is an album that includes a family tree, an autobiography, a personal interview with a relative, a pictorial history of their family and information on their cultural heritage.
“This celebration is a fitting way to end the project so my family and friends can see what I’ve been working on since the first of August,” said MHS junior, Scott McAmis.
For McAmis, who dedicated the 7-inch thick family history album to his grandmother who passed away last year, the project was a way to feel connected to relatives both living and deceased. He initiated e-mail correspondence with his aunt who lives in England and is the British equivalent of a Secret Service agent who guards the Queen of England.
McAmis is not the only student who discovered the deep roots of his family tree. Joseph Dirmeyer said he enjoyed researching the ancestor section of the family history project.
“The interesting thing was to find out about the places my ancestors came from, like the villages and the countries that no longer exist,” said Dirmeyer. He said he was able to retrieve passport and census information about his relatives who were from villages in and around Russia.
The family history project is a collaborative effort of honors English teacher, Dr. Penny Ferguson and honors history teacher, Mark White. In 1988 at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Ferguson attended the Institute for Writing Tennessee History taught by Dr. Richard Marius. This course encouraged Dr. Ferguson to have her students research local history. These students published a three volume history of Blount County. In a conversation with Dr. Marius, Dr. Ferguson asked, “What next?” His answer was to encourage the students to research their own family history. Seventeen years later, the family history project is one of the biggest undertakings the students experience throughout their high school years.
“At times, it seems overwhelming, but once they do it, they have a valuable family heirloom that their family really appreciates,” said Dr. Ferguson who admitted she had not slept for days. She has been busy grading the projects that were due late October. She said to make the project manageable, the students have weekly deadlines to complete portions of the required elements. The students also have an elective section to research such as hobbies and sports, friends, and family vacations to name a few.
MHS junior, Abigail Searfoss chose a pictorial history of her hobby, the Girl Scouts. Searfoss started Scouts as a young Brownie and some of the friends she made then are still very close to her.
“Now that it’s done, I’m glad I have this,” Searfoss said as she thumbed through the pages of the beautifully decorated album.
“I love learning about the kids and learning about their backgrounds,” Dr. Ferguson said. “I feel like I know them a lot better and I see the pride they feel upon completion.”
The family history celebration night also included videotaped two-minute snippets about the interesting things the students discovered during their project research. Also, each student brought a family recipe dessert to share with the friends and family who gathered to celebrate their accomplishment.