Kids learning from Suburban Life columns

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published May 26, 2004 in the Suburban Life, added May 17, 2018.

The “Saving Stories” class are, front row, from left: Alana Frew, Maddie Hartz, Katie Shinkle, Katie Braunlin-Stites, Paul Ramsdell, and Michael Schmidt. Back row: Kyle Jenkins, Jake Taylor, Brian McShane, Jennifer Caudill, Rachel Self, Jessica Glass and Rhianne Rush.

One more time I’m back in the classroom at my favorite school, and I’m loving it.

My good friend Dianna Bartles, a fifth-grade language arts teacher at Sellman School, dreamed up another gig for us to work together in Sellman’s 30 Day Program.  She never has to twist my arm.  All it takes is a nudge, and I’m there, saying, “When do we start?”

For five years, we taught a newspaper writing class together at Sellman and had a wonderful time. This year, she’s doing the teaching.  I just provide the text and go in for occasional days, whenever I feel like it.

The class is called “Saving Stories,” and it’s a writing and reading comprehension class based on the local history of Madeira.  The “texts” for studying are columns I’ve written which have been published in Suburban Life for the past 12 years.  For many of those years, I wrote a column every other week.  That’s a lot of material and a lot of history to recycle.  Dianna sifted through them all and came up with topics and assignments.  As she put it, “Why should our students study about Pittsburgh when they can learn about their own town?”

She wrote up a grant, and the class was funded by the Hamilton County Board of Education.

The idea, she says, originally came from Roger Slagle, Sellman’s young principal who died last fall.  The class is dedicated to his memory, and one of the assignments was to write a story about him to be given to his infant son, Roger Patrick, who was born just recently.

Most of the stories involved fun things about Mr. Slagle, but Jennifer Caudill wrote something important:  “He took the time to memorize every student’s name.

There are 13 students in the class.  All are fifth-graders except for one sixth-grader.  It’s interesting to sort through and see who are the historians and who are the writers.  Or both.  Katie Shinkle seemed to lean toward history, recent history.  “I love going to Coffee Please with my mom,” she wrote.  “There used to be a dime store there, but that was before my time.”

Rachel Self is a good writer, a prolific writer.  She wrote stories about Madeira, about herself, about school, about performing. And all are worth “saving.”  She even wrote a play.

Brian McShane is both a writer and a historian.  He explored the history of Madeira, but he also wrote about “growing up” in Manhattan and riding the elevated subway, the N train.  Brian is also an “expert” at using computer technology to make copies of old photos for the class to use.

Maddie Hartz spoke to the history part of the class by writing, “The stories of Madeira are in the hearts of the old souls who are here.  You need to talk to them.”

Community leaders and personalities were invited to the class, so that the class could learn oral history.  The first speaker, and a most popular visitor, was Doug Oppenheimer, a longtime leader of the Madeira Historical Society.  He brought items from the new historical museum to be opened in the next year, and he told them about the house for the museum, a gift from Mrs. Elizabeth Miller.

Jessica Glass wrote about the museum, a Sears Roebuck house, and she used Oppenheimer’s talk as the basis for vocabulary study.  She wrote:  “When he said it’s a magnanimous gift from Mrs. Miller, it means it was noble in soul or mind.”

Oppenheimer is taking the class for a walk down Miami Avenue to point out historic buildings and then for a tour of the Miller House on May 27.  Kyle Jenkins thinks this will be “way cool.” Paul Ramsdell especially liked the history of the post office in Madeira and the small building, now a shoe repair shop, which once housed the post office, as well as the city council and the library.  Miss Nelle Hosbrook was the librarian there.

Rhianne Rush liked the museum items Doug brought.  All the kids were interested in an old brick made at a Madeira brickyard around 100 years ago.  Brian McShane was chosen to carry the brick around to show it to the other students.  “I knew I wouldn’t drop it,” he said later.  “I was very careful.”

Other community speakers came to meet with the class.  They included Doris Burton and the Henke brothers, Norb and Dan, whose family has lived in Madeira for 100 years.

The class studied the early families of Madeira, and Jake Taylor wrote a good history of the Hosbrook family.

They studied the roads and the streets and how they got their names.  Alana Frew wrote about the streets of Berwood, Jethve and Rita, all named by the builder Thomas Bergen for family members.  Alana also delivers suburban Life and looks forward to delivering this story.

It was agreed that Michael Schmidt lives on the street with the most intriguing name, Jethve.  Bergen used the first two letters of three of his daughters-Jean, Thelma and Vera- to coin a word, “Jethve.”

Katie Braunlin-Stites summed it up by writing, “I really like seeing how much Madeira has changed after so many years.”

And more change is coming soon, in a more personal way.  The days dwindle down for the old Sellman building.  School will end there in a few more days.  It will be razed.  This will be my last Sellman project, and it’s a bittersweet experience.  Rachel Self expressed it best.  “It makes me sad to think I can never show the original Sellman to my kids and tell them that’s where I went to school.”