“Who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?”
These lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” from the musical “Hamilton” inspired second-grade teacher Vicki Eagle to create a biography project for her students, centered around monuments on the Oak Grove campus, honoring people who’d worked at the school in the past.
“There are all these landmarks at Oak Grove, and nobody knows who all these people are,” Eagle said. “Most of the kids here didn’t know any of the people.”
Fourteen of Eagle’s students, now third graders, turned their second-grade biography project into a short film, “Voices of the Past,” for this year’s 5-Minute Film Festival. Their film won the Audience Choice Award on April 8 at the fifth annual film fest hosted by Sonoma County Office of Education.
The project began as a scavenger hunt — find all the landmarks on campus — and then students wrote letters to the people who were still alive to find out information about their lives. For those who had died, the class had to write to family members or friends to get information about the person. They then wrote biographies of each individual, and their completed biographies now hang in Oak Grove’s office.
When Eagle learned that this year’s festival theme was “voice,” the idea for the film blossomed. Eagle credits the title, “Voices of the Past,” to Oak Grove teacher Vicky Hill.
“These kids aren’t in my class anymore, but they spent lunch recesses or afterschool time to put it together,” Eagle said. “Doing this movie just brought that group of kids together even more. It was very exciting.”
“Voices of the Past” begins with another song from Hamilton, “Found/Tonight,” and a slideshow of old and new school photos, including a photo of the 14 students involved in the project. Then the camera lingers on different monuments around campus with related photo collages, as students read the biography of the person the monument honors.
The first biography in the film, read by Taylor Long and Audrey Bush, is about Ruth Nighswonger, a passionate music teacher, who died in 1978. She is remembered through the Ruth Nighswonger Memorial Grove.
James Waliszewski, known as Mr. W, is a teacher and principal who retired in 2007. In the film, Alex Ambrose and Ava Truong describe how he took pride in his work. “His legacy is his passion to lead by example and for recruiting all our good teachers,” Alex said. His landmark consists of two sculptures of him at Mr. W’s Gate by the office entrance.
Students Garrett Lamm and Ezra Bunkley talk about Michael Fitts, a teacher of 25 years who died in 2006, and his loyalty and respect for others. He is memorialized by a bench near the library with tile paintings done by students.
Pat Hall was the school librarian for 31 years. She died in 2014. In the film, student Georgia Holland highlights her ability to inspire imagination. A bench is named after Hall and carved with the words “our treasured librarian.”
The Oak Grove library is named after volunteer Sandee Turner, who died in 2009. Student Jordan Schulze mentions how dedicated and kind she was.
Custodian Fred Hall, or Mr. Fred, is 80 years old; he retired in 2003. There is a sculpture of him holding a wheelbarrow with flowers made in his honor. Students Lucia Carciere and Sebastian Alvarez share his love for the planet and recycling.
Superintendent Noel Buehler retired in 2011 after 13 years on the job. Student Jojo Holland extolls his “ability to listen, lead and creatively problem solve.” The landmark honoring Buehler is a sculpture of him driving a bus with six students, and his first name is on the door.
Terese Drury, a teacher for 30 years, died in 2017. Student Grace Dijoux brings out her love of music and her work in connecting with Latino communities. As her memorial on campus, there’s a sculpture of Drury playing guitar to her dog, with lyrics from a song she wrote on the stand. Her song “My Children” is featured at the end of the film.
“Mrs. Drury, we love music now, we always intertwine music with everything we do,” student Alexis Padron said.
Alexis said she likes watching the video because it reminds her of the time she spent working with her classmates on the project.
“It was fun,” she said. “It brings back memories from what we did as a group.”
“We couldn’t have done it without Mrs. Eagle,” Alexis added.
As a part of her research, Alexis said she learned the meaning of “legacy.”
“A legacy is something you stand for. It’s passed down to the next generation,” she said.
Thanks to this video, the history and names of people who’ve contributed to Oak Grove School over the years will be passed down to generations to come.
You can watch their video on YouTube at youtube.com/ watch?v=2HyHjr_32Ak.