Fifth-graders researched, wrote, published a book on Sunset history last year

The year 2013 has been a big one for history in West Linn, as the city celebrated its 100th anniversary with events focused on the city’s past and its development from its pioneer roots to its modern suburban status. One of the city’s primary schools, Sunset, has been around for that entire span.

Actually, Sunset is even older than the city. Built in 1890, the school celebrated its 123rd anniversary this year with little fanfare. The students in Rosalynn Pesicka’s fifth-grade class last year noticed, though, and they celebrated the school’s heritage by putting together a book about Sunset history.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Rosemont Ridge sixth-graders return to their fifth-grade classroom to talk about the book they published in Rosalynn Pesickas class last year.They left Sunset in June, and most of them are sixth-graders at Rosemont Ridge Middle School now. They returned recently to Pesicka’s Sunset classroom to reminisce about their project.

“Remember how sad we were the first day of school last year?” Aaron Dawson asked.

When the 2012-13 school year began, the fifth-graders had a couple of reasons to feel blue. The city’s new school, Trillium Creek, had just opened and had drawn quite a few of their classmates away. The community made much of the new school, and students couldn’t stop talking about — and envying — the tube slide in Trillium’s library. Morgan Misra summed up her classmates’ mood as that school year began.

“Since Trillium had been made and had all this cool stuff, we felt less important,” she said.

Sensing her students’ emotions, Pesicka proposed a project. Why not do some research, learn about the school and put what they learned into a permanent form by creating a book that would last for the next 100 years?

“I was really excited when Mrs. Pesicka pitched the idea,” Averi Fels said. “It cheered everybody up. As we started researching, we realized that Sunset is special in its own way, because it’s 123 years old.”

“Sunset’s the oldest school in the district,” Morgan said “That’s what’s cool about us. ... We were created before West Linn was. It was created around us.”

The students emailed questionnaires to former teachers, connected with a historian and dug through boxes of archived materials. About eight or nine students served as editors of the book’s various sections, and they all agreed that narrowing down the topics was one of the most challenging parts of the project.

“It would ebb and flow,” Pesicka said of the students’ interest and efforts. “When (former teacher) Hal Stewart came in it really took off. The people came alive for us.”

As a result, the students added sections to the book, so they could include information on school pranks and heroes.

“It was a big process. It was huge. It ended up being more than I thought it would be, because they took it to a new place,” Pesicka said.

Pesicka used an online service to publish four copies of the book, titled “Sunset Primary School: 123 Years in the Making.” Two copies went to two former teachers who had helped them research the project, Stewart and Merle Rosecrans. One copy stays in Pesicka’s classroom. And although the students discussed burying the fourth copy in a time capsule, in the end they gave it to Sunset’s principal, Lisa Hawking, for safekeeping.

“We put one in a time capsule (but) we didn’t bury it,” Jack Strickland said.

That’s because of a lesson they learned while researching the school’s history. Although a time capsule had been buried on the school grounds much earlier, it proved impossible to find even with a metal detector.

In the process of learning about Sunset’s history, the students became a part of it. They seemed to rejoice in their return, however brief, to the school that they had left just a few months ago.

“When I come back here it feels like I’m still a little kid,” Sarah Ladha said. “It kind of feels like home when you walk in.”

“This school just kind of generates that kind of warmth,” Pesicka said. “There is a feeling about this school and maybe it’s because of all the people who have been here.”

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