In my neighbourhood

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
Producing a local studies CD-Rom made a 'boring' town exciting, reports Carolyn O'Grady

"I used to think Eastbourne was this boring town," says Robyn Tucker. "I thought nothing had happened here. Now I think it's a lot more interesting."

Robyn is at Bourne Primary School. What changed her mind about her home town was an after-school club which produced a CD-Rom on its history. She discovered that the East Sussex resort was so heavily bombed during the Second World War that children evacuated there were returned to London to be sent elsewhere. German bombers often unloaded their unused bombs over the town as they returned home.

From interviewing elderly residents and investigating other sources, she also learned about the history of the school, everyday foods, and rationing. "I don't know how they survived on so little," says fellow club member, Ingrid Senaris de Almeida. Visits to the town, internet searches and interviews with elderly residents provided much of the information for the CD-Rom. But an equally rich source of stories was pupils' families.

Children were invited to explore their family trees and their kin's roads to Eastbourne. In Robyn's case that road had taken her family via Guyana, Sierre Leone and Singapore where her grandfather was in the police force and her grandmother was a nurse who looked after British soldiers during the war. Ingrid's family came from Brazil and Spain. Unusually for Eastbourne, 20 per cent of Bourne's pupils come from ethnic minorities.

All this information appears on the very professionally made CD-Rom, which "will be a major resource for Years 5 and 6", says headteacher Steve Salmon. "Teachers will be able to take specific units and use them across the curriculum in history and geography, for local studies, for example, IT; and in English, to provide for instance, purposes for writing. It takes the fantasy out of history and makes it real", he says. The CD-Rom would be on all the school's computers.

Organising the project was a small consulting and training company, A-Z Education. A core group of six children contributed most of the work. And three parents were also particularly involved along with a member of the local Family History Society, who brought photographs, ration books, gas masks, and other artifacts to the club. Money came from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Filming was done with a digital video camera and the CD-Rom was put together using Microsoft's Producer and Movie Maker. Kathy Korpe, director of A-Z Education, says: "The making of a CD-Rom gives a real purpose for communications, and digital video cameras enable pupils' contributions to be changed if they don't like what they've done."

The first move was to advertise the project to pupils, parents and residents through newspaper advertisements and posters designed by pupils.

Annie Smith, who grew up in Eastbourne during the war, came to talk about rationing, growing her own food and profiteering. "I was hungry sometimes, but we had to make do with what we got," was how she described surviving on so little food. Other interviewees talk about bombing, evacuation and finding the body of a German parachutist in the sea. Pupils also took pictures and looked at monuments. "We'd driven or walked past lots of statues and houses with plaques and nobody had taken any notice", said teaching assistant Louise Honisett.

"It's opened their eyes to what's right in front of them." "It's a huge missed opportunity if you don't do this now." says Kathy Korpe, "Because these people (who lived through the war) won't be here much longer.

Children don't just want to hear what Churchill said, they want to hear the stories of ordinary people".

* A-Z Education Tel: 01323 411658



* Be sensitive when investigating family history. Don't push if pupils or parents don't want to go down a particular route.

* Remember that the main resources are pupils and their families.

* Publicise what you're doing well in advance to parents, teachers, pupils and others.

* Identify early on a core group of parents and other contacts who are really committed.

* Bear in mind that interviewees will probably have to come in twice. First for a more general interview and then for more specific questions.

* Practice active listening in order that children can ask follow-up questions that are based on what the interviewees say rather than on what the interviewer has decided in advance. Role plays can be useful here.

* Find a quiet space for interviews. Background noise can ruin a good interview.

* Remember that family tree work has to involve homework or parentscarers coming to the classroom.

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