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Hartselle High students Tyler Bartlett, left, and Daniel Walker work on their scrap-books as part of a family history project for an English honors class.
Daily photos by Gary Lloyd
Hartselle High students Tyler Bartlett, left, and Daniel Walker work on their scrap-books as part of a family history project for an English honors class.

Learning more than English
Hartselle High honors class teaching family history, teamwork

By Deangelo McDaniel· 340-2469


Tyler Bartlett didn’t know his great-grandparents raised chickens and goats. Rachel Puckett didn’t know her grandmother made clothes for men and women in a small community in Cullman County.

Samuel Lackey knew several members of his family fought for the Confederate Army. But he’s not sure if the Lackey soldier listed on a monument at the Chickamauga battlefield site is his relative.

Bartlett, Puckett and Lackey are three of 30 sophomore students in teacher Erica Griffin’s English honors class at Hartselle High.

To teach students writing, Griffin requires them to research and write about their family.

But, as Bartlett explained, students are learning much more.

“I didn’t know my great-grandparents, but I have learned to appreciate them and what they had to go through to make a living,” he said.

It wasn’t Griffin’s intent to teach students to appreciate what they have when she started the family history project two years ago.

But it has navigated in that direction, and if there is no way to change it, that’s OK, she said.

“I wanted to teach them all different writing styles, but they are learning so much more,” Griffin said.

And if you talk to the students, they’d much rather tell you about their family history and heirlooms than talk about their writing styles.

Take Caitlin Connor, for example. She assumed that her parents grew up in Hartselle. But she learned that her mother is from Hanceville and her father was raised in Decatur.

Alix Howell learned that her grandfather, Hubert Mitchell, owned a car company. The antique car that her father owns, came from Howell.

“It was passed on to my dad and he refurbished it,” Howell said. “The car was made in 1947.”

John Langley, the grandson of longtime Huntsville Times newspaper reporter Chris Bell, now knows how his grandfather got his picture made with boxer Jack Dempsey.

As a young boy, Bell went to the Roosevelt Hotel and inquired about famous guests.

“If somebody famous was there, he’d go up and knock on their door,” Langley said. “He knocked on Dempsey’s door.”

As for the picture with Bell and former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, Langley said he’s still learning of its origin.

The pictures and the stories the students collect will be part of a scrapbook Griffin requires students to prepare.

They also prepare a book of famous family recipes that is shared with each other.

“This class goes beyond what is required in a regular class, and that’s why we do this project,” Griffin said.

Research is just one part of the project. During the semester, Griffin requires students to write their autobiography, interview grandparents and write a dedication.

“I’ve had several of my former students to send e-mails telling me how they enjoyed the class,” she said. “I think this class is giving students a lot more.”

Remember Puckett, the student who learned about her clothes-making grandmother?

“Her name is Evelyn Rachel Cooley, and I learned that I am named after her,” Puckett said.

As for Lackey, the student who visited the Chickamauga battlefield site, the project has taught him about teamwork.

Originally from Birmingham, he said his grandmother, Evelyn Joyce Limbaugh, told him about how the family helped build each other’s home.

“One would do the wiring,” he said. “Another would do the masonry and someone would do the construction. This showed me how important teamwork and family are.”

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