Students start oral history project about lab school


The histories of Shippensburg University and its Grace B. Luhrs University Elementary School are intertwined, yet many are unfamiliar with the elementary school on campus. This fall, two groups of Shippensburg students are looking to change that by talking with former Luhrs Elementary students, teachers and staff to create an oral history of the school.

Eighteen students in Dr. Laurie Cella’s Studies in Writing class and 16 students in Dr. Steven Burg’s Theory and Practice of History class will spend the fall semester compiling a history of Luhrs Elementary, which includes its three predecessor schools.

“We are looking for former students, teachers, administrators and staff members who are willing to share their stories and memories with us,” said Cella, associate professor of English and director of the first-year writing program. “We would like to talk with as many people as possible.”

Cella said that some of her students are education majors, eager for the chance to speak with former teachers about their experiences. Her students will conduct the interviews, then transcribe those conversations to incorporate their subjects’ own words into their stories. Burg’s students will examine written records for additional information.

“Our class is going to focus on researching the campus’s four historic elementary schools. Those model/lab schools trace their history back to the university’s first class,” said Burg, professor of history and chair of the Department of History and Philosophy. “My students will focus primarily on archival and historical records, but we also will use the oral histories collected by Dr. Cella’s class, particularly for the modern period.”

“This project has a much larger purpose than just turning in a writing assignment for a grade,” Cella said. “This is a true service-learning project that will create a historical document for the community at large. And because the stakes are higher, the students will be taking more risks as writers, which pushes them to do their best.”

Cella’s class will have a “publication party” with participants at the end of the semester to celebrate the project’s completion. “We consider them our partners in the project — an oral history is very much a collaborative effort.” Students and their subjects will read excerpts from the first draft of the book at the party.

Burg said final editing and publication work will take place after the semester, with the book to be printed in early 2015.

As a laboratory school attached to SU’s College of Education and Human Services, Luhrs provides a setting for university students from several majors to observe and participate in elementary school activities. In conjunction with the adjacent Bartos Child and Family Center, students majoring in education, early childhood, psychology, sociology, criminal justice, social work and counseling gain real-world experience through their interaction with the children. About 125 students in kindergarten through fifth grade attend Luhrs.

Those who want to participate in the oral history project are asked to contact Cella at