How many high school students can say this: “This project showed me how much our community members support one another in their businesses and their everyday ventures.” Or, this: “I learned many things about the transportation aspect of life before I came to live here.” Two Houston County students embarked on an ambitious project in 2018 to research how the local work history informs our work culture today. Now, after months of hard work, they are ready to share the fruits of their labor, at the upcoming premiere of their “Stories: YES Houston” short films and interactive media projects.
In partnership with the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program and the City of Houston, Stories: YES Houston is inspired by the Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “The Way We Worked.” The exhibit explores how work became a central element in American culture, and traces the many changes that have affected the workforce and work environments over the past 150 years. The students’ final stories will also be uploaded to the Smithsonian Institution’s Stories from Main Street website for the purpose of archiving stories of life in rural America.
Local program coordinator, Erin Dorbin of Houston, designed the 10-week program that allowed students to develop hands-on — and on-location — oral history, field recording, research, and editing skills. Each workshop was purposefully crafted by Dorbin to inspire students to explore local history topics that they were personally excited about. The workshop series also activated partner institutions across Houston County, including historical societies, libraries, and local businesses.
A free program that ran through spring and summer of 2018, Stories: YES Houston (YES is an acronym for Youth + Engagement + Skillbuilding) worked extensively with three Houston County high school students. Two of the program’s students completed impressive final multimedia projects: Tiffany Michels, a ninth grade student from Spring Grove, and Lillian Carlson, a senior from Houston. Through the program, the students worked with public historians, journalists, podcasters, GIS specialists, media artists—and even a 2018 Obama Fellow—to investigate topics surrounding local worker identity and economic history.
Michels’ project, titled, “Workers and Commuters in Houston County, Minn.” dives into issues surrounding commutes for rural workers and transportation needs for Houston County workers in the 21st century. Looking back on the program, Michel is grateful for the video editing, audio editing, camera angles, and people skills she learned. Overall, she was pleased to realize “that it isn’t all that hard for me to break out of my comfort zone, and this project gave me the chance to do that.”
For her project, Carlson took a deeper look into how retail and Main Streets have rapidly changed in small town America over the last several decades. She researched population changes, rural retirement, and how chain stores like the Dollar General have gained traction in local economies. Lillian takes an intimate look at what’s happening to her hometown’s businesses, including the one owned by her family, in her film titled, “Next Gen Rural Retail in Houston, Minn.” Her favorite moment in the project was “meeting with Shannon Sullivan in D.C. [the Smithsonian project coordinator] and hearing what an impact my story was already having after just being released a little bit earlier.” Both students look back on the project as an invaluable learning experience. Says Carlson, “It is a truly amazing and long lasting project that can teach you a lot about yourself and your community.”
The Stories: YES Houston premiere will take place on Saturday, February 9 at 3 p.m., at the Houston County Historical Society Museum (104 History Lane, Caledonia), and is open to the public. A short overview of the program will be followed by a screening of the student projects, including a two-part story by Stories: YES Houston students titled, “Young Lady Democrat of Spring Grove, Minn.” Attendees will also be invited to interact with the transportation story map that accompanies Michel’s project to collect additional rural transportation stories.
Additional information about the Stories: YES Houston project can be found online at www.storiesyeshouston.com.