To Main Street and Back Madison Middle School 5th-grade students working with gifted and talented coordinator and National Geographic Educator, Sharee Barton, exploring the community of Rexburg, Idaho.

Inside the walls of our classrooms, children deserve the opportunity to develop attitudes, practice skills, and build knowledge to prepare them to be tomorrow's leaders. Exploration of real-world scenarios through inquiry and interdisciplinary experiences allow students to connect education to change.

To Main Street and Back, as 5th-graders in Ms. Jill Bargabos' class named this project, was inspired by the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek and the Out of Eden Walk. These curious middle school students, their teacher, and instructional coach, Sharee Barton, took on the challenge to slow down, think like explorers, and look for humanity in their community. (Fall 2020)

The journey began with the help of Tracy Crowley, manager of Out of Eden Walk-Chicago. Tracy and Sharee shared an experience exploring Antarctica through the National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship (GTF, 2019). Tracy provided slow journalism support throughout the To Main Street and Back project. With adventurous spirits, students slowly peeled apart elements of a war story Paul Salopek shared while walking through the arid Rift Valley of Ethiopia. (Cracked World)

(click DAY 1 SLIDE DECK for lesson outline)

Day 2 wove in an additional classroom slow journalism activity. Students asked questions and formed their own opinons about the ethics of human and elephant interation using Salopek's walk through Burma and the article Trailing Ghostly Giants.

(click DAY 2 & 3 SLIDE DECK for lesson outline)

In a year that has been characterized by sensationalistic press, students understanding of journalism evolved. They were drawn to stories that document a more humanistic and authentic style of reportage.


Driving Question
"I can't believe how much I don't know about Rexburg. I've lived here my whole life!" - Joshua

After defining six specific blocks on Main Street, groups were formed and began exploring from the classroom using Google Maps, Google Earth, and the City of Rexburg Maps. As students slowed down for a deeper dive, they asked the following questions:

1. What is it?

2. Why is it there or what does it do in our community?

3. What would happen if it were not in our community?

On a warm fall day the group took cameras and journals as they walked into town. In each of the six groups, individuals were assigned to be

  • cartographers
  • journalists
  • photographers

as they continued to look for ways the community connects.

Images by 5th-grade Photographers
Images by 5th-grade Photographers

As with most research, after the walking field trip, students had many answers but also a long list of additional questions. Pondering if the driving question was going in the best direction for the information gathered, alternative ideas began to percolate. Students learned the skill of flexibility. Their investment in the project allowed them to be open to embracing new directions.

With much discussion, students voted to change the driving question. They wanted to know more than just how people view their community but how Rexburg connects to the community in positive ways.

In the beginning, students wanted to borrow Paul Salopek's title. They were calling the exeprience "Out of Rexburg Walk." At this point in the project it became more personal to them. With new found ownership, the class wanted to call their walk, "To Main Street and Back."

Logo Created by student, Ellie W.


-New Driving Question

With the goal of discovering how organizations connect to the community, students brainstormed a list of businesses, organizations, charities, and community groups in Rexburg.

Students made a concept map of story telling modalities and considered different audiences that might be interested in hearing their stories.

Sharee reached out to professional podcast creator Paul North, who she met in Antarctica, for support with audio story telling.


Creating podcasts became the storytelling platform choice for Ms. Bargabos' students.

(Visual Note-Taking during Zoom Meeting with Paul North)

"Story telling is THE OLDEST FORM OF HISTORY. It's a sacred responsibility."

-Paul North

Ms. Bargagos' group presented their slow journalism experience to Chris Mann, President of the Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and asked the chamber to partner with them by attaching student produced podcasts to http://rexburgchamber.org/.

Bradley explained, "When people are planning to move to Rexburg or visit our community, we would like them to see our podcasts on your webpage sharing the positive things we've learned about Rexburg."

Brooklyn shared, "There is enough negative in the news. We want to focus on the positive."

The Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce agreed!

With the anticipation of genuine listeners finding interest in their work and the mode of storytelling decided, research pairs naturally stepped up their game. They found historians, contractors of buildings, store owners, and many more primary sources to help authenticate their data collection.

From the Museum of Rexburg archives

Ms. Bargabos' class found one of the biggest hurdles was interviewing. Even with scaffolding and practice, it was intimidating for ten-year-olds to call people they didn't know. Sometimes it took days to finally contact the person best suited to provide the correct information. Students recorded interviews to refer to while creating their podcast stories.

A 5th-grade writing skills rubric provided scaffolding for the podcasts. Expectations not only included an engaging script with a storytelling voice, students also had to use factual and accurate information along with solid writing techniques.

Each student podcast concluded with an invitation for listerners to create their own connections to their communities.


-Paul North

Taking Paul North's advice, students created small spaces that would better control sound while recording. Apps on cell phones and a Zoom H1n Portable Recorder captured scripts.

Soundtrap was a magnificent and user-friendly tool for middle schoolers to produce podcasts complete with intro/outro music and sound effects.



Twelve different podcasts were produced by ten-year old students. The recording and production was 100% student composition. You can listen to all 12 stories at http://www.exploreyourimpact.org/to-main-street-and-back.html

Just about the same time the podcasts were completed, the coordinator for the Rexburg City Council reached out to Sharee. This group had heard about To Main Street and Back from Chris Mann. The Mayor of Rexburg invited Ms. Bargabos' students to present (virtually) at the upcoomng City Council on November 18, 2020.

On the evening of the meeting, because of controversial agenda items, there were loud verbal protesters and a larger turnout than usual. Ms. Bargabos' impressive students presented at the beginning of the City Council gathering. Their messages highlighted connections that build and uplift. The sweet voices of tomorrow's stewards added a bright spot to the evening.

(click on image to listen to the presentation)

Empowering youth to find their voice better prepares them for their future more than anything else educators can do. Life is for exploring. Organic educational experiences will flourish when classroom teachers foster opportunities to look around, ask questions, analyze answers, and encourage students to be change-makers.

Paulo Freire, a leading advocate of critical pedagogy, was quoted to say, "Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world."

If Freire were alive today, he might add, "Education CAN change people." The hinge that supports a changing world for tomorrow is the educational explorations young people are provided with today.



Side Note: Local radio station, BYU-Idaho Radio, interviewed Sharee Barton after the City Council meeting. Click here to listen.

Many thanks to

Lindblad Expedions

National Geograhpic


Tracy Crowley

Created by,

Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, Sharee Barton

Strategy Share

December 2020

Sharee & Tracy, Summer 2020
Created By
Sharee Barton


5th-grade students Sharee Barton