HomePlace-Based ForumFrom the Big Sink to Water Witching: Dora Students Embrace Local Heritage

From the Big Sink to Water Witching: Dora Students Embrace Local Heritage

Place-based education breathes life into a community’s past and engages students in discovering the very fabric of their town or region.  Dora High School, with support from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Rural School Partnership, has fully embraced place-based learning with stunning results.  Their Dora Digital Stories project is an effort worthy of emulation, and it hearkens back to earlier and well-known student-centered archival efforts like Foxfire in Georgia and Bittersweet in Missouri.

Going to school in a beautiful but isolated region of the Missouri Ozarks, Dora students are revisiting their community’s history through video and verse.  Excellent examples are Tyler Long’s exploration of a forgotten sinkhole near the hamlet of Pottersville, once a site of play for children who are now grandparents in the area, and Brittany Strong’s look at the history and present use of water witching, also known as dousing, a technique for locating underground water sources.

In his video, The Big Sink, Long gives us a narrated, visual tour of a lost-to-time sinkhole. He describes it in great detail as he finds it now and recounts how it used to look. He connects the Big Sink to the community’s history, offering several personal histories of individuals such as his grandfather, who used to play there with the other children of the area. Long explains that since his grandfather’s generation, the sink has slowly been forgotten. Now the path to it has grown over, and you would not be able to find it unless you knew it was there. He hopes that in the future, children will rediscover the place again.

Brittany Strong’s video documents the long history of water witching, reaching all the way to back Biblical times. She speaks with her father, Jeff Strong, a modern water witching practitioner, as he demonstrates water witching. She explains that those who do water witching commonly use forked sticks that will bend toward the ground or bounce up and down to mark a water source below. In fact, Strong tells us that water witching can be so exact as to locate exactly how far down a water source is. Although water witching is mostly used to locate water sources, it can also find mineral deposits, metals, oil, etc. Strong explains that water witching is a genetic aptitude that you are born with; it cannot be learned. She concludes by saying that despite the dwindling numbers of practitioners, water witching is still a common practice in the Ozarks.

These videos and other work included in Dora Digital Stories were funded by a $20,000 Rural Schools Partnership Coover Place-Based Education grant. Dora Digital Stories is an online resource where participating high school students document and record the unique history of Dora and surrounding Ozark County. The mission of the digital storytelling project is to learn more about the history of the area as well as how to produce video documentaries, an important skill in an increasingly digital world.

The Dora project is part of a high school course entitled Ozarks Folklore, taught by Zak Hamby. The goal of the course is to create a series of these short documentaries on a variety of topics including historical (mills, the first Ozarks settlers, local Native American tribes, the impact of the Civil War on the Ozarks, Baldknobbers, the history of a particular community, log-rollers, etc.), cultural (dialect, place names, folk remedies, local folk tales, ghost stories, etc.), personal interest (the history of a family member born and raised in the Ozarks), or even scientific (varieties of Ozark vegetation, caves or sinkholes, knobs, river wildlife, etc.).

The site is clean, easy to use, and already features a number of local stories, complete with videos. You can visit the Dora Digital Stories site here. It’s a must-bookmark for anyone interested in Ozarks history.

Dora students use a variety of technology including flip cameras, lapel microphones, digital cameras, flash drives, digital voice recorders, a scanner, a printer, and a classroom set of laptops.  Grant funding allowed for the purchase of this equipment.

As the culmination of the project, the students will present their digital stories at a special after-school film festival, where they will narrate their experiences with the project and display their digital stories. The community will be invited to attend their presentations.

The Rural School and Community Trust’s Center for Midwestern Initiatives encourages schools and teachers to learn about and implement place-based education strategies.  Our website contains a wealth of stories and information on the subject, and we would be pleased to work with school districts to provide teacher training or project facilitation.  Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 417-848-9083 for more information.