Chaney students explore good, bad, ugly of Youngstown



They document the story of steel and tales of organized crime, family histories and plans for the future.

Sophomores in Diane Herdman’s English class at Chaney Campus studied the city’s history as part of a unit on the American Dream.

They relied on the Internet to learn about Youngstown’s past, interviewed family members to gain insight into their personal histories and compiled their findings into posters or PowerPoint projects that line the school hallway.

LaRazia Tolbert, 16, and Ayasha Gordon, 15, both learned more about their families.

“My grandfather moved here from Troy, Ala., when he was 20, and he worked in the steel mills,” LaRazia said.

He was there when the mills closed, too.

Ayasha’s family moved to the Mahoning Valley from Mississippi for farming opportunities, she said.

“My family owned a lot of land toward Sharon, Pa., and over on the East Side,” Ayasha said.

The project required students to research the city’s economy from 1920 to the present and to research and write biographies on family people from the city.

Herdman enjoyed seeing the students discover new things about their hometown and their personal histories through the project. She introduced Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown” to the class, and they broke down the piece, learning that the song’s “Sweet Jenny” was a blast furnace, not a girlfriend.

Tate Acierno, Elijah Foose and Dominic Naples, all 16, called their project “Murder Town,” recalling the days when organized crime killings were regular occurrences in the city.

The project covered industry and politics, Tate explained. Dominic was surprised to learn how many more people lived in the city during its heyday compared with now.

While Elijah has visited Mill Creek Park, he learned through working on the project about the significance of Lanterman’s Mill.

Some of the posters, including the one by Mykell Wilder, Alexis Himons and Carolyn Magby, all 16, included poems written by the students.


Love, Hate

Believing, Caring, Giving

Fighters, Crazy, Takers, Murderers

Happy, Sad

People,” Mykell wrote.

It incorporates the contrasts of the city and its people, he explained.

“We did ours on the Mafia,” Alexis said. “The Mafia had an influence on Youngstown.”

Their project also looked at the thriving industry of yesteryear.

“When the steel mills were here, Youngstown was the place to be,” Mykell said.

Carolyn learned the Valley is the home of Handel’s Ice Cream.

Jazmine Hill, 15, and Oceanna Vaughn, 16, learned more about people and businesses from the city.

“Brad Smith went here,” Oceanna said, referring to the NFL player who played at Chaney. “He plays for the Philadelphia Eagles right now,” Jazmine added.

Oceanna learned that Stambaugh Auditorium is a landmark.

“It’s a national historic place,” she said.

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