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Our Towns

Viewing GuideCareers and Vocational Education ActivitiesHealth Activities
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Use these tips to prepare your students to view the program thoughtfully:

1. Read the summary of the show to familiarize yourself with its contents.

2. Ask these questions to begin a discussion of how the economic health of a community affects the lives of its citizens.

• What makes our community unique?

• How has our community changed over the past ten years? Is it thriving? struggling? growing? losing population? How has the number and type of businesses changed over the past ten years?

• Do you think our community will be economically healthy in ten years? Why or why not?

• How could our community grow economically and still retain its unique character? 3. Inform students that as they view the program, they will visit some communities that are similar to their own and some that are radically different. You might suggest that students keep the following questions in mind as they view the episode:

• What factors affect the economic health of a community?

• How can individuals contribute to the economic health of their community?

• What are some ways in which individuals and businesses can work together to improve the economy of a town or city?

While Viewing

“Our Towns” presents the following segments:


Will Durst introduces the almost-deserted town of Virginia City, Nevada, and invites viewers to visit some towns where people were able to sustain or improve their community’s economic health.

Segment 1

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Viewers meet Al Vento, owner of Vento’s Dairy and Pizza, whose popular restaurant inspired an outpouring of community support that saved it from being displaced and shut down by a large chain store.

Segment 2

San Francisco, California - Will Durst meets Willie Brown, the busy mayor of San Francisco, who comments on the changing nature of the city’s economy as he rushes from meeting to meeting.

Segment 3

Seattle, Washington - Viewers learn about the revitalization of Seattle’s public school system, a change brought about by a dynamic superintendent who rallied community and business support.
[returns to San Francisco segment 16:42–17:28]

Segment 4

Green Bay, Wisconsin - Viewers are introduced to the unique spirit of Green Bay, a town whose identity is wrapped up in its publicly owned football team, the Green Bay Packers.

Segment 5

Nome, Alaska - Will takes viewers to the end of the earth, Nome, Alaska. He flies with a local pilot who shows him the ways in which people in rural Alaskan communities are dependent on each other, and on the air link to the outside world which the pilot provides.

Segment 6

New Orleans, Louisiana - Viewers take a trip to this southern city with a high poverty rate, where the public libraries are becoming more important to the city’s residents as technology centers as well as book-lending facilities.
[returns to San Francisco segment 32:04–32:43]

Segment 7

San Jose, California - Viewers go deep into the heart of Silicon Valley, where the income gap between high-tech jobs and low-paying service jobs is creating divided communities. At a San Jose city council meeting, citizens debate the passage of a living wage ordinance.
[returns to San Francisco segment 40:13–40:48]

Segment 8

Westminster, Maryland - Will takes viewers to a town in which the volunteer fire department is a central element of the community.
[returns to San Francisco segment 45:19–45:52]

Segment 9

Alliance, Nebraska - Viewers find out how this rural Nebraska town is trying innovative ways to diversify its economy and keep people in the community.



Pause once or twice while viewing to have students reflect on what they've seen. Ask:

• What kinds of communities has the program shown so far?

• What attitudes do the citizens interviewed have toward their towns?

• These are positive stories. What other stories might have been told about the economic health of communities?

• What are some secrets to improving the economic health of a town?

Ask whether students are confused about anything they’ve seen. Offer them the opportunity to visit the Livelyhood Web site and skim the summary of “Our Towns" after watching the program.

If students are unfamiliar with certain concepts, they may want to browse Livelyhood’s “Our Towns” resources section for organizations addressing the issues. An interesting statistical report,“Trends Affecting Our Towns,” is also available, providing facts on how work is changing our cities, towns and rural areas, as well as trends in civic life and corporate volunteerism.

After Viewing

A variety of resources is available for linking the content of the show to particular curriculum areas, and helping students apply the content to real-world situations relevant to their own lives.

1. Follow-up Questions: These encourage students to analyze and think critically about the situations and issues presented in the show.

You might begin by having students consider again and respond to these questions:

• What factors affect the economic health of a community?

• How can individuals make contributions to the economic health of their community?

• What are some ways in which individuals and businesses can work together to improve the economy of a town or city?

Continue by asking questions that will lead students to relate the content of the program to their own lives.

• Which of the stories told in the program could have been told about our community? Explain.

• Do you think citizens have a responsibility to contribute to the well-being of our community? What benefits do people gain when they contribute to their own community’s well-being?

• Which individuals, groups, or companies have contributed positively to the economic health of our community? How have they done so?

To give students opportunities to explore these issues actively and creatively, assign one or more of the cross-curricular activities that follow.

2. Cross-Curricular Activities: These offer a variety of projects for individual students or small groups which extend concepts presented in “Our Towns.” Some of these activities utilize other features of the Livelyhood Web site, such as the Lively Poll and the Posting Areas. All activities are appropriate for students in grades 9–12. Some are suitable for younger students as well; others are appropriate for adult students.