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GREEN VALLEY, Ariz. -- It won't be long before a chapter of Continental community history is obscured by school improvements, but students are working to preserve its past.

They're collecting it in every way possible -- interviewing longtimers, writing historical plays and creating a mural depicting life in the old days.

Continental School opened nearly 100 years ago for children whose parents worked for Intercontinental Rubber Co. After World War I ended and the demand for rubber diminished, Continental Farm eventually settled on growing cotton. Time and new owner Keith Walden converted it to pecan groves, a venture still thriving.

With just one campus and 550 students, Continental Elementary School District is now among Arizona's smallest. In the mid-1920s, it drew more students than many, even neighboring Sahuarita, with 155. Students of Yaqui, Mexican, African and other descents attended the school, which moved up Whitehouse Canyon in 1973, where it grew in phases through 1998. Now, a bond project is transforming the campus for the future.

Walden's son Dick is among several local residents to share details about growing up in the area. He attended the school and his children have, too. Others include former school staffer Bea Olivas and Connie Sanchez (Grimaldo), who lived near the old Continental store and later started Los Ninos del Valle pre-school, and retired teacher Jean Davis.

The new mural resulted from old pictures and recent interviews as well as oral histories done by Davis' eighth-graders in 1985 and stored on tape -- a gold mine, said Catherine Nash, an artist-in-residence supervising the project through the state arts commission and the school's Parent Teacher Club.

Students sketched what they've learned into vignettes of school life, coloring them in with vivid exterior paints to withstand extreme weather at the school. Scenes include early students, family members, farms, Davis and students on a field trip, and general celebrations, with the Santa Cruz River flowing as a brilliant blue ribbon throughout.

``It's like a family tree of this area,'' Nash said.

Sixteen feet of mural panels will grace the new library/admin building and greet visitors to campus, well in time for the school's centennial celebration in 2016.

Younger students are studying more basic history and how they fit in with the community of a classroom and beyond. And the lessons may reach further yet, Nash said. In researching the school's past, four historical societies and Canoa Ranch were consulted. When someone at the historic ranch to the south heard of the recordings, she thought they might tie in with educational opportunities there.

With the resources being uncovered, a publication on the school's history seems in order, Continental Superintendent Virginia Juettner told the school board recently. She hopes volunteers will come forth and help make the past part of the future.

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Information from: Green Valley News, http://www.gvnews.com

Associated Press,

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