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West High School senior leads charge to digitally preserve the school's history

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Amitabha Shatdal carefully pulled a piece of weathered paper, colored sepia with age, from an envelope and spread the folded sheet of newsprint open on the table before him. The nameplate read: “The High-Times,” and the publication date was Oct. 3, 1930. It was the first West High School student newspaper and it was printed in the school’s first year.

The front page of the first West High School newspaper, The High-Times, published in October 1930.

Shatdal, a West senior, became the leader of an archeological expedition within the walls of the school’s library after searching for old articles about West High School from local newspapers on the database during a free period.

With help from school librarian Beth Hennes, West Assistant Principal Sean Storch and Principal Karen Boran, Shatdal set off on a unique mission, to devote his free time to compiling an archive of old articles, yearbooks and other artifacts from the school’s history to be digitized and accessible to the public, as the school begins to ready itself for upcoming construction projects funded by the 2020 operations referendum.

“After years stored away in the farthest reaches of the school and deep within teachers’ and alumni’s homes, West High memorabilia are finally being rediscovered and appreciated for the beautiful artifacts that they are,” Shatdal said.

He’s putting out a call to the community to contribute to the archive with any West-related artifacts such as school newspaper articles, audiovisual records and pictures from decades past. He has set up an email for community members to reach him at

The dig begins

Earlier in the school year, as the library was upended in preparation for its referendum-funded move and remodel, Shatdal brought a number of articles about West High in the 1950s to Hennes, who offered to show Shatdal yearbooks and newspapers from that era that had been collecting dust in the storage room.

“They’re really fascinating to look at, and I think they’re really important for students today and in the future to go back and look at ... to get an understanding of what the school used to be, what it is now and what it can become in the future,” he said. “The reason we learn history in school is because it has impacts today — how we view policy today, how we act today.”

He drew similarities between World War II, which was written about by students for the West High Times, a later iteration of the school’s newspaper now available online only, and the war in Ukraine. Both conflicts caused food prices to increase across the globe.

His expedition grew to include a team of his classmates as they continued to unearth a trove of 20th-century learning materials, including slides used in school lessons and a roughly 50-year-old carousel slide projector which Shatdal figured out how to get in working order.

In Boran’s office on Wednesday, he switched on the projector and transported those in the room back to the 1970s as photos from roughly 50 years ago lit up a blank white dry-erase board.

Slides used in lessons across a variety of subjects were stacked and bound in folders on a cart below the projector, and loose slides depicted everyday life of students from that era: shop class with now classic cars and lice checks on students with mop-top haircuts.

The scope widens

Shatdal plans to expand his expedition to other storage rooms in the school, including the art storage room, which had been a darkroom used to develop film in photography class.

“We just keep finding more and more stuff — it’s just amazing,” Boran said. “Kind of like King Tut’s tomb.”

The artifacts go way beyond paper and slides to include pieces such as ornamental glass and artwork hidden behind walls, Boran said.

“We’re hoping to share some really interesting things about West and sometimes that sparks additional interest in bringing more of these archival materials in, so we’re hoping to get the word out to West (alumni),” Storch said.

All of the Madison School District’s four main high schools are undergoing multimillion-dollar refurbishments in the coming years, and students at those schools might also be able to uncover similar troves of learning materials from decades past as staff readies the buildings for construction.

“All of the schools are going through this and trying to determine what we have space for and what can the city of Madison afford to have us toss — that’s really the question,” Boran said.


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