Preservation on a Shoestring
By Paul LaRue
s a teacher, I have seen again and again the great value of hands-on preservation work in getting students to become active in history. However, the current economic climate is not conducive to adding programs or starting big dollar projects. Yet this can be the perfect opportunity to teach preservation and impact your community without having to use additional resources.
Let's be honest: as teachers, we've never had enough money or time to do everything we want to accomplish. I teach in a small rural school district. We are classified by my state as "economically disadvantaged." Rural, urban, and even suburban districts traditionally considered more affluent are facing cutbacks in funding. Why not use this as an opportunity to showcase your classroom and students? Oftentimes, the most innovative projects are those that cost the least. Why not give back to your community by helping preserve its unique history and heritage?
Sound crazy? Let me offer some no-cost activities that require little class time and money, expose students to their local history and culture, demonstrate preservation through a classroom activity lesson, and use your classroom to reach out to the community.
Connection to Curriculum
Teachers feel more pressure to align classroom activities to state standards. Preservation activities can be tied to almost any aspect of the history or language arts curriculum. Preservation can also help with teaching diversity and is a great way to teach civic engagement through participation.
In many school districts, preservation and hands-on history activities will help students fulfill their service learning or community service requirements. Often without them even knowing it, students end up sharpening a range of skills that will help them in all kinds of classroom pursuits. Some projects incorporate math and calculation, and others ask students to hone their attention to detail. Student writing can be used as a wrap-up or evaluation tool. Research of primary documents is excellent for developing critical thinking skills. While many students don't think of these projects as "homework," they have the unintended consequence of making them better students all around.
Activities with Community Partners
Your first activity may just involve your classroom, so community partners are not necessary. Once you have narrowed down a topic or activity, however, reaching out to local organizations and groups can help connect your project to the community and provide additional resources and information. Strong community partners you may want to enlist include:
- Local Government (City, County, School Board)
- Local Veterans Groups (American Legion, VFW, Local Veterans Offices)
- Public Library
- Genealogical Society
- Historical Society
- Local Museums
Engage Your Students
Your students have skills that make them a valuable asset.
Computer Skills: Help develop a database (website, etc.) for a local historical event or group. Or, explore digital photography or social networking (blogs, etc.) that gives students opportunities to write.
Student Experts: Your students can teach others (older and younger) after they have researched a topic. Ask your students to help brainstorm ways they can share what they've learned with other students and/or community members.
Make Headlines: Most local papers will publish stories, if they are written up and enhanced with digital photos. Have students write and photograph an activity or event and submit their work digitally to the local media.
Smiles and Enthusiasm : Sounds corny, but the greatest asset your students have are their positive attitudes. They can be infectious.
Some Sample Projects
These represent actual projects my students have undertaken since 1998.
Take a Veteran to School Day: This is a great way to recognize local veterans. It can be as simple as inviting a veteran into your classroom or hosting a reception. Visit www.loc.gov/vets to read tips about how students can submit interviews with veterans to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
History Walk: Have students walk to an interesting or historic aspect of your community. Give info during your walking tour and ask students to remember data for later. Let students become guides for others.
Students Teaching Students: Students enjoy being treated as "experts," so make them accountable for a body of knowledge. You can also plan a lesson or presentation for another class or grade.
Document History: Have your class document and commemorate some unique aspect of local history. Explore Teaching With Historic Places for ideas and tips.
Student Volunteers: Have students help one period with a preservation activity that teaches service learning and civic engagement. My students walk to a nearby cemetery. They put flags on veterans' graves for Memorial Day. Upon returning to the classroom, they write a reflective journal about the experience. This requires no money, one class period, and is a powerful teaching experience. The local cemetery also appreciates the help; they are stretched thin in the spring.
Other Easy Preservation Activities
- Take students to a local convalescent home to record the stories of older community members. Ask students to pick a theme, such as asking older people what they remember about the moon landing, their first car, or presidential events.
- Ask students to locate a family photo, letter, or other artifact and write a short paper about its context. They can share these with the larger class or other students.
- Have students write a short history of a local building and its changes over time. These can be documented through photos as well, comparing and contrasting a building with how it looked decades ago.
- If you continue to build a service-learning program, project, or club, register your efforts online at www.serve.org, the national service initiative. Others may join you!
Paul LaRue teaches at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. LaRue has developed many hands-on history projects in his Research History seminar. This article originally appeared in the History Channel's "Save Our History Educator's Manual."
Does your school matter? Take a class picture in front of your older or historic school building and share it with the world through the National Trust's This Place Matters campaign. No camera? No problem! Plant a flag on our interactive map.
This story is closed to new comments.