I couldn’t resist turning the title into an adventure in alliteration. It’s not often you get to work with that many repeating consonants!
Nor is it often, if you’re not a teacher, that you get to hang out with a group of middle schoolers hot on the trail of history. That’s what I got to do last Thursday morning as Hall-Dale 7th graders hit the streets, the library, and the cemetery in Hallowell as part of their introduction to the MCHP. While a formal school kick-off is planned for December 10, this field trip provided a solid foundation for appreciating the city’s history and wealth of historical resources.
Divided into three groups, the students rotated between well-designed, interactive sessions. At the Hubbard Free Library, director Melody Norman-Camp and teacher Mike Quinn oversaw a scavenger hunt.
Pairs or trios of students were given a list of items to hunt down and describe in writing.
While these items–paintings, busts, artifacts–are all on regular display at the library, the investigative process taught students that they are more than just decor.
“It’s good that they get out and do [history] it instead of just reading [about] it,” said one parent chaperone.
Meanwhile, that sentiment was being echoed by students on historian Gerry Mahoney’s Museum in the Streets tour. “We learn more by doing hands-on stuff than just sitting in the classroom,” said students Olivia Maynard and Amber Bell simultaneously as they walked from one block to the next. When asked why, fellow student Emily Markham chimed in about the importance of access to “the primary source of what we’re learning about.” For example, added Tiffiny McCollett, “I like to see the buildings where things happened.”
And see buildings they did on their hour-long walk. One of many stops was at the former 19th century cotton mill building (turned into apartments in the 1980s) on the corner of Water and Academy Streets. Students listened to Gerry’s lively and insightful commentary about the building, including the revealing lesson that the once-high production of such mills in the north was a direct result of cotton cultivation in the south. “In other words,” he said, even small northern cities like Hallowell indirectly “supported a slave economy.”
Following each stop, Gerry posed a multiple choice question to the students. At the Cotton Mill, the question also centered on economics: What did a mill worker make per six-day work week circa 1850? Choices: A) $3.75, B) $5.75, or C) $10.75. Students furiously haggled and then enthusiastically shouted out their answers. (Give up? The answer is at the bottom of the post.)
The third tour of the day took place at the Hallowell Cemetery, a short bus ride north of downtown. What a day and season for a winding stroll amid gravestones!
With carpets of fallen leaves, overcast skies, and nippy temperatures as his backdrop, Library trustee and city historian Sam Webber–dressed for the part in a 19th century top hat, bow tie, and black coat–led students around to various town father and mother gravestones.
These included first Hallowell settler Deacon Pease Clark and members of the influential Hubbard family, among others.
As you can imagine, these tours–and a mid-day break for a bag lunch in City Hall Auditorium–absorbed virtually an entire school day. But what a great way to lay the groundwork of the MCHP, and lifelong engagement in local history in general. The investment of just a few hours out of the classroom and into the past can pay great dividends in the classroom for the foreseeable future.
(Still wondering what mill workers were paid? The answer is A) $3.75.)