If there was any question as to the true focus of Biddeford’s Maine Community Heritage Project, it was resoundingly answered at the team’s final celebration on Wednesday at McArthur Public Library. To wit: The students of course!
Attended by the Biddeford High School principal and both the superintendent and assistant superintendent of Biddeford schools, the convivial luncheon served as an opportunity to highlight all that the Project Aspire students had done in service of creating a local history website for the city.
In thanks, the adult team members made this final project gathering all about their younger partners. They described the many activities students had done as part of the project: handling/selecting artifacts, scanning, digital photography, cataloging, research, writing, exhibit building, and visiting historic sites around town. They profusely thanked the school system, and particularly, Biddeford High School principal, Britton Wolfe, for his foresight in forwarding the MCHP application onto Project Aspire teacher Denise Doherty.
They recounted favorite memories of working with the students. Biddeford Historical Society president Raymond Gaudette shared his delight at seeing them fan out into the First Parish Meetinghouse, eager to explore the artifacts there.
Their teacher, Denise Doherty, marveled at how precise their work was and how they even scolded her when she forgot to put on white gloves to handle an old document. The pride she felt for her students’ achievement was palpable.
And finally, the adult team members awarded and rewarded the high schoolers with “Community Heritage Scholar” certificates and “Biddeford Heritage Project” logo-embossed black sweatshirts, which the students wasted no time in putting on. (And which we here at Maine Historical are very covetous of! Why didn’t we think of that?)
Rounding out the noontime event was an overview of the content-rich website, and some of the historical tidbits that delighted the team members as they researched their exhibits.
These included a series of letters between Biddeford’s Judge George Thacher, who served as a member of the Continental Congress, and his nephew that are as chock-full of day-to-day family matters and humor as they are with public and national events. And the colorful James Montgomery Flagg — creator of the famous “I Want You” Uncle Sam poster — whose inflammatory opinions on everything from race to the road between Biddeford and Biddeford Pool raised eyebrows in the early 20th century.
So this year was a learning experience as much for the adults on the team — a couple of the library staff members remarked how they had gained a new appreciation for history because of MCHP — as for the students. But more important than the historical facts uncovered and technological skills gained, however, are the relationships established between the generations.
Maine Community Heritage Project is about a lot of things, most of which can be quantified — the number of items digitized, the hours it takes to do an activity, or the cost of a equipment and supplies. But the Biddeford team epitomizes one of the most important things MCHP espouses — intergenerational collaboration, which eludes any attempt to reduce its worth to mere numbers. It’s boundless, timeless, priceless.