April 21, 2014

Students kick off history road show project

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By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Casey Wright and Brooke Blair carefully unfurled an ancient-looking American flag on the table, each wearing a pair of white gloves so as not to damage the fragile artifact. Blair was taking down information on the feel and texture of the material for the pair’s research.

“It’s really thin,” Wright said. “And gross! It’s kind of bumpy.”

Wright, 13, and Blair, 12, and the other members of Williston Central School’s Phoenix House began their initial research at the Dorothy Alling Library on Monday into a selection of artifacts belonging to the Williston Historical Society. The “Road Show” project, led by teacher Aron Merrill, is meant to expose the students and the community to local Williston history through hands-on experience.

“The kids are going to be learning history through the objects, asking questions and letting the objects take us where they do,” said Merrill.

During the school year, the students will work in pairs researching about 45 objects, Merrill said. They will work with historical society members to find out as much as they can about each object, then present their findings to the community in the spring. The students will compile a database of the objects that can be used by the historical society in the future. The final presentation will also feature local appraisers who will be on hand to appraise items for visitors, similar to the public television show “Antiques Road Show.”

Monday morning, the group of seventh and eighth graders were busy looking over their objects and taking notes on forms designed to steer them in the right direction. The forms asked students to think about possible uses for the object, when and where it might have been used, and what could be learned about the technology at the time in which it was made.

Students must look for clues on their objects in order to find out more about them. Olivia Bourdeau, 13, and Cassy Lacroix, 12, were inspecting a “crazy quilt,” or a patchwork quilt made from irregularly sized pieces of cloth.

“We figured out it was hand-stitched from the back,” Bourdeau said. “It’s different looking. I’ve seen like regular ones, but not a crazy quilt.”

Another team, Adam Corbosiero and Andrew Lemieux, were looking at a dented, yellow and black metal sign advertising McCormick-Deering farm machines. The address on the sign read “R.E. Brown, North Williston, VT.”

“I’m hoping maybe to actually find a farm machine that was made by them,” Lemieux said.

Other objects the students will be researching include a bullet-ridden sign from the border between Essex and Williston, a wedding dress, a Knights of Templar uniform, a World War II shell lamp, and a family bible.

Historical society member Mary Tuthill was on hand to help answer questions from the students. She said she was energized by some of the enthusiasm shown by the kids, and was pleased “to have these kids’ curiosity about their town developed.”

Historical society president Ginger Isham said the project will hopefully pique others’ interest in local history — an interest the students already seemed to have.

“We all found the majority of the students had many questions, were interested in the artifacts and surprised at what the society has in the Vermont Room collection,” she said

Merrill emphasized that the project was a work in progress.

“There’s no text book for this,” Merrill said. “We’re just starting to create questions and find out where this is going to take us.”

Historical society member Mary Tuthill was on hand to help answer questions from the students. She said she was energized by some of the enthusiasm shown by the kids, and was pleased “to have these kids’ curiosity about their town developed.”

Merrill emphasized that the project was a work in progress.

“There’s no text book for this,” Merrill said. “We’re just starting to create questions and find out where this is going to take us.”

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