Taking a Stand at WAHS
Western Albemarle High School juniors who are currently studying U.S. history have embarked on a yearlong project exploring how monuments and memorials serve to educate the public about historical figures and events. The work is sponsored by a grant given to all three Albemarle County high schools by LRNG, an initiative of the nonprofit Collective Shift, which was launched by the MacArthur Foundation. LRNG’s mission is to “close the equity gap by transforming how young people access and experience learning.”
LRNG’s “Innovators Challenge” awarded $25,000 to the County for its proposal, titled “Let ’Em Shine,” which “invites students to help unite the community by creating a symbolic ‘monument’ that honors the rich history of Charlottesville.” At WAHS, social studies teachers Monica Laux and Sandra McLaughlin are leading their classes to begin researching a U.S. figure in history who took a stand.
“The projects will focus on a local untold story, and students will design and build a monument or memorial to add to Albemarle County history,” said Laux during a recent class introduction to the concept. “Students will learn about the power of monuments, the power of story, and how to engage people effectively.” The projects can employ a variety of digital “artifacts,” such as virtual reality 360-degree movies, interactive apps, and original songs and lyrics to tell their stories.
Though the grant was received in the spring of this year, its topic has become even more timely after the horrific events in Charlottesville this past August, sparked by local debate over Confederate statues. “The grant is not necessarily focused on those issues, but rather on how monuments illuminate history, driven by what interests the students,” said John Hobson, lead coach and facilitator for Social Studies education in the school division. “Rather than walking them through a dry ‘history death march,’ we are going on field trips to places like Montpelier and to D.C. to explore the monuments on the National Mall.”
Angela Stokes, who works in the Response to Intervention area of the Dept. of Student Learning for the County, was the author of the successful grant. “It’s important to make sure that all students have this kind of learning opportunity, including some who may not have had a chance to visit major monuments when they were younger,” she said.
During Ms. Laux’s introduction, students thought about the monuments or memorials they had visited, which were most memorable, and how their construction conveyed meaning or significance. The students used post-it notes to write down their observations, stuck them on large pages tacked up around the room, and then broke into groups to construct small models of monuments using craft materials like clay, construction paper, pipe cleaners, and styrofoam.
A team from Getting Smart, an online blog community featuring news and stories about innovative teaching and learning, was on hand during the class to film and document the unique focus of the project. The students’ work will be completed in phases throughout the year, and the results of the initiative from all of the high schools will be presented at a community showcase at the end of the school year.
Getting to Know Community Helpers
On a recent sunny autumn day, students in Tammi Williams’ kindergarten class took a walk from Crozet Elementary to Crozet Fire Station 5 to meet the firefighters and explore the big trucks and equipment there. As part of Williams’ unit on community helpers, the students will have a chance to meet a dentist, a chef, the school nurse, a police officer, and a librarian, in addition to the firefighters.
“Of course they love this particular trip because of the fire trucks,” said Williams, but there are some important learning elements as well. “We encourage them to ask questions, which is sometimes hard to do when you’re five years old.” In a demonstration, as one of the firefighters dons each piece of his fire suit, the kids shout out what’s still missing. “Your boots! Your gloves!” After his outfit is complete, the students can see what to expect in case of a real fire, including the “Darth Vader”-like breathing sounds coming from his mask.
While the pumper trucks were fun to clamber through, nothing could beat the tower truck, and the students screamed with excitement as the long arm lifted a firefighter, a chaperone mom, and a student teacher high in the air. All in all, a great day out and about in the Crozet community.