Friday, February 12, 2021

Hands on the historical record: Seventh graders display a burning desire to showcase and share Windham history

By Walter Lunt

“It’s not just learning history facts; it’s learning while having fun doing activities.” Sophie Villanueva

Grasping wood burning pens and leaning intently over their work on a creative map project, junior historians at Windham Middle School plot and mark places of historic interest on small sheets of pine board.

Such is an almost typical day, after school, in the middle school library where the History Club meets each Tuesday, masked and socially distanced. Seventh graders Delia Tomkus, Aeden Leighton, Ty Stahle and Sophie Villanueva engage each week with co-leaders Paula Sparks and Brian Brigham to explore topics in Windham history, and other far-ranging subjects like wars and Victorian Santa Claus.

History Club member Ty Stahle
displays his half-completed
wood-burned map of Windham. The
finished project will include
locations and labels of historic sites.
“(The club) reinforces what they are learning in Social Studies,” says Sparks, “…it provides an opportunity for them to talk about history from today’s perspective.” And how what was going in other places influenced the way people in Windham lived. A study of Victorian times, for example, spawned a discussion of a famous letter sent by a child to the New York Sun newspaper in 1897. Following a discussion of “Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus,” and how it prompted a slew of ‘letters to the editor’ from other children, History Club member Aeden Leighton solemnly observed how “…it was sad knowing what kids were asking for (back then), and how little some of them had and wanted.”

Delia Tomkus liked making the wood-burned maps and learning about historical places in Windham. Using the town maps found in the history back packs at Windham Library, the students placed carbon paper (historical in itself) between the map and the wood surface, traced the outline, wood-burned some of the geographical features, added paint to bodies of water and applied a natural stain. 

Later, they plan to identify and label historical sites (old fort, powder mills, Quaker district, etc.) utilizing push-pins and string.

The History Club is in its second year at WMS. Sparks says this year has been a real challenge. Some kids miss sessions because of quarantine, “Any time there is an active case (of the virus), anyone determined to have had close contact must quarantine.” Due to a rotating schedule, half of the student population can attend in-school classes on Mondays and Wednesdays; the other half attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So, as Sparks points out, “…the only kids who attend are those who come to school on Tuesdays. (I have) no way of knowing if the lack of a late bus or no transportation on a non-school day impacts who can participate.”

Upcoming projects and activities will include more (Windham) trivia games and crosswords, constructing pinhole cameras to record modern history and a chance to showcase artifacts and the class’ handiwork in a display case at the school library.

The History Club is sponsored by the Windham Historical Society. <

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