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School Notes: Viewing History Through Local Stories

Windsor-Based Program Views the World Through Connecticut River Valley’s Stories

  • Educator Sarah Rooker works with Reghan Allen, left, and Patrick Lydon Ovitt, both third graders at Windsor's State Street School, during an after-school session centered around circuits at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt., on April 26, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)

  • Educator Sarah Rooker explains how to fix a circuit to Alex Allen, a fifth-grader who is homeschooled, at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt., on April 26, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)

  • Flow of History director Sarah Rooker demonstrates how a circuit works to elementary and middle-schoolers during an after-school program at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt., on April 26, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, May 02, 2016

Near the end of her second year of teaching history at Stevens High School, Nancy Lewis found a flyer in her in-box — “back when an in-box was a real box,” she said — from a network of educators called the Flow of History.

The flyer offered Vermont and New Hampshire teachers at schools along the Connecticut River and its watershed a range of summertime professional-development workshops, topical-reading groups and “place-based workshops and institutes,” among the latter an institute on the roots of the Industrial Revolution in and around Windsor.

“It took great historical readings on the national level and introduced it to us teachers, and brought it all local,” Lewis recalled recently. “They taught me how to be a history detective, how to find the larger story right here in the Upper Valley. They showed us how to work with primary documents, how to find them to tell the larger story of American history.”

More than a decade later, Lewis is an advisor to the nonprofit collaborative, which Sarah Rooker, the Vermont Historical Society’s former education director, co-founded in 2002 with a federal grant from the Teaching American History program.  

The organization, which works with more than 50 teachers a year from western New Hampshire and eastern Vermont, now meets expenses with a mix of “contracts with schools, fee-based programs, partnerships with museums such as the Norwich Historical Society and support from foundations such as the Windham Foundation and the Byrne Foundation,” Rooker said.

“The idea was to help teachers teach traditional American history through the Upper Valley lens,” said Rooker, who continues to direct Flow of History while also serving as director of new initiatives at the American Precision Museum in Windsor. “Upper Valley communities were deeply engaged in the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War. Many immigrants came here. The evidence is in our communities.”

By 2005, enough Upper Valley teachers were signing up to look through cemeteries and probate records, and to travel around the country to follow Upper Valley expatriates’ migrations west, that Rooker recruited her former Vermont Historical Society colleague Alan Berolzheimer, of Norwich, to join her as assistant director and project historian.

“I have a Ph.D. in U.S. History and consider myself first and foremost an educator,” Berolzheimer, who remains director of book publishing at the historical society, wrote in an exchange of emails last week. “The prospect of working with teachers to develop best-practice pedagogy for teaching American history was something of a dream come true.”

Rooker began dreaming of sharing American history with youngsters while growing up in central Massachusetts, where her mother worked at the Old Sturbridge Village theme park.

“After school every day, I got off the bus, put on a costume, tended the sheep and spun wool,” Rooker said. “I have a feeling that was part of it.” The hook had set firmly enough for Rooker to go on to major in American studies at the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, during which she also interned at Colonial Williamsburg.

“It gave me really formal training in architecture, in material culture and how to read the land around you,” Rooker said.

Rooker brought that training to Vermont in 1994, working first for the Vermont Museum and Gallery Alliance and later the historical society. In the early years with Flow of History, the federal grant enabled Rooker to help Upper Valley teachers spend parts of their summers exploring everything from the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama to the effects on Native Americans of the westward expansion.

One summer, Flow of History helped Lewis win a History Channel grant to go to Montana to look into why a Claremont family migrated to Montana during the gold rush. The following academic year, her students learned “that the family left because the father had slit his throat with a scythe,” Lewis recalled. “Let me tell you: Those kids were on fire after that. They went through probate records in Newport and found a bankruptcy filing.”

The students also began sharing information, through a blog, with a group of Montana students doing research.

“So much of professional development is just dull,” Lewis said. “There’s nothing dull about this. You can’t help but adapt it and go back to the classroom.”

The adaptation and the learning didn’t stop after the federal grant expired several years ago. Rooker said that explorations this coming summer will include revelations about black soldiers from Woodstock who served in the Civil War, and the role of the Windsor-based precision-machining industry in the war effort.

“Now we’ve brought it home, doing some of the same deep explorations of place, but here, and it’s proven to be just as rich,” Rooker said. “It’s been a wonderful experience to be closer to home.”

Berolzheimer credits Rooker with forging the new alliances that allowed Flow of History to run steadily after the federal money dried up, and with finding teachers willing to go the extra mile in sharing history with their students.

“Sarah’s energy and initiative have been absolutely critical to making those partnerships happen,” Berolzheimer said. “I think, inevitably, that when you immerse kids in the history and stories of their own towns, they deepen their attachments, pride, curiosity and civic mindedness. … That’s the aspect and potential of our history education work that makes me most proud.”

That kind of work keeps Nancy Lewis looking forward to each new school year.

“It’s such great learning for teachers, too,” she said. “We help solve mysteries. So much of history is a foregone conclusion: read to the end of the chapter. When the kids go out on this kind of work, they don’t know where they’re going to go. They don’t know the end of the story. The fun is in the discovery.”

In collaboration with the American Precision Museum and Valley Quest, the Flow of History education network is inviting science and history teachers from schools in the watershed of the Connecticut River to a seminar on “The Power of Water, the Power of Place,” during the first weekend of July in Windsor. The summer institute offers participants a chance to explore the Mill Brook watershed. To learn more and to register, visit flowofhistory.org/site and click on 2016 Summer Institute Information.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Cells

Two teams from Sunapee Middle High School and one from Grantham Village School qualified for the global finals of the Destination Imagination problem-solving competition with their performances at the New Hampshire tournament on April 2 in Nashua.

The Sunapee squad of Will Sencabaugh, Tobias Dezotelle and Cameron Summerton posted the top score in the Pace of Change technical challenge for middle-schoolers. Leading the field of middle-schoolers in the Get A Clue fine-arts challenge were Sunapee’s Josie Furlong, Jackson Scheele, Lilliana Gurney, Saylor Garland, Molly Reed and Emma McNally.

Grantham Village’s Team ZDIBS of Zoe Chinn, Daniel Rogers, Ian Whedon, Brianna DeBanico and Stephen Miller punched its ticket for the global finals, which will take place in Knoxville, Tenn., by posting the second-best score in the Close Encounters improvisational challenge for middle-schoolers.

Other Upper Valley schools posting top-five finishes at their grade levels during the state tournament were Mascoma Valley Regional High School’s technical-challenge squad in third place, Sunapee Central Elementary School’s technical-challenge unit in fourth, Lebanon Middle School’s Hover Cats in fourth in the technical challenge and Lebanon Middle School’s Felt-Tipped Christmas Lights in fourth in the improvisation challenge.

The Cardigan Mountain School team of eighth-grader Vincent Hou and ninth-graders Alan Zhu, William Zhao, Michael Zhao, Leo Yang and Willie Zhang placed third overall in the high-school division during the recent MathCON competition in Chicago.

The Cardigan delegation was chosen from a field of 50,000 entrants nationwide. After taking an online test at the private boarding school in Canaan in February, the team advanced to Concept Schools’ national competition at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where, among 500 finalists, they took a paper-based test.

The Mascoma Valley Regional High School team of Graeme Lambert, Lukus Labrie, Ken Severence-Camp, Daniel Gonzalez and Pascal Bakker placed fourth out of 34 teams during the national Life-Smarts competition in Denver in early April. The LifeSmarts program tests students in grades 6 to 12 in consumer-literacy skills: personal finance, consumer rights and responsibilities, technology, health and safety and the environment.

Windsor High School senior Tristan McMullen placed third among Vermont competitors during the 23rd annual Mathematics Talent Search. His performance qualified him to represent Vermont at the American Region Mathematics League Competition at Penn State University on June 3 and 4.

∎The Science Club at River Valley Community College (RVCC) and the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension Service are inviting students and their parents to the club’s Family Science Night at the Claremont campus on May 25. The science-related activities will run from 5 to 7 p.m. in the school’s Falcon Room. To register, email sherrie.fontaine@unh.edu or call 603-863-9200. For more information, email bakerman@ccsnh.edu.

Post-Secondary

The Community College of Vermont is offering in-state tuition rates to residents of New Hampshire who live in counties along the border with Vermont and want to take classes in the CCV system. The tuition break, starting with the 2016-2017 academic year and amounting to $759 per semester for most classes, is open to residents of Grafton, Sullivan, Cheshire and Coos counties, under an arrangement with the New England Board of Higher Education.

To learn more, Upper Valley students are encouraged to visit the CCV academic centers in White River Junction, Springfield or St. Johnsbury, or to visit ccv.edu/find.

Scholarship Shape

Woodsville High School’s G. Hampton McGaw chapter of the National Honor Society raised $1,500 for scholarships for college-bound seniors, during its annual dinner and auction on April 8. The chapter plans to award two scholarships of $750 each.

Good Deeds

Following its Peanut Butter and Jelly Food Drive, the Woodsville High School chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) recently donated $700 worth of food to the Good Shepherd Food Pantry in Woodsville.

All the Valley’s a Stage

The jazz ensembles at Woodstock Union High School and Middle School tonight will open the concert that acclaimed young saxophonist Hailey Niswanger and keyboard wizard Caili O’Doherty will perform tonight in the school auditorium. The show begins at 7. Donations to the visiting musicians can be made during the meet-and-greet that follows the concert.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Education-related news and announcements also can be sent to schoolnotes@vnews.com.