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Grant Puts Kids In Touch With American History

March 17, 2005
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer

Hundreds of Hartford fifth-graders and their teachers are augmenting their American history studies with trips to museums and historical societies across the state.

About 600 students from eight elementary schools in the city are taking part in a program funded by a $925,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant is designed to improve student achievement by providing teachers with a better understanding and appreciation of American history, which they pass on to their students in different ways in the classroom.

On Tuesday, a group of about 40 students from Burr Elementary School visited the Windsor Historical Society to learn about Colonial times in the oldest settled town in Connecticut.

Led by volunteer docents, the students and their teachers visited different exhibits, a house built in 1758 and walked to the Farmington River on the state's first road - created in 1638 - to learn about the difficult life of Windsor's first settlers.

Christine Gray, a social studies teacher at Burr, said her students begin preparing for their site trips about six weeks to eight weeks in advance, using lesson plans and prepared materials from the Connecticut Historical Society and the museum they will be visiting. The teachers also meet with history professors from Trinity College as part of the grant's requirements.

In this instance, a diary written by a young girl who was with the first settlers and other stories about Colonial Windsor, including a rescue on the Farmington River, were read and discussed in class before the visit.

"They're very excited because of the connection with Hartford," Gray said. "They ask me every morning, `Are we going to have social studies?' "

Gray said she requires her students to keep a portfolio on their visits and to make an artifact afterward. Following a visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, students made arrows, wooden spoons and created miniature huts.

The Pequot Museum was the first the Burr students visited. Next year's fifth-graders participating in the three-year program will add the Old State House, Wethersfield Historical Society and Old Sturbridge Village. In the program's final year, visits will include Boston's Freedom Trail and the Mystic Seaport.

Susan Hoffman Fishman, manager of the three-year grant, said city schools have received similar grants for eighth-grade and 10th-grade students.

"Hartford was attractive because of the need for professional development," she said. "Better teachers make better students."

Gray said the program has allowed her to expand on the district's tightly regimented social studies curriculum, and the students have responded.

"It's gone way beyond what I thought because they've made such a good connection," Gray said.

Burr fifth-grader Adam Stanko, who put on replica clothing and a tri-cornered hat that would have been worn by a Colonial-era boy, "milked" a model cow and tried his hand at a butter churn, was also enjoying learning about all the "old stuff."

"It's more fun than reading and staying in the class," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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