Sometimes it takes seeing the actual places and spaces of history to make the past significant to us today.
That’s something Andrea Bell-Myers has learned in her 25 years as an elementary school educator.
About 10 years ago, Bell-Myers, who is now a fifth-grade teacher a Brass Community School in Kenosha, was teaching a room of eighth-graders about life in the United States during the Civil War, when some students asked the question: “What does this have to do with me?”
Hoping to impress upon students what the struggles of the time period meant for them today, she decided to take the youth on a tour of sites in Racine and Kenosha with a connection to that history, including places that were once stops on the Underground Railroad.
“(The) students started learning that this is pretty powerful stuff, and they really started feeling more proud of their area, and their culture and their heritage,” Bell-Myers explained.
During the past 10 years, the Racine native has taken about 1,200 students, from third through eighth grades, to more than a dozen sites in the area.
Bell-Myers said her decision to include new sites over the years was done in part to keep the experience fresh for herself.
“You want to keep that passion of learning inside of you as a teacher, because it is going to be conveyed to the students. When they see you get excited, they get excited,” she said.
On Wednesday, Bell-Myers marked the 10th Anniversary of her first tour by taking about 50 students from the fifth-grade class to visit the Racine Heritage Museum, 701 Main St,, First Presbyterian Church, 716 College Ave., Monument Square, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, the city’s first black church, and Carthage College.
Seated in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, a group of about 30 students listened intently as church member Nancy Ritter described how slaves used quilt patterns to send messages to fellow captives who were looking to escape.
Later, her husband, Jerry, brought a group of the students to a door in a nearby hallway that opened to reveal a small dirt crawl space believed to have been a hiding place for runaway slaves.
When a few kids in the group began to make too much noise, teacher Kari Gordon encouraged them to think about how quiet they would have had to have been if they were a runaway slave trying to avoid detection.
“Just imagine what it would be like if you were being hidden — be that quiet,” she said.
Source: Journal Times | Cara Spoto