Pupils participate in hands-on history

Children of Shady Side Elementary compiled community members' stories, made quilt for local exhibit

September 24, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,Special to The Sun

Malique Pratt, a fifth-grader at Shady Side Elementary School, had the assignment of learning about the old movie theater and car dealership up the road.

"I found out it was open for 74 years and it's still around," he said. "But I didn't know how much money they made or how many cars they sold or how many movies they had."

Still, Malique's contribution is a valuable part of a display that opens today at the Captain Salem Avery House Museum.

Shady Side's Got History! will feature a quilt and drawings by the children and the premiere of a DVD of songs and interviews with residents. The rotating exhibit will be on display for a year.

Janet Surrett, the museum director, said the school acted as a conduit between the townspeople and the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society, which runs the museum, a restored waterman's house built in 1860.

Avery was a Long Island, N.Y., fisherman who came to Shady Side and lived in the house with his family for 30 years. The exhibit will be in a room added in the 1920s, after the house became a fishing club that was used mostly by families from Washington, D.C., Surrett said.

Surrett worked closely with Shady Side art teacher Sarah Sheckells, music teacher Margie Weidner and media teacher Joy BeVier. Most of the work was done toward the end of the last school year. Students who were in fifth grade then have been invited back, and some will serve as docents today, Surrett said.

"The project had incredible impact because every child got to be involved," Surrett said. "The goal was to put them [the students] in the role of researchers and have them discover things about Shady Side."

All the students took part in a storytelling day in the spring, in which 18 residents of Shady Side came in to talk about the old days. Six residents came back last week to place landmarks on a large map of the community and show how things used to look.

Fourth-graders worked with local musician Janie Meneely to craft three songs about Shady Side. Second-graders used photographs of Shady Side residents from the past and present to create a quilt of about 20 faces. One of the pictures was from the 19th century, of a man named John Lee. His descendant, Paul Lee, was one of the community members who came in on the storytelling day.

Catherine O'Regan, 8 and now in third grade, chose Ethel Andrews, the beloved teacher and community postmistress who died at age 108 in 1997. Learning about "Miss Ethel" helped her learn about Shady Side's past, she said.

"There was no air conditioning back then, and stuff didn't cost a lot," she said. "It was really hot, but the men had to wear long black pants and the women wore long white dresses."

Surrett said she learned new things about Shady Side by putting the kids to work as researchers. Plus, she was able to add to her collection with new items such as the recorded stories from the older residents.

"I loved doing this project," she said.

Sheckels agreed the experience has been rewarding. "It's been nice to have the collaboration between the school and the museum," she said. "I've had a lot of teachers come to me and say, `I didn't know this about Shady Side.'"

Besides, she said, the quilt, made up of fabric patches of children's drawings, turned out even better than expected.

"I can't get over that," she said. "These kids did just such a good job."

The grand opening of Shady Side's Got History! will be today from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum, 1418 E.W. Shady Side Road. There will be games, crafts and music. The phone number is 410-867-4486.

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