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Local museum provide learning opportunities for many students

June 2, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

Area students this spring have been able to take full advantage of two local museums as part of their enhanced school curriculum. In May alone, both the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center and the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan have hosted hundreds of students from more than a dozen different schools.

On Tuesday, 60 third and fourth graders from Hinks Elementary School visited the two facilities as part of an American Experience program. This multi-faceted program gave the students a genuine taste of what it might have been like to travel to Alpena nearly 200 years ago and what important choices families would have made to survive once they arrived here.

"The program was very well received," said Meaghan Black, education specialist and volunteer coordinator at the Heritage Center. "It is learning by doing, so the students are not just reading about the history, they're doing it."

Article Photos

News Photo by Diane Speer
Besser Museum volunteer Claudia Chapman talks about soil samples with third and fourth grade students from Hinks Elementary School during a field trip Tuesday.

Judy Dawley, a retired Alpena Public Schools social studies teacher, helped to develop the program last year by doing extensive research on eight actual families who settled here. The visiting students then took on the guise of those real-life early settlers.

Using primary sources like old photographs, letters, birth or marriage certificates, and land contracts, the students of Hinks teachers Carey Styma and Kathy Lewis were able to form a portrait of their assigned family members. They started Tuesday's field trip at the Heritage Center where they experienced transportation by boat to Alpena and learned the inherent difficulties of such a journey.

Next, the group headed to the Besser Museum, where Education Coordinator Chris Witulski had the students circulate among four different stations.

The stations included an introduction to different crops they could choose to raise, testing and learning about different kinds of soil present in the area, getting an overview of various farm tools that would have been used by early settlers, and learning about the different diseases settlers contracted.

"The program teaches them to work as a team, allows them to use critical thinking skills and enables them to learn what it would have been like for these early settlers," Witulski said.

Based on all the different factors they had studied at both facilities, the students were then asked to select where in Alpena they wanted their family to settle and what crop they wanted to grow.

The final aspect of the program was slated to take place the next day at school, when the students would receive a letter telling them how life actually turned out for each of the eight families.

Lewis said the students really seemed to get a lot out of the American Experience.

"It's been a really good day for us," Lewis said, adding that the overall program touched on her school's social studies, science and language arts curriculum. In preparation for the field trip, she also had her students read "Journey to Ellis Island" so they would better understand what immigrants to this country faced.

Black, Dawley and Witulski all were key in developing the American Experience program. It is just one of numerous educational programs the Heritage Center and the Besser Museum have offered this spring to students of all ages.



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