Take Your Seats: Welcome to Teaching Preservation

Posted on: January 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer
Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue and his innovative Research History class.

How much do you remember about your days as a high school senior? Chances are, an image that comes quickly to mind is one of you staring out a classroom window wishing you were doing anything but taking notes while someone like me droned on in the background. Don’t worry, my feelings aren’t hurt.

My name is Paul LaRue, and I’m a senior-level social studies teacher at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. If you’re not sure where that is, try this: take out a map and find Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. Now, place your finger in what would be the center of all three of those points. That’s us.

We are a small town with a population of about 13,500, with our high school pulling in about 600 students. Our community is not affluent, and our school district and its campuses always seem to be facing some degree of funding constraints.

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Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio

In addition to economics (applied, micro and macro if you want all the specifics), I teach a class that I developed in 1998 called Research History. Back then, our district was using blocked scheduling. As a result, my principal asked the faculty to create several new course offerings. I suggested a class where students could use primary-source material and work collaboratively on a single project. In my mind, this would give them experience with “hands-on history,” which I enjoy very much. It would also give them a chance to get out of the classroom, which I knew they would enjoy very much.

The class was approved as an elective offering and has been a success ever since. I have come to realize and embrace that what my students do each year is service learning. I see us as preservationists and as public historians. As for the students, the class is something fun that gets them out (a key word) into the community, which usually always includes getting doughnuts and snacks. (Note: I am not bound by Jared’s Law, though we are trying to be a bit healthier with our snacking.)

Good Hope Cemetery

Over the years, several of our projects have focused on partnerships with cemeteries in our local community, as they are great venues for research. The project we just started is a partnership with the Wayne Township Trustees. We will be helping to document and preserve the Good Hope Cemetery, which is in a rural, unincorporated community. The cemetery technically falls under the responsibility of the Wayne Township Trustees, but given the current economic climate, their resources are stretched extremely too thin.

Enter my class.

Four of my students and I traveled to a trustees meeting in December, where we pitched our proposed partnership. It was well received by the Trustees, and my students (fresh from winter vacation) are already at work creating a database of burials in the cemetery and researching some of the key citizens buried there. Some of the other projects we’d like to tackle are getting funding for a historic marker and helping to locate unmarked graves.

Now, if all of this has you hankering for the days of field trips and class projects (and maybe even doughnuts), you’re in luck. My students will be documenting the entire project here on the PreservationNation blog each week leading up to Memorial Day, which is when they will graduate.

Additionally, I’ll be sharing lesson plans and other tips of the trade that I’ve developed over the years. And no, the goal is not to bore you to death (I know that high school image is still fresh in your mind). I just want to prove that even with time and funding constraints, preservation is possible and has an important place in our country’s high school classrooms.

I hope you’ll stay tuned.

- Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue teaches Research History at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. The ultimate "hands-on" classroom experience, his course takes students into the field to learn about preservation and community service. Stay tuned this semester as Paul and his students document their project at Good Hope Cemetery here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream.

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