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
"Hartford was attractive because of the need for professional
development," she said. "Better teachers make better
Gray said the program has allowed her to expand on the district's
tightly regimented social studies curriculum, and the students
"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
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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