Learning about the history of your local school can reveal interesting and useful information. For example, you could find out about your communitys reaction to educational trends over time or the different ways in which your local school distinguished itself in the community. You could look for historical similarities to todays educational issues and find out about controversial educational topics in your community.
You can research your schools history on your own, as a family, or as a class or school project. First, decide who will be involved with your project, and then think about your goals. What do you want to know and why? How will you use the information you learn about? Are you interested in finding out about changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the student body? Do you want to know who your school is named after or how the roles and influences of teachers and parents have changed? What can you find out about the historical significance of education in your community and how your school responded to national trends, legislation, and economic changes?
After you have developed your questions, consider how you or your group will gather information. Here are some research ideas to pursue:
- Your local public library. Talk with a reference librarian about your research goals to get suggestions for books, magazine articles, or a special section or archive dedicated to local history. Collections of local newspapers can also offer a rich source of historical information.
- Your town or municipal offices. Look for annual reports, minutes from school committee meetings, information on public land used for public schools, school construction plans, and other administrative documents.
- Your school library. Explore the collection of yearbooks and get a glimpse into the social life sports, clubs, and proms as well as fashion trends over time.
- Your Senior Center. Talk with elderly residents and find out what they know about the questions you have.
- Your local museum or archives. Look for yearbooks, band uniforms, attendance records, and other artifacts and images from your local schools.
- Your local and state historical societies. You can find documents and photographs relating to your local schools.
- Your local teachers organization. Check whether your local teachers organization has historical documents, information, or images.
- The Internet. Use a search engine such as Google.com and type in words related to your geographic location and public education. Visit the web site for your local or state education department.
- You can find helpful information about doing your own historical research at http://www.dohistory.org/on_your_own/toolkit/.
- Another useful site is American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) at http://www.aaslh.org/. AASLH provides leadership and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful to all Americans. The homepage includes resources for researching and writing local history. Includes links to community and state historical organizations for every state.
Sharing Your Research
After you and your group have collected the data in response to all your questions, think about how you would like to compile and share the information. Here are some ideas:
- Write an article for a local newspaper.
- Give a presentation to your school committee to provide historical context for a current concern.
- Create an exhibit at your local school or another community site, such as a museum.
- Make a web site showcasing your findings.
Ideas for Delving Deeper
Research one-room schoolhouses
One-room schoolhouses still dot the landscape across America. Many of these are preserved or have been converted into museums or community centers. Does your community or state have one? How is it being used now?
Preserving your local educational heritage
If you would like to learn about preserving your local educational heritage, the following resources can be helpful:
Americas Country Schools by Andrew Gulliford (ISBN: 0-89133-179-4), with an introduction by Barbara Bush, published by University Press of Colorado 1996, explores the legacy of one-room schools. Americas Country Schools profiles these national treasures from the architecture to the curricula, and even includes a section documenting current restoration initiatives across rural America. To purchase the book, go to the publishers web site at www.upcolorado.com or call 1-800-627-7377.
National Trust for Historic Preservation
The trust publishes a report describing the Historic Neighborhood Schools Initiative, whose goal is to renovate historic school buildings, regenerate old neighborhoods, and combat school sprawl, which places schools in locations that are inaccessible to pedestrians. The report ends with an Agenda for Change, including recommendations for public policy reforms. Download the report at www.nationaltrust.org/main/abouttrust/schoolshome.htm.