Brattleboro student-historians shine light on town's past

Published: Mar. 1, 2019 at 4:27 PM EST
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History is coming to life in Brattleboro thanks to the town's historical society, and local students.

There's a new display up in the hallways of Brattleboro High. It features an Estey Organ and related artifacts. The Estey Organ Company used to be the region's largest employer and the display was put up by the Brattleboro Historical Society.

"We are trying to have a two-way relationship with the historical society and the school," said the group's president, Joe Rivers.

Rivers actually wears a couple of hats around town. He's also a middle school social studies teacher and for the last eight years or so his history lessons have focused on Brattleboro. Field trips to the old mills and factories in town are part of the lesson plan. The Estey Company used to be located right down the street.

"It's fun learning about what happened in the past and how that affected us now," said Trevor Gray, a 7th grader in Rivers' class.

"I like learning about Brattleboro history as a hands-on approach. It makes me feel very connected," said Priya Kitzmiller, a 7th grader.

But the kids are taking their learning one step further, something which was recently featured by the Vermont Folklife Center. They host a radio show on Saturday mornings on their history "topic of the week." Scripts for those shows are also printed in the local newspaper.

"It feels really important. It's kind of like we have a real job. So, it's fun to do research and then know that somebody will actually be reading it," Kitzmiller said.

It's a hands-on approach to place-based learning that turns the students into the teachers.

"I think they find connections with their community, with their town, and they find stories that they may be able to relate to about people who have had interesting and different lives than them," Rivers said.

And it gives this teacher time to focus on the past with help from his pupils.

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