Summer class teaches hands-on history
POSTED AUG. 19-In late June six Telstar High School students enrolled in a summer history class to earn one and a half credits. For several, it was not high on their list for how to spend summer.
“It felt like back to school already,” said one.
But this was not an ordinary history class, and by early August the students were describing their summer’s work much differently.
Their assignment: research all the people buried in the Ames Cemetery in Greenwood and determine how they were related, as well as how they might have fit into local, and perhaps national, history. Their findings would be represented on a display board.
Sponsored through the Mahoosuc Kids Association, the course was taught by Newry native Jay Hanscom, who now teaches in Illinois, and Michelle Bouchard, a social studies teacher who has been involved with the Mahoosuc Kids Association programs at Telstar.
“They taught me,” said Bouchard at a presentation by the class last week. “We learned together. I haven’t seen that kind of teamwork in the classroom in a long time.”
Each student was assigned a family in the cemetery, and the class set about recording information on the gravestones and mapping the layout of stones. The cemetery is located off the Twitchell Pond Road.
“We started on the Internet, then we went to the Historical Society,” said Errol Silver. “We did a summary of the information on each person. I learned in ways I hadn’t in [regular] school.”
Most of the people buried in the cemetery belonged to the Ames, Wentworth, Tobey or Edgecomb families.
Tarra Arsenault made a particularly interesting find. Willard O. Ames, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, was wounded on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg. He died of his wounds in a Baltimore hospital a few weeks later.
Another “resident,” a woman who was 94 when she died, lived through the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
A project such as the Ames one, said Hanscom, “teaches us about people, and those people teach us history.”
A concentric chart in the history classroom lists “Ames, Greenwood, Maine, national, and beyond,” to show how levels of history, beginning with the very smallest, are all interconnected.
To learn more about the times in which the Ames people lived, the students researched Greenwood history through the Bethel and Greenwood historical societies, and read about American history.
They learned that the population of Greenwood peaked in 1850. The construction of the railroad bypassed Greenwood City, and that coupled with 123 men enlisting for the Civil War, others going to Locke’s Mills to work in the mills, and a fire that destroyed Greenwood City in 1862 resulted in many moving away from what had been a growing village.
And on a larger historical scale, the students learned about Ezra Bradford, who was born in 1777 in Plympton, Mass., and died in Greenwood in 1827. “He is the fourth great-grandson of Gov. William Bradford of the Mayflower Compact of the Plymouth Colony. His headstone is the oldest in Ames Cemetery,” the students’ display board says, alongside a photo of his gravestone and a picture of the Mayflower.
As the students assembled their genealogical information for each family, Jean Lawrence worked on organizing it all into a kinship chart. She color-coded it, and the “tech” member of the group, Asher Wilson, transformed it into a digital chart. He also created a website on the project that includes the chart (amescemetery.org).
“We took scattered information and put it in an easily accessible form,” said Aguilar. “We earned a credit, but it’s more important than just that.”
Arsenault agreed. “We’re helping other people to learn,” she said.