Spruce Mountain High School students learn hands-on history

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LIVERMORE — Spruce Mountain High School social studies teachers Sue St. Pierre and Nate Purrington don’t believe teaching history is limited to textbooks.

On Tuesday, about a dozen juniors and seniors in the Our Hands-On History program pored over 19th-century calling cards at the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center’s stone library.

“I’ve always been a history buff,” senior Bradley Howes said as he prepared to digitize a calling card used by a member of the Washburn family who lived at the 445-acre complex. “I want to be a history teacher,” he said.

St. Pierre and Purrington secured a $2,000 grant and in-kind assistance from the Maine Historical Society and the Maine Humanities Council to offer the local history course to students.

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“This is the first time we’ve worked with the Maine Humanities Council,” Purrington said.

Prior to receiving the grant, St. Pierre and Purrington were required to write research papers on Maine people from the 19th century. St. Pierre chose William Pitt Fesseden, a former governor, and Purrington wrote on the Stone family who helped settle Jay. Plans for offering the hands-on history course began in 2009, Purrington said.

Students will research and digitize original documents at the Norlands until late spring. Once completed, all projects will be displayed on the Maine Memory Network website. Plans are underway to present a play or skit on some of what the students have learned.

A series of public book talks will also be held. The first one is at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Norlands Living History Center. The book to be discussed is “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara.

Elizabeth Cook, Maine author and descendant of Civil War Gen. George Mead, will facilitate the discussion. All book discussions focus on the Civil War. Community members may pick up the book at libraries in Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls or the high school.

Regional School Unit 73 librarian Susanne Cole said students will also read a fourth book in conjunction with sixth-graders.

Senior Peter Theriault said Tuesday that he liked poring through documents from the 19th century.

“It’s pretty cool to learn about our past and to bring it back to life,” he said.

Sarah Collins, also a senior, believes the class is a great opportunity to learn about local history and be able to answer questions about it.

She students have visited Norlands several times since the beginning of the course and will do more research there in the future.

“We are pleased that the Norlands has been so accommodating,” Purrington said.

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