Ashley Stevens 2014-09-29 11:51:08
“When I first started my project, I thought I wasn’t going to find anyone, to be really honest. But when I used Ancestry, I found my great-grandmother. It was really exciting to know something about her—where she lived and if she had any siblings,” said Kennyshia Paulino, a freshman from Esperanza Academy Charter High School, at the opening reception for “La Historia de Mi Familia” at the National Museum of American Jewish History on June 4, 2014. In front of an audience of more than one hundred Esperanza students, teachers, family members, and others, she shared her deeply personal experience with the project and how it built up her confidence in both her historical research skills and herself. Entering its third year, the Esperanza Academy Family History project is an adaptable, ever-evolving educational program geared toward ninth graders at Esperanza Academy, a North Philadelphia school with a predominantly Hispanic student population. The project helps students develop the skills to “do” history, rather than simply read about it. For example, students learn how to discover their own histories and the histories of their families. Over the course of several months, students learn how to use, understand, and locate primary sources, how to conduct and transcribe oral history interviews, and how to transform that information into a website or a three-dimensional exhibit. The project came about in November 2012 when social studies teachers Julia Snyder and Celia Flores reached out to Andrea Reidell, education specialist at the National Archives at Philadelphia, with an idea for a family history project. Soon after, I joined the project. During the 2012–2013 school year, we embarked on a project that would subsequently develop into a successful public program. The Project The 2012–2013 pilot project consisted of a series of onsite and offsite visits. This model was established to support in-school teaching and accommodate school-related restrictions (for example, travel costs and testing schedules). In the first year, National Archives staff members traveled twice to Esperanza, students traveled once to the National Archives at Philadelphia, and there were a series of Saturday workshops. The two consecutive onsite visits, led by Reidell and I, offered students a deeper immersion into analyzing and understanding the uses of primary sources. The visits built upon prior classroom teaching by Snyder and Flores about primary sources. On the first visit to the school, Reidell’s “Who Says? Exploring History through Primary Sources” workshop focused on source perspective and document analysis. In groups, students analyzed two documents: an 1800 ship manifest for the schooner Phoebe and an August 20, 1800, newspaper article from the Pennsylvania Gazette. Students read, discussed, and completed a worksheet with questions designed to foster discussion. My workshop focused on the US Census, a federal government record. Students compared and contrasted 1930 and 1940 census records of an Austrian family who once resided a few blocks from Esperanza. In this breakout session, students explored what information can be learned from the census about individuals, families, and neighborhoods. The Offsite Visit Esperanza students visited the National Archives at Philadelphia, the Philadelphia History Museum, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This field trip afforded students an opportunity to visit cultural institutions in the area. Also, the visit gave students a chance to see the different ways that history can be told in museums and archives. At NARA, students were divided into groups of five to eight students that rotated to various stations. Each station was designed to build on the school visits as well as the requirements for the family history project. Led by a NARA staff member or volunteer, the stations were: a primary source analysis station of Puerto Rico–related records, an oral history station, a guided research station on NARA’s public access computers, and a photo analysis of an ongoing exhibit. Students began their research into their families’ histories, using the computers to access the site. The guided research familiarized them with Ancestry and its holdings. Students could use their research skills at school, which recently obtained an Ancestry subscription. The Workshops and Outcomes On three out of the four Saturdays in May, workshops were offered by Snyder and Flores. The teachers provided supplies and demonstrated how to construct family trees for the exhibit. NARA staff members, volunteers, and interns attended the workshops to provide further genealogical assistance for students. At the end of the project, 180 students completed either a website or family tree. Nteachers selected thirty family trees to be featured in a National Archives–curated bilingual exhibit, “La Historia de Mi Familia.” The exhibit opened on June 4, 2013, with an opening reception for the students, their parents, teachers, Esperanza organizers, and NARA staff members. Challenges With any program, there are challenges, and the Esperanza Academy Family History project was no exception. • Age and Access to Recent Records. How and where can you find records for students born in the late 1990s? Unlike older generations, students quickly learned that recent records come with privacy and confidentiality issues. In their use of Ancestry, students expected to find records about themselves and their immediate family. In most cases, what students found on these sites were Public Record Indices that typically pulled from a variety of sources, such as the phone book. While not deeply historical, seeing information on their parents and places they lived was profoundly personal. • Accessibility of Foreign Records. For the majority of students, they were either first- or second-generation immigrants. Despite the breadth of material available on Ancestry, there was a void of resources for most Caribbean and South American countries, in particular for the Dominican Republic. Although archives exist in these countries, digitized documents available online were scarce. For records, the staff at NARA turned to other resources, such as FamilySearch. At this site, students could search records from the Caribbean and South America. But students faced an additional challenge on this website, as records were digitized but not indexed. • Immigration Status and the Idea of Family. This project raised the sensitive issue of immigration status, particularly of students’ parents and grandparents. In collecting primary source documents for their family tree, students were encouraged to work with their families to collect primary documents and discuss their family history. Although this challenge affected a small percentage of students, it raised the important question of how to handle a sensitive issue within a community for a community-based project. For this, teachers took the initiative to reach out to parents and to alleviate any concerns raised by them. Facing the Challenges To address these challenges, the structure for the 2013–2014 project was changed to include one additional workshop offered by Noemi Eliasen-Mendez, a staff member of the US Census Bureau who spoke on the uses of the American Community Survey (ACS). She showed students how to tap into ACS data from the 2000s and 2010s. Her workshop focused more on changes in the neighborhood, such as demographic shifts from a white immigrant population in the 1930s to a predominantly Hispanic population in the 2000s, rather than on families. Regarding the issue of accessibility to recent and foreign records—the project now emphasizes and strongly encourages use of offline resources: their families. Students have discovered a wealth of material, from old photographs to their parents’ and grandparents’ school records. Last spring the program was dealt an unexpected blow with the closure announcement of the National Archives at Philadelphia’s Market Street location in favor of its Northeast location on March 11, 2014. Faced with finding an alternate exhibit space, Reidell reached out to cultural institutions and found a new partner in the National Museum of American Jewish History. The inclusion of such an institution not only dovetails with their educational programming but the nature of the immigrant experience in America. Gearing up for its third year, the Esperanza Academy Family History project continues to blaze new ground in educational programming and teaching students about history. This information was shared during the Professional Poster Presentations at the 2014 CoSA/NAGARA/SAA Joint Annual Meeting.
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