Pamela Nye is the full-time archivist and records manager at The Westminster Schools, an independent K–12 school in Atlanta, Georgia. The school was founded in 1951, but is comprised of two legacy schools: the North Avenue Presbyterian School (1909–1951) and Washington Seminary (1878–1953). Read on for Nye’s advice on helping young children connect with archives and acting as an archives “cheerleader.” SAA: Tell us about your position as director of archives at The Westminster Schools. PN: I help to accession, arrange, describe, and make available not only the official records of the school, but also donations from alumni and former faculty and staff. We have the usual assortment of formats: paper, photographs, electronic, audiovisual, and artifacts, as well as a good cross-section of content. I thoroughly enjoy being the first full-time archivist here at the school because not only do I get to process collections and reference, but I also get to be a “cheerleader” for the archives all day. I can sit with my colleagues at lunch and explain how I might be able to help them in their classrooms, or chat with staff about how I can provide the information they need for an upcoming event. Many long-time faculty and staff have told me that they hadn’t thought much about using the archives before and are excited about the possibilities. SAA: How do you explain archives to young children? PN: On our Community Day, I give a presentation on archives and the history of the school to second-grade classes. I tell them that I am the “story keeper” at the school. Every box in my collection contains a story of some sort, whether it’s on paper, in an image, or in an artifact, and it’s my job to make sure that I tell as many stories as I can, as well as to make sure these stories are around for a very long time. I’ve also noticed that younger children (elementary age) respond to the physical items in the collection more than the digital items. Even if it’s just a shovel—that shovel was used in the construction of the building where they currently go to school. Handling a 1970s football letter jacket or a 1990s Debate Team trophy gives them a faraway look, as if they are imagining what they will do in school as they get older. I tell them that as they get older, they are creating their own stories, which hopefully will be put in a special place. SAA: What’s your favorite story of a Westminster student discovering something in the archives? PN: The school recently added a “JanTerm” session to the regular curriculum, when students take one interdisciplinary class for three weeks and approximately six hours per day. This allows students to experience disparate subjects, such as the science of cooking, in a new way. I was a guest speaker in “Giving Voice to Atlanta: Stories and Histories in Atlanta,” which was taught by two English teachers and one history teacher and focused on how oral histories can bring a deeper meaning to historical events. Using the school’s history as a microcosm, the students searched for information on how the school and the students were reacting to events of the day—ranging from the integration of the school, to the inclusion of women in the athletics program and differences in gender education, among other topics. For two solid days the students researched in the archives. I took them through the mechanics of primary source research and helped them find materials that would give background information on their subjects. The students were then to use this information to interview alumni, former teachers, and community members about their topics. I heard so many delighted exclamations from the students, who looked at me with huge smiles, as they immersed themselves in the primary source materials. One student told me that he assumed this would be a boring exercise, but researching in the archives turned out to be one of his favorite activities in the class. The thank-you note from another student mentioned that “it is exciting to have the ability to visit the archives whenever.”
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