This week, fourth-grade students at L.B. Morris and Penn Kidder schools in the Jim Thorpe Area School District are learning about their local history from local historians.
For the week of Oct. 8-12, members of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society and the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center are giving presentations at the two schools, and on Friday, are taking the students on a field trip to view the Lehigh Canal system at Weissport.
The idea for the program began with Bill Allison.
"After I was elected to the school board. I began hearing people comment that our local schools are not teaching about our local history," he said. "I began speaking informally with the superintendent about the interests of the historical organizations in bringing these perspectives to the children of Jim Thorpe.
"I met with some teachers, administrators and the superintendent last spring, and we put together an idea which was to begin a process by starting with fourth grade in both Penn Kidder and L.B. Morris, and to create a unit that is doable."
The five-day series of programs cover: "What is coal?" "Life with coal," "What is a canal?" "The rise of Jim Thorpe/Mauch Chunk," and the Weissport field trip.
The programs are being taught by John Drury, Mary Bogin and Bill Allison, all members of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society and the Mauch Museum and Cultural Center. The first lesson, which was on the subject "what is coal?" was introduced by Allison, who distributed samples of coal to the students.
Bogin spoke about the origins of coal, and Drury spoke about the beginnings of Mauch Chunk/Jim Thorpe.
The presentation was interactive. At Penn Kidder, when Bogin asked the students when coal was created, some guessed 100 years ago, another guessed 1,000 years ago, and when she told them it happened 200 million years ago, one student burst out, "You got to be kidding."
When Drury asked who was the founder of Mauch Chunk/Jim Thorpe, he was hoping that one of the students would respond with the name Josiah White. Instead, the responses began with Jim Thorpe, followed by George Washington, the Breaker Boys, Thomas Jefferson, and lastly, "A guy named Mark Chunk."
At Penn Kidder, four teachers attended the program.
"I think it's wonderful that they are coming in to do this for us and to present this, as they are experts from the history society," said Sue Coughlin. "It will give our children more in-depth information on Pennsylvania and our region."
"I think it's great because we have so much history in our small area," Ralph Clay noted. "This is more than we can do, because we can get out of the classroom and see the area firsthand."
"It's great for the kids to know the area that they are growing up in because so many are transplants nowadays," added Barbara Boyle, the fourth and fifth grade learning support teacher. "It fits in beautifully because fourth-grade is the year that they study Pennsylvania history, so this is such an integral part of Pennsylvania history and is a wonderful hands-on experience."
"This program makes it relevant to the children because they are learning about the area right here, instead of just learning from a textbook," said Megan Reilly. "When they're out and about, they make connections about what they are learning here."
Allison hopes that if this series of programs is successful, in future years it will be expanded to fifth and sixth grade.