"The experts told Fort Frederica staffers that 4th and 5th graders were too young to learn the complexities of archeology. They were wrong."
Most educational projects start off with careful planning, but this one arose through an alignment of the stars. By chance, circumstances presented Fort Frederica with what the great southern philosopher Pogo would call "an insurmountable opportunity." The ingredients for a winning program literally landed in our lap, but we lacked the resources to put them together. Then we heard the magic word: partnerships.
Fort Frederica, one of the country's finest colonial period archeological sites, resides on Georgia's St. Simons Island, a tropical isle known for its sauna-like summers and roads shaded with canopies of oak and Spanish moss. The fortified settlement, founded by the British in 1736, was virtually destroyed by a great fire in 1759. Archeology has been important since the fort's establishment as a national monument in 1936. Noted historical archeologist Charles W. Fairbanks of the University of Florida, along with many other distinguished professionals in the discipline, have conducted over 45 investigations here. Today, much of what is known about colonial life on the southern British frontier is due to Frederica's archeological legacy, supplemented by the historical record.
Unfortunately, many pages of the island's past have been pillaged or bulldozed into oblivion by bottle hunters and metal detectorists. In some segments of this coastal society looting is a rite of passage for young people and even adults. NPS officials wanted to stem this trend and protect the fort's extensive archeological holdings in the process. Thanks to this program, the Park Service has become a force in the local community, encouraging developers to consider the island's archeological heritage when planning roads and buildings.
The program started with the rediscovery of what University of Tennessee archeologist Nick Honerkamp later dubbed "an archeological landfill." Following tips from files the author discovered at the National Archives Records Service, the Park Service pinpointed the general location of over a ton of artifacts—from pot sherds to iron bomb fragments—excavated and reburied at the fort in the 1960s. They had been reburied primarily because there was limited space to store them and because many were duplicates of better quality pieces (which were retained for future preservation). But because the material was unprovenienced and without documentation, the strict NPS standards regarding archeological excavation—which would have prohibited their re-unearthing for strictly educational purposes—did not apply.
The next step required imagination.
What should we do with a trench full of redeposited artifacts? Superintendent Mike Tennent suggested an educational program, but the park's physical facilities were already too small and a "bricks and mortar" project was out of the question in light of today's tight budgets.
By chance, a county elementary school was being built less than a quarter mile from the park gate and we were eager to become its first partner-in-education. Actually, the school literally began with archeology in mind. The Glynn County school district altered the original site plan when archeologists Marsha Chance and Greg Smith—hired to survey the area—found a Frederica-period structure. At the first meeting with principal Barbara Kriner, Tennent brought up using the trench as a teaching tool. Kriner jumped at the idea. The school had been built with growth in mind; perhaps a future classroom could be permanently dedicated as a heritage education center for the entire district. At a later meeting the school board agreed.
The park's ability to recruit other partners would decide the fate of the project.
It seemed that everyone wanted in. The Fort Frederica Association, led by President J. Dewey Benefield, Jr., provided $10,000 in matching money. The school district and board of education contributed over $75,000 in buildings, materials, salaries, and other support. Fort Frederica put up over $45,000 in direct and in-kind assistance. The St. Simons Optimist Club, an organization chartered to assist children, wrote a check. Executive Director Linda King of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, the regional historical group, donated funds and offered the expertise of collections manager Pat Morris in drafting the curriculum's curatorial and museum segments.
But the lead grant, for $40,000, came from the board of directors of the National Park Foundation, through the Parks As Classrooms® program overseen by program officer Wilke Nelson and education director Patti Reilly. NPS chief of interpretation Corky Mayo later added a supplemental $5,000 NPS Parks As Classrooms® grant to support additional development.
The program was to be teacher-driven, much like the Charles W. Fairbanks Room, located at Georgia's Ocmulgee National Monument. It was assumed that the NPS would provide only general assistance and not actually teach, which would have made the program depend on heavy staff commitments that could vanish with future reductions or priority changes. The teachers would teach; the Park Service would act as a catalyst by bringing in professionals to train the teachers and provide oversight during fieldwork exercises. The NPS would also provide equipment and develop the elements of the curriculum vital to the program's success.
Now that the artifacts had been found, the facilities identified, and the money raised, we got to the hard part: developing the curriculum, training the teachers, and then seeing first hand if 4th and 5th graders could learn about archeology comprehensively. Few had tried this before and no one had attempted a program like this one with 9- to 11-year-olds.
Working with school educators requires skills not normally found in courses offered to archeologists, historians, and NPS interpretive staff (see sidebar). Like archeology, the field of education has its protocol. Fort Frederica had on staff two former professional teachers, the author and Ranger Marion Robinson, the park's education coordinator. With over 25 years combined experience they were invaluable in working with educators and developing the team building needed to nurture the program.
The chief educational objective was to enable the kids to explore historical archeology from theory, to research design, to dig, to artifact analysis and conservation, through to exhibit construction and interpretation. These are the standard elements in archeology. From this point the Fort Frederica interpretive staff, led by the author and Robinson, began to consult with the experts.
Major assistance came from many prehistoric and historical archeological education institutions. Meg Heath—formerly of the Crow Canyon Archeological Education Center, who now oversees the BLM's education program at Colorado's Anasazi Heritage Center—was instrumental in developing background lessons by providing the very successful Intrigue of the Past curriculum, which the park adapted for historical archeology. Dozens of archeologists helped school and park officials develop the objectives for the program.
Likewise, fort staffers retooled concepts borrowed from institutions like the Crow Canyon Center, Colonial Williamsburg, and Virginia's Alexandria Archeology. Many dozens of curricula were reviewed.
We also made sure the curriculum's layout was teacher-friendly. We modeled ours after the concise environmental education curriculum of Everglades National Park's noted program, developed with the input of many educators and graphic designers working in partnership. The layout was clean and concise.
This style clearly broke with the past. The Park Service used to evaluate curricula by how much they weighed. But today many parks realize that teachers do not have the time to wade through a welter of detail to educate their students, let alone adapt 10th grade materials for 4th or 5th graders. The product has to work right out of the box. Our lessons follow current trends in education, containing modifications for slower (at risk) learners and challenge segments for accelerated students.
The first unit is a modified version of the initial seven lessons of Intrigue of the Past. The second unit focuses on processes and procedures for classes conducting mock fieldwork in the archeologically disturbed area—cleaning, analyzing, and cataloguing artifacts as well as writing reports. Unit three focuses on the preservation techniques available to archeologists and curators today. Unit four—a values clarification exercise based on the NPS Southwest Field Area's Silent Witness (also developed with a National Park Foundation grant)—includes a segment on material culture connections to the present. The final segment permits students to develop a museum exhibit and interpret their work for lower grades.
This year and next, teachers from an additional eight elementary schools in the district will have the opportunity to use the program. Special on-site boxes will be developed for the other schools to do preliminary work in their classrooms, reducing bus trips to the park.
All are simplified so teachers can quickly read the material, know what state requirements are met, and teach using prepared handouts and supplemental materials. The curriculum is written near the grade level, again simplifying the teacher's task. The overall emphasis is on the process of archeology since this is not a graduate course.
The hook for teachers is that this is not an add-on to their already busy schedules. The curriculum folds into—and enhances—segments on science, history, mathematics, writing skills, and other disciplines that teachers must cover under the Georgia State Education Quality Core Curriculum Requirements. In short, through this program, teachers teach and students learn concepts required to be taught during the school year. Teachers therefore do not have to back up to cover segments.
Also, all teachers attending the training workshops receive valuable continuing education credit hours, which are necessary for their state certification each year. Training the teachers was perhaps the most crucial element of the program.
Teachers who wish to use the curriculum must attend annual training and periodic updates taught by leading archeologists with educational expertise. Park staffers, whose involvement was heaviest in the launching of the program, mainly give an "assist" during the on-site digs. In the 1996 school term, graduate students in archeology from Armstrong State College will oversee students, teachers, and park staff during field and lab work, and prepare a professional report of their findings.
Even the teacher training is another partnership at work. Archeologists and educators with specialized experience in working with children and training teachers were sought. Instructors included Meredith Poole from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Nick Honerkamp of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Meg Heath, Richmond historian and educator David Ribblett, archeologist Anne Yentsch of Savannah's Armstrong State College, and lead teacher Ellen Provenzano. The NPS Southeast Archeological Center also provided valuable assistance.
The annual 4-day training seminar exposes teachers to archeological principles and fieldwork, focusing on the role of analysis, the archeological lab, and material culture connections with the present. Additional 1-hour training segments train teachers in using the education center's resources, equipment as well as a collection illustrating artifact types.
In the first year, over 220 4th and 5th graders from Oglethorpe Point Elementary were taught. The program was a unqualified success in the view of educators and archeologists who reviewed it. This summer we contracted lead teacher Provenzano to make refinements the reviewers suggested.
We realized from the start the importance of refining the product after seeing how it played with the students and teachers. Another independent review by professional archeologists is planned for next year. Following a two- to three-year trial period the park will move for final publication following a thorough testing phase.
Equipping the lab, classroom, and dig area turned out to be the largest consumer of time and money. But again we were able to cut corners. Sifting stations were constructed by the park maintenance division, and the entire site was cleared by Boy Scouts as part of an Eagle Scout project.
The results were worth all the effort. After only 15 months we have a fully open field site (protected by a 10-foot fence and electronic countermeasures) and two classrooms at Oglethorpe Point Elementary (one a full-scale lab, the other an interactive video/audio long distance learning center [see sidebar]).
Where does the future lie with this program? We plan to package it—along with reproduction artifacts—for use at other schools and archeological sites.
For the leaner NPS staffs and budgets of the future, partnerships have a profound effect of building constituencies and educating the public through children. NPS units like Everglades National Park have known for years that one of the best ways to effect societal change is through educating new generations. Our target is to teach over 2,500 children annually within the next five years.
When we embarked many people in archeological education told us that 4th and 5th graders were too young to understand the complexities of archeology. But we found that they could handle the science, the math, the history, and the other subject areas that archeology builds on. What's more, these students are more receptive than 6th through 8th graders, who are beset by the turmoil of puberty and other social factors. Educators know that little brain growth occurs from 5th through 8th grade as that is a period of rapid physical development. It really isn't until 9th grade when intellectual development again rapidly accelerates.
A secondary objective of the program is to institute an archeology club for middle and high schoolers, where interested students can continue to learn and perhaps choose a career in archeology or historic preservation. The school district plans to track students through their senior year to see how many choose to study archeology or a related field that they learned about through the program, such as surveying, chemistry, science, or history.
Although some may be sufficiently intrigued to pursue a career in the discipline, the program's goal is not to recruit future archeologists. The intent is to expose students to a way of understanding the past through archeological information and techniques. We also hope students will appreciate the importance of protecting sites from wanton destruction by looters and vandals.
Fort Frederica is not inventing anything through this program. We are merely revamping the tried and true. And it works. Many students have said they "really never understood Fort Frederica before this program," says Provenzano. "Archeology is a level playing field for all of the students," she adds. "No student came into this class with experience or prior reading and in several instances students with a long history of discipline problems became better students, some even want to become archeologists." It is well known that many students make career leanings in 4th and 5th grade.
Partners make great allies for the Park Service and the preservation movement but they do come with strings. Partnerships force park managers and staffs to take an active role as educational leaders in their communities by truly treating their Parks As Classrooms®. In the short run, the parks will be better protected because they will be better appreciated. But students are truly the primary beneficiary of this program as it is they who will shape the future.
For more information, contact Ray Morris, chief of interpretation and resources management at Fort Frederica National Monument, at (912) 638-3639.