Historical Society Welcomes 16,000 Students
The Virginia Historical Society welcomes thousands of students every year on class field trips. Special exhibits and programs work to make history real.
The Virginia Historical Society says the goal is to get kids excited about the history of Virginia and America.
Van Tassell: We get all different kinds of groups that are coming for different things that they want to reinforce in their curriculum if they're a teacher; we get a lot of groups that are coming here as home-schooled groups, private schools.
Chris Van Tassell is a Program Coordinator in the Education Department at the Society.
Van Tassell: Each group comes with their own needs, but specifically, a lot of folks come to see our long-term exhibit, "The Story of Virginia," which covers Virginia history from native Americans all the way up through the 20th Century.
There is a fairly steady stream of field trips and, he said, April and May are the busiest months. Some schools make more than one visit a year to the Historical Society, covering Virginia history from the Indians to the Civil War in fall, and the Civil War to the 20th century in the spring.
Van Tassell: One of the programs that's really fun and popular, too, is our history programs where people come and they do one specific theme, so if they come to do something about, for instance, Civil War history, we'll have a program where we have replica artifacts and as we talk about 'em and discuss the history, the kids get to get a feel for the artifacts themselves, even though these are replicas, it gives them a connection to the history.
Often students are learning from original documents.
Van Tassell: Doing a program using primary sources, where the students examine photographs, letters, diaries and anything from the manuscripts collection, so we use the galleries and the artifacts, but we also use our library.
There are advantages for kids, Van Tassell said, getting face-to-face with the past.
Van Tassell: You can look at a lot of cool stuff online, you can get lesson plans already developed online, but when you come here, you get sort of the mystique of seeing the original object in its setting, and it is more powerful than seeing a picture of something, to see something hundreds of years old in front of you, often does make an impression, so that's the value of it for teachers that are looking at it for some way to connect history to their students.
Programs are specific to the group requesting them.
Van Tassell: Our educators and staff are kinda specialized in addressing the group that they're talking to on their level, and sometimes you just have to gauge that when a group arrives; a group of fourth-graders that are maybe very accelerated and you're speaking to them one way and really quickly realize that they can actually talk about things on a more advanced level.
The programs go all year long.
Van Tassell: We also do stuff with church groups in the summer, especially, we have a lot of groups from area YMCA bringing students that, you know, are doing summer programming; we get a lot of home-school groups; we actually do specific dates where we work with home-school collectives that will all come, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts.
The Historical Society helps support its school field trips and traveling exhibits through a Youth Education Fund.
Bow: There is a monetary fee for them to come in and have the programs, and this fund is enabling them to be able to come to the doors free of cost and that's one of our on-going efforts to make history accessible to everybody, and especially to school kids, 'cause we feel like if we get them interested in history at a early age, they'll stay interested in history.
Cathy Bow is the Society’s Annual Fund Manager. I asked her how many students we’re talking about.
Bow: For this last year ending in June, more than 16,000 kids came to the Historical Society for group tours.
Learn more about the Virginia Historical Society tours and the Youth Education Fund online at vahistorical.org.
John Ogle, WCVE News