From October 2014 to November 2015, 736 fifth grade students participated in “Meet the Staff,” an experiential learning curriculum created in partnership with Akron Public Schools. The goal of the project was to use the story of Stan Hywet’s mostly foreign-born historic staff to support student learning via the application of critical thinking skills to the study of human migration in the early 20th Century.
Students first explored the “immigrant experience” and the basics of historic research through primary sources via in-class activities and a presentation by the Akron-Summit County Library Special Collections Division. At Stan Hywet, students assumed the identity of a newly-arrived person to Akron, Ohio during the year 1920 and worked in teams to uncover details about their new personalities via census records, ship manifests, photos, diaries and journals. They presented their story to the rest of the class. Students also researched 1920 domestic staff job descriptions, wages, and daily expenses as well as additional employment opportunities (e.g. Goodyear Tire employee) that were available at the time. Students then wrote letters “home” to their “families” which summarized their experience as new arrivals.
The students also visited with first person interpreters portraying historic staff during a tour of the Manor House. Through interactive dialogue, students learned about historic job opportunities and what life was like in Akron in the year 1920. During the tour, volunteer guides led tours and assisted first person interpreters by answering contemporary questions, passing around hands-on artifacts and showing students photographs of real historic staff members via hand-held computer tablets.
One of Stan Hywet’s major institutional goals is to build upon our existing partnerships to serve a need that is not fulfilled in the classroom: to provide real-world experiences for students utilizing problem solving and critical thinking skills that cannot be easily replicated in a traditional classroom. “Meet the Staff” is an excellent example of deep learning, as the collaborative nature of the curriculum’s design and the extensive pre- and post-visit activities are features of a program whose impact stands in sharp contrast to Stan Hywet’s standard offerings of isolated and often disconnected guided tours. In addition, Stan Hywet’s focused partnership with an identified group of under-served students from specific classes in particular schools demonstrates our stewardship of an ongoing environment of learning that reaches beyond the classroom, draws connections with lessons and resources in the outside world, and links students with deep learning resources within their community.