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Teaching Tool: History Exhibit Showcases CT Stories

Manchester High School student Rachael Suhie's project on running pioneer Julia Chase-Brand was chosen by the Connecticut Historical Society for it's 50 Objects, 50 Stories exhibit.

Manchester High School student Rachael Suhie’s project on running pioneer Julia Chase-Brand was chosen by the Connecticut Historical Society for its 50 Objects/50 Stories exhibit.

Teaching history is all about telling stories. Now Connecticut students have the chance to get a personal perspective on how stories shape history—thanks to a Connecticut Historical Society project titled Connecticut Kids: Your Objects, Your Stories.

The project encourages children to share an object that represents a personally significant story. It’s part of a larger exhibit going on at the Historical Society, Connecticut: 50 Objects/50 Stories, which focuses on objects that help tell the stories that define Connecticut.

Object submissions from Connecticut youngsters will be featured in an online gallery. On Saturday, October 3, the Connecticut Historical Society will hold a special pop-up exhibit featuring some of the objects so that families and visitors can come see them and hear their stories. The Historical Society will also have other activities and crafts available for families that day to celebrate the stories of Connecticut kids. Submissions are due by September 12—click here for more information.

History through the eyes of a teenager

The 50 Objects/50 Stories exhibit is also an excellent learning tool for families and school groups that visit the Historical Society—and in fact, one of the 50 objects submitted came out of a school history day project last year by Manchester High School student Rachael Suhie.

The project is a graduation requirement at Manchester High School that students work on during their junior-year American Studies class. Students can choose to demonstrate what they have learned through an exhibit, documentary, performance, website, or traditional paper.

Suhie chose to do an exhibit on Julia Chase-Brand, a pioneer in the world of running who became the first woman in the United States to participate in a major distance road race by finishing the Manchester Road Race in 1961.

“The teachers wanted us to take on local projects as they have more relevance to us,” Suhie said.

The American Studies classes at Manchester High are co-taught by history and English teachers and the two subjects are highly integrated with a single set of assignments.

History teacher Matthew Cieslowski said that he and co-teacher Steve O’Reilly encourage local projects because of the impact they have on students.

“It’s great when kids do projects on Martin Luther King Jr., but it’s not the same as doing a project on the Sheff v. O’Neill court case where students get to meet Elizabeth Sheff, one of the original plaintiffs,” Cieslowski said.

“Rachael got to meet Julia and talk to her to learn about her experience firsthand,” he said.

“I learned a lot—it was such an interesting story,” Suhie said. “Julia said running in that race was the scariest thing she had ever done. She was very nervous.”

The project had special relevance for Suhie who is captain of her high school’s cross country team and has run the Manchester Road Race several times herself—finishing with the fastest time of a female Manchester High School student in both 2013 and 2014.

Teachers encourage young historian

The Manchester High School history day projects coincided with the Connecticut Historical Society’s call for objects for its 50 Objects exhibit. Cieslowski said, “We already had students doing projects on these local topics so it made sense to encourage them to submit an object for the exhibit.”

In its collection the Manchester Historical Society has the blue dress 19-year-old Chase-Brand wore when she crossed the finish line in 1961—her Smith College gym uniform—so Suhie was able to submit it as an object for the exhibit. Though other Manchester High students also submitted objects, as the exhibit is limited to 50, Suhie was the only one whose object was selected.

“I was so excited to tell my teachers I’d been selected,” Suhie said. “They gave me so much positive reinforcement and were so excited for me, which made me so excited.”

“We went to the opening night and got a preview of the exhibit,” Cieslowski said. “Rachael got to talk about why she selected the dress—I think she was one of the only high school kids who had an object featured.”

Cieslowski continued, “It was nice to see a young person, a young historian sharing the stage with people who have devoted their lives to local history. We were incredibly proud.”

The 50 Objects/50 Stories exhibit will be at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford until January 2, 2016. Click here for more information about the exhibit and to view an online gallery of the submissions.

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