MCHA uses trunks to teach local history

From left, Barbara Braithwaite, Joan Groff, Connie McCool and Kathy Boyle of the Monroe County Historical Association education committee discuss the educational chest for local schools.
The project aims to highlight local Colonial history for area students.

By Dan Berrett
Pocono Record Writer

The Monroe County Historical Association has seen visits from schools to its home on Main Street in Stroudsburg slip in recent years, so it is looking to turn the tables.

“If they can’t come here,” said Connie McCool, chair of the historical association's education committee, and a retired Hamilton Elementary teacher, “we’ll go to them.”

The association secured $3,000 in grant funds from Target to create 19 traveling trunks, which are designed for fourth- through eighth-grade classrooms. The materials were compiled by a panel of retired local teachers and Linda Rogers, professor of elementary education at East Stroudsburg University.

Each trunk contains photos of artifacts, a novel about Colonial-era life in the Delaware Valley, lesson plans and a DVD about food preparation, which was shot in the association’s restored Colonial kitchen.

The lessons are multi-disciplinary. Each one cites the state teaching standards it addresses.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on math and reading," Kathy Boyle, a retired social studies supervisor for Pocono Mountain schools, describing schools in the age of No Child Left Behind. “Personally, we feel that social studies is a good medium to integrate these two.”

A geography lesson charts the Indian paths that later became Routes 209 and 33, and asks students to calculate how long it would take Daniel Stroud, son of Stroudsburg’s founder, to travel by horse from the area to Philadelphia (answer: about 10-12 hours).

The history portions ask students to read and interpret primary source documents, such as William Penn’s 1681 letter to the Lenape Nation, in which he tells them he hopes they will always live together in peace.

Lessons also touch on art; students try to write in the Fraktur style, a kind of German calligraphy used for birth certificates and other important documents.

Teachers tested the trunk last year on a small scale.

“This was so fantastic because we could start off right where the kids live — in Monroe County,” said Connie DiGregorio, a fifth-grade teacher at East Stroudsburg Elementary, who used the trunk in the school year that just ended.

She said she had planned to use the trunk for about a week or two. But, once she got going, the lessons lasted for a month.

“Very, very few children knew anything about Jacob Stroud or the towns of Monroe County,” DiGregorio said. “It was very enlightening for everyone, not just the newcomers.”

That’s what the retired teachers hope the trunks ultimately accomplish.

“We realized we have a whole generation of children who did not grow up here,” McCool said, adding that many consider themselves to be visitors, even after they have lived here for years.

“This is the heritage of your home. This is the history of your home,” she said. “We wanted to give a sense of roots here.”

Teachers interested in bringing the trunks into their classrooms must attend a workshop, which costs $10, at the Stroud Mansion on Wednesday, Aug. 15. Register by Aug. 8 by calling the association at (570) 421-7703.