July 2007: Vermont Teachers Dig into the State’s Past, Raise Awareness of Historic Treasures
The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation has recruited pre-school through college teachers and others to help excavate a rare, mid-18th century French settlement in Addison, Vermont in July and August. Professional archeologists from the University of Maine at Farmington are overseeing the dig and next month’s survey of Addison, Bridport, and Panton residents to see what they have discovered in their own backyards.
"You can’t help but be excited by the project and to bring that excitement into the classroom," said John Peterson, a history and anthropology teacher at Rutland High School and the College of St. Joseph. "One of the most important aspects of the project is that it brings together teachers from pre-school to college level for networking and sharing of resources. We are making arrangements to visit each other," said Peterson who is also the president of the Vermont Alliance for Social Studies, which endorsed the project.
The teachers, who sign up for one-, two-, or three-week sessions, dig in the mornings and attend lectures and classes in the afternoon. For their efforts, they receive credit for graduate school or for Highly Qualified Teacher status under the No Child Left Behind initiative. In turn, the teachers’ methods of inquiry will be compiled into lesson plans for schools in the area.
For example, one middle school teacher will incorporate elements of the project into a year-long exploration of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Peterson said. Using materials from the excavation and survey, another teacher is developing a project based on the Hasting Foundation’s Relics and Ruins model. Elementary school teachers will incorporate geometry lessons into the curriculum because of its use in the archeological dig. Peterson added that the project "really charges our batteries."
"This is participatory history. It takes all of us to bring it to life," said Elsa Gilbertson, project director and regional historic site administrator for the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.
The dig and survey are part of the Lake Champlain Voyages of Discovery: Bringing History Home project, which will teach the community how their own local area connects to world and national history and encourage historic preservation of these internationally significant places. The project was funded by a $250,000 Partnership for a Nation of Learners Community Collaboration grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
There are numerous farms on the fertile shoreline of Lake Champlain and area farmers sometimes find French coins and ceramic pieces while plowing their fields, said Gilbertson.
"During the survey, we might also be able to find out from them about old roads and vegetation and document them as best as we can. The surveys can be incorporated into land use plans to ultimately preserve or conserve this region. We want to reinforce or instill the feeling that this is a great place."
The dig and survey sites are located in the Champlain Valley, which was the home of the Iroquoian and Abenaki people for almost 500 generations. In 1609, the lake was discovered by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. In the late 17th & 18th centuries the French and British battled for control of the region.
Most archeology projects are done through the environmental review process conducted when someone wants to build on a site, Gilbertson said.
"The IMLS grant allowed us to do this project just for the pure joy of learning," she said. "We’re totally blown away by the interest in the project. Usually, we struggle to get people’s attention. People involved in the project have so much energy and everyone is intellectually stimulated."
The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, parent organization of the Chimney Point State Historic Site, partnered with the Bixby Memorial Free Library and Vermont Public Television on the project. In addition to the dig and surveys, the project will use the occasion of the upcoming 400th anniversary in 2009 of Samuel de Champlain first entering Lake Champlain to:
- Research and make an hour-long documentary about all of the cultural groups and many significant events of the area. The project will also provide historic content for the Champlain Quadricentennial commemoration in 2009.
- Engage communities in discussions and local research through public programs and discussions at the Bixby Library, Chimney Point, and around the region.
- Encourage lifelong learning and interest in the history of Lake Champlain.
- Create an interactive Web site with a virtual archaeological investigation, oral histories, and traditional tales of indigenous cultures. Project partners will also develop a Chimney Point exhibit on the archaeological discoveries and design educational materials for Champlain Valley schools.