As a current Social Studies Teacher in The Washington Irving Campus, a historic NYC Public School building which my grandmother attended, some of my students' favorite lessons connect to artwork found in the building and artifacts, which can be seen below, from Marty Raskin’s collection. It’s amazing how little students know about the history of the halls they walk through everyday, yet are so eager to learn about America from various artifacts connected to student life.
David Edelman, Social Studies Teacher & Instructional Coach
I like to start off the school year by taking my students on an in school field trip to analyze the various murals that can be found around the building. The lobby’s walls are covered by wood panels, and toward the ceiling are beautiful painted murals illustrating Washington Irving’s A History of New York. One 1915 series by Barry Faulknerin depicts scenes from early Manhattan. I use the maps, flags, nautical scenes and indigenous animals found within the murals to introduce students to Dutch and English settlements and the result occupation had on the Lenape who called Mannahatta their home.
Another mural by illustrator Robert Knight Rylandfrom on the back wall of the auditorium which depicts Dutch and Indians trading is my students' favorite. It looks like one of the Natives is taking a selfie, but in fact is looking at himself in a mirror. I use this mural to teach students how to think like a historian, asking them to analyze the illustrator's Point of View, Audience, Purpose and Accuracy. A link to the series of scaffolded questions and skills I teach my students in connection to these historical artifacts can be found here.
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In the middle of the lobby there is a grand fireplace with the most notable works of Washington Irving chiseled into marble above the mantle. Most of my students have never heard of the author Washington Irving and it’s wonderful to use this spot in the building to introduce my students to the school’s namesake. In following weeks, we read sections of Irving’s A History of New York in class together.
Over the years, some students have told me that this is the coolest field trip they have been on even though we didn’t technically leave school. Also, since all our students must go through metal detectors upon entry, I'm glad this historic lobby can be experienced through in a different light.
These types of experiences connect our students to local history as well as the legacy left by all the students and educators that came before. I build on this experience throughout the school year by sharing journals and notebooks that have been preserved from Washington Irving students so they can learn first hand about American history through the eyes and experiences of students past who learned in the same classrooms and entered school everyday through the same lobby.