As a Social Studies Teacher that works in the Washington Irving Campus, a historic NYC Public School building built in 1913 which my grandmother attended in the 1930's, it is gratifying that some of my students' favorite learning experiences connect to artwork and artifacts found within our school building and Marty Raskin’s collection. As an educator passionate about the teaching profession and public schools, it’s a wonderful feeling to be able foster students' curiosity and sense of discovery through the lens of schooling. My students enter Union Square Academy for Health Sciences knowing little about the history of teaching and learning that has taken place in our school building, yet are so eager to dig into artifacts connected to former students' lives and educational experiences.
I am excited to be working with other teachers to collaborate on how to incorporate local history, specifically the history of public schooling, into students' learning. Students in our yearbook club are now looking at old student yearbooks to learn more about student life in years past, and how students approached documenting their experiences for their classmates. My students are also working to identify patterns & trends in the student body demographics throughout the years. Social studies classes are using artifacts such as an old civics day assembly program from 1946 to discuss various Supreme Court interpretations of the 1st Amendment and make connections to their own civic engagement. Students are eager to look at articles, artifacts and photos of a turn of the 20th Century Boys & Girls Youth Police squad program in NYC. These objects not only foster student engagement, they help students make connections to contemporary experiences, such as its modern incarnation, the NYPD Explorers Program, and big thematic issues such as the role of the police, in and out of our schools. Since the pandemic, I have also used pictures and articles on the Open Air Schools Movement which was meant to combat public health challenges such as Tuberculosis and the Spanish Flu. Such relevant historical sources provide context to the current challenge we face during the Corona Virus pandemic. Students referenced these sources and responses when they took part in a project to craft proposals to NYC City Council about how to keep students and teachers safe and educated within the reality of COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, schooling in NYC has been in an odd limbo with most high school students choosing to learn from home. The few students that attended school in person were confined to one classroom during the day to learn through a computer, teachers and classmates elsewhere. This new reality motivated me to engage several students physically present in school, yet mentally, emotionally frustrated, to work together with me to piece together and rediscovering the amazing history of teaching and learning that has taken place in our school building. These students were surprised to learn that many of the opportunities that make our school unique, including our Arts and CTE (Career & Technical Education) program has deep roots that extend back to 1913. Marty Raskin has shared incredible objects and photos from his personal collection, much of which documents the teaching and learning in our specific school. My favorite is this booklet from the girls’ welcoming committee, written by students to incoming freshmen. or more accurately freshwomen (Washington Irving was all girls up until 1986 and the Federal enforcement of Title 9), explaining all the amazing career and technical classes offered at our school when it was first founded. Tia Keenan, a community activist whose grandmother Rosemarie Morale graduated from Washington Irving in 1950 with a concentration in dressmaking has donated an old Theodore Kundtz manufactured school desk with a built in ink well.
To celebrate the September 2021 return to school and welcome students back for in person learning, we launched our an exhibition on the history of teaching, learning and student life in our historic Washington Irving Campus library. Our students are leading the research, design, curation, and facilitation of this exhibition and will continue in the great tradition of learning by doing, just like the students who first entered our school building in 1913 to perform, create, do and make. Moving forward, we are looking to establish a formal school historical society or club for students to participate in digitizing, analyzing and educating others about the history of teaching and learning in our great city. Such artifacts include the WIHS 1924-1925 instructional record written by teachers by department that details their new instructional practices and includes examples of student work. It is my hope that amazing educational artifacts help refocus the conversation on education reform away from recent movements tied to standardization and testing and back to the rich history of community building, experiential learning and innovation.
David Edelman, Social Studies Teacher & Instructional Coach
CREATE AN EXPERIENCE FOR STUDENTS TO HELP CHANGE THE WAY THEY SEE SCHOOL
I love to start off a 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 effect occupation had on the Lenape who called Mannahatta their home.
Another mural by illustrator Robert Knight Ryland 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 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.