In my neighborhood, there's a school named Bach-Martin Elementary School. Only, it wasn't always named this. Atop the entryway of one of the school's two buildings, in stone, is the building's original name, "William and Elizabeth Martin Orthopedic School." I've passed it a million times whilst walking my dog and wondered how the two buildings crossed the street to become one school. Beyond that, who was Bache and who was Martin.
This thought eventually grew to wondering how any of the historic buildings in Philadelphia got their names. Moreover, who owned those names before the buildings?
These buildings provided history in plain site. They provided untold stories. They are everywhere throughout the city. If our job as teachers is to help our students investigate and understand the larger world around them, I could think of no better place to start than the literal world around them.
I moved to Philadelphia in the Fall of 2008. Being in the city was an enormous shift for a number of reasons, but understanding my new home as an place was important to me. The history was everywhere, it is Philadelphia. As I explored, there was this abandoned building that captured my interest - it was the Divine Lorraine. Sitting at the stoplight across from it, I pondered why this gorgeous, interesting and massive structure sat in disrepair as a canvas for graffiti. And who was Lorraine? How divine was she? This name was unusual.
I seriously pondered that at least 10 times before I finally googled it. I mean I am a history teacher after all, I should be able to figure this out. ;-) After reading the story and looking at the old pictures, I was taken with the story and the attempts to revive this pillar of the community. This was my neighborhood and I felt as though knowing this piece of the story connected me to the space differently.
SLA students travel to Center City Philadelphia everyday shedding the stories of their neighborhoods to join a school community. I hoped this project would allow students to share their neighborhoods, the stories from their homes and communicate that story to their school community. More sharing, storytelling, locating new primary source documents, true inquiry and research... what more can a teacher ask for!