Prince William students creating movies on Civil War history

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 23, 2010; LZ03

Cameras will be rolling at Manassas National Battlefield Park this fall as some Prince William County students get a chance to combine history with cinematography as part of a program launched by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground.

The Of the Student, by the Student, for the Student program, which debuted last year at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., gives students who live along the Journey's 180-mile stretch a chance to study the history in their back yard and create mini-movies that will be used as learning tools for anyone who visits historic sites in person or online.

"The model the Journey is using is pretty innovative, and they use technology tools kids get excited about," said Ken Bassett, history and social science supervisor for Prince William schools. "I'm a big proponent of students learning history and experiencing it at these sites. I think it has the power to inspire kids if they can actually see the places [events] happened."

The Prince William area program will allow sixth-graders at Stonewall Middle School in the Manassas area to delve into the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. Students will get to decide what interests them from those battles and then write, edit and produce six two-minute movies that capture what they learn. The movies will be used at the battlefield and be streamed through other outlets.

The details of how long students will work on the project and how it will tie into the classroom are still being determined, Bassett said, noting Stonewall was chosen for the program because of its proximity to the battlefield. This will also give students a more in-depth look into the county's historical sites by giving them access to historians, archived documents and other resources, Bassett said.

"I'm really excited about having the kids come," said Ed Clark, supervisor at the Manassas battlefield. "The students get free rein on what to cover, and that is the exciting part."

Journey Through Hallowed Ground President Cate Wyatt said the service-learning program was developed after the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation approached the organization, asking it to create a pilot program that would engage middle school students in the history they could find nearby. The organization also does other educational programs and outreach to promote the "hallowed ground" stretch, which extends from Monticello, Va., to Gettysburg, Pa., and was declared a National Heritage Area in 2008.

Wyatt said an intriguing part of the program is that the topics that interest students are ones that have never been interpreted before. At Harpers Ferry, for instance, students were interested in what children were doing and thinking during abolitionist John Brown's raid.

"No wonder so many schoolchildren get bored," she said. "We found we aren't looking through their perspective to interpret history."

The program is being sponsored by numerous organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has committed $300,000, and the History Channel, which has pledged $100,000, to make it a success at all 12 National Park Service sites along the Journey, Wyatt said.

The Prince William program, Wyatt said, is being funded by several sources, including the county schools and government, which each promised $13,000 over the next two years, and the Virginia Department of Education, which pledged $20,000 a year for two years.

The Prince William program is the third to launch under the Of the Student, by the Student for the Student initiative, with the second one underway at Monticello. The program comes to a locality about a year before it plans to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Prince William's commemoration will begin in July 2011.

"As we approach the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War . . . this project will directly connect them to our historic resources and to our nation's history as never before," Clark said. "Working with the [Journey], using this innovative approach to bring history to life for young people, is simply a special opportunity not to be missed."

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