On September 21, the Texas Historical Commission and the Bullock State History Museum are hosting the second annual Story of Texas Workshop. This year’s theme is "Connecting Educators and Audiences." The workshop sessions will focus on improving ways that volunteer and professional educators engage with students and teachers.
To promote this workshop, we are conducting a series of interviews. These interviews explore workshop topics and explain how those topics will help improve your programming. This week, our interview is with the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), one of several statewide partners participating in the Story of Texas Workshop.
TSHA recently moved its headquarters back to Austin, so Madeline Clites (CHC Outreach Program) had a chance to meet Jason Harris, the K-12 Program Manager for TSHA. They discussed TSHA’s Junior Historians of Texas Program and how outside organizations can engage with students and teachers.
Clites: TSHA’s Junior Historians Program seems like a great way for educators to connect with students. Will you tell us more about the program?
Harris: Junior Historians is a club-based program that incorporates in-depth relationships between students and sponsors (teacher or school staff member) with the study of the past. Junior Historians chapters are encouraged to develop partnerships with local historical societies, commissions, and civic organizations that involve students in community service and create civic awareness. Past Junior Historians projects have allowed students the opportunity to collect historical materials, record oral histories, document cemeteries, research the origin of place names, survey local historic architecture, and more.
Clites: The TSHA website states that the mission of the Junior Historians Program is to develop students’ skills in the fields of “research, critical inquiry, analytical reading, writing, critical thinking, and debate.” What types of activities help to develop these skills?
Harris: The projects that students work on in this program are ideal for developing important skills because they provide a defined framework for exploring the past, developing the project, and then presenting the research to a public audience. Through the Junior Historians Program, students develop a since of community, and build the skills necessary to make them well-rounded citizens.
Clites: The Junior Historians Program started in 1939. What has changed since then? What has stayed the same?
Harris: The Junior Historians Program began to expand rapidly with the conservation movement in the 1960s and peaked during the 1980s. Many schools transitioned to Texas History Day [an annual history fair and competition] as a result of budget cuts, changing curriculum standards, and other outside factors. Today, there are still many active chapters across the state and we are starting to see the program grow again. We would like to begin working with others to help expand the program and engage students in meaningful historical work.
Clites: What is TSHA currently working on to reinvigorate the Junior Historians Program?
Harris: The TSHA hosts a Junior Historians Annual Meeting every year in the spring. In addition to the Annual Meeting, we are developing a series of regional meetings throughout the year. TSHA would like to partner with local historic sites, archives, and museums to host a one-day meeting for Junior Historians chapters in that region. This will give the students an opportunity to visit various institutions and network with each other.
We would also like to feature the Adopt-a-Building project that Junior Historians work on in our academic journal, the Texas Historian. This project encourages Junior Historians chapters to research a historic building in their local community. The chapter presents their research to the public, works with the local media to get coverage, and makes a case for the building’s preservation.
Clites: How can outside groups, like County Historical Commissions, museums, history associations, and historic sites get involved with their local Junior Historians chapters?
Harris: I would encourage outside organizations to use the TSHA website to find local chapters in its area. Outside organizations can support Junior Historians chapters by helping the sponsor develop and lead projects. Everyone benefits in this partnership. The students experience history beyond the classroom, and the outside organization receives extra help for a new or existing project, while meeting its outreach goals.
Clites: Will you give an example of a particularly successful project completed by a Junior Historians chapter with the help of an outside organization?
Harris: The Junior Historians club at Hopewell Middle School in Round Rock is very active and has partnered with local organizations, including the Williamson County Historical Commission, to preserve the Union Hill Cemetery. Since 2006, the Junior Historians have researched the history of the individuals buried in the cemetery, developed interpretive materials to teach others about the site, and pursued Historic Texas Cemetery designation. In addition to their research and outreach efforts, protecting the cemetery was a primary goal. The Junior Historians worked with the public and local businesses to install signage and fencing at the Union Hill Cemetery. This project is an excellent example of how outside organizations can initiate, support, and teach students about history.
Clites: What can attendees of the Story of Texas Workshop expect to learn from TSHA’s session?
Harris: I will be talking with attendees about ways they can engage with Junior Historians chapters specific to grade level. I will also demonstrate that organizations can usually modify their existing programs to meet the needs of students and teachers.
Thank you, Jason! Registration for the Story of Texas Workshop opens on August 1. Attend the workshop to learn more about how you can get involved with a local Junior Historian chapter.