High Point students step out of the classroom to
search for history in their own backyards
|Adam Distler, a student
from High Point, studies a stone found near the James family home
site while teacher Terre Chambers,left, and fellow students Merle
Thompson and Megan Koerner help search the area. The school
and 41 of its students are studying, searching for and mapping the
Still soggy after
recent rains, the trail through the woods quickly turns muddy as a group
of junior high students and their teacher hike through thick brush and
calls out that they’ve found an interesting
rock or an old tin can that could be a clue to what they’re searching
for in the woods near the small town of High Point. But, so far, the
evidence is scarce as Terre Chambers trails her students on their quest
to find the cemetery of the John James family, who settled in what
would later become Moniteau County before the town of High Point was
founded in the 1840s.
The kids are hoping
to find tombstones or the remnants of a stone wall that once surrounded
the James Cemetery, but all they’ve come up
with is ticks and chiggers.
guys, here’s a clue,” she says.
Chambers stands in
the midst of a large mass of iris plants, seemingly out of place
in the middle of a forest. “Iris is not a plant native
to Missouri so these shouldn’t be here,” she says
as the kids look at her confused. “Settlers
used to plant these around their houses so this could be the site of
the James family home.”
over downed trees and kicking back thick briars, one of the students
stumbles across what looks like the remains of a stone foundation.
Though they haven’t found the cemetery, the students and Chambers
are confident they’re on the right path.
of the Koerner family, including Paula, a High Point teacher,
and her daughters Morgan, Emily and Megan, interview Cletus Koerner
eighth-grade family history project at High Point school.
The students are
part of a community history research project begun by teachers at High
Point R-III School. The project, involving the school’s 41 sixth,
seventh and eighth graders, encourages kids to not only get out of
the classroom and search for pieces of the town’s past, but also
to use the technology to help them create maps pinpointing that history.
in the woods, Seth Fulks takes pictures of the scene using a digital
camera while Adam Distler pulls out a notebook and an electronic device
that looks a little like a large cell phone.
Using the global
positioning satellite, or GPS, receiver, Distler pushes a button on
the device, which marks the location of the James family home site
in degrees latitude and longitude. The location will be downloaded
into a computer back at the school and then entered into mapping software
to show where it is located in relation to the town, a mile or so to
The High Point history
project was developed by science and math teacher Carl Gatlin who wants
his students to gain a greater appreciation for where they are in the
“You don’t know where to go if you don’t know
where you are and where you’ve come from,” Gatlin says. “The
objective is to study exploration, migration and settlement of
the area. Part of that is personal contact and family history.
And part of it is knowledge of world geography and knowing what’s
going on in the rest of the world.”
|Caleb Lallement, left, and Ariell Taylor learn to use a GPS device
to mark the location of landmarks around their school in the central
As part of the project
groups of students visited the Moniteau County emergency dispatching
center in California to see a hi-tech, computer-based mapping
system where dispatchers can call up any address in the county
on a map. After the hi-tech demonstration the students went
low tech when they visited the Moniteau County Historical Society.
There they looked at some of the county’s original
plat books and even found the names of family members who owned
land there in the 1800s.
Like many of the
activities going on at the school, the history project has become a
community-wide effort. High Point is a tiny town fiercely proud and
supportive of its school. When Gatlin and the school sought money for
the technology to make the project possible, the community
The High Point Parent-Teacher
Organization bought the school 10 handheld GPS units and computer software.
The High Point Community Renewal Association, the High Point version
of a chamber of commerce, bought the school a computer and the
mapping software for the project and donated community history
books to the students.
The project is designed
to create a series of maps of the High Point area with significant
historic spots marked, along with information and even digital photographs
of the location. The kids learn to use the technology while the community
ends up with a computer database of its past, says Gatlin.
just a great thing for kids to know about the history of the community
they live in,” says Marlene Snyder, president of the Renewal
Association and author of High Point’s 1995 sesquicentennial
history book. “There’s
a long tradition here of interest in the community’s
been carried on for generations. There are families
here that have roots that go very deep.”
High Point teacher Carl Gatlin talks to students Arlend Murphy,
left, and Adam Distler while showing them a series of digital photographs
taken of the old Baptist cemetery near High Point. The students recorded
the location of the cemetery with GPS devices and took pictures to
document many of the tombstones.
says nearly everyone in the town has a connection
to the school.
“A school is a focal point of a community. In High Point the school ties
the community together and without it you don’t
really have a core community,” she
The culmination of
the project was a series of history reports each student did on either
their own family or another in the community. The reports,
with displays of maps, photographs and memorabilia,
were presented to the community in a program in
the gymnasium just before the school year ended.
For many of the kids
it was a chance to learn new things about grandparents they may not
have ever known. Eighth-grader Megan Koerner discovered her
great-great-grandfather came to the United States
alone from Saxony, Germany.
“He was a stowaway
on a ship,” she says. “When
they found him they made him work on the ship to pay for the trip. That’s
really interesting and the fact he came all that way by himself.”
Lietzke discovered her great-grandmother was a poet and her family even
had the word “poet” engraved on her tombstone.
wrote poetry and typed them up in books and gave them to every member
of her family,” says Lietzke, who
has a copy of one of the books.
researched the Medlen family and discovered
an interesting fact about the size of
the family through succeeding generations.
|High Point students studied cartography by making cardboard models
of topographic maps showing where they live.
(Charles Medlen) had 15 children and if you keep going into present
time the families get smaller,” says Distler. “He
had eight children and most of them
had five children. I have just one brother.
“Life is easier
now than back then because we have cars and all the electronic
gizmos and gadgets. Their children had to work on their farms, but
now you can raise just two kids and they don’t have to work on
Probably the most
exciting point during the project was the day teachers Gatlin
and Chambers went back to the James family
home site and found the cemetery. “We
knew from descriptions of it where
it should have been, but we just couldn’t
find it,” says Gatlin.
two teachers crisscrossed the
area and finally stumbled over the old
cemetery, only a few feet from
where several groups of students
found it,” Gatlin is reported to have said.
Even with aerial
photographs, modern maps and GPS units, it still took old-fashioned
footwork to finally pinpoint the cemetery. High Point student James
Carson and his fellow students are learning that today’s world
is driven by technology, but it’s still rewarding to get out
and get your hands dirty.
“The best part —digging stuff
up,” Carson says.