My name is Benjamin Nelson, and I am an art instructor at McCaskey East.
My goal for this year has been to nurture a sense of community within our student body. One of the first projects I assigned to my students was to create a visual artistic map about the communities they are a part of. As a class, we looked at examples of how artists use and make maps to explore topics that are important to them. Then I asked students to define community and what communities they are a part of. Community means many things to many people. In order for students to understand their community and its role, it is important to understand its history.
When my students arrived at the Alumni Center on the second floor of J.P. McCaskey High School, the staff graciously welcomed us. I asked Mr. Miller, the Coordinator of Alumni Affairs, to introduce the role of the Alumni Center and what the McCaskey Alumni Association has accomplished. Students learned what the word Alumni meant and how they too would soon be Alumni.
The Alumni Center provided an opportunity to analyse historic documents, to understand the history of our school community, and connect that history to the present. Students chose an artifact in the room to investigate. While analyzing the artifacts, I asked students to consider what it was about. Who created this piece of history? What purpose did it serve, and why was it important to people at the time of its creation? What was happening at the time in history when it was created? What did you find out from this artifact that you may have not learned anywhere else?
Students’ favorite artifacts seemed to be the yearbooks! Most of our students enjoyed seeing the changes in fashion at McCaskey since their parents, grandparents and former students attended. They enjoyed finding their relatives’ names in the archives, yearbooks and brochures from past decades. They noted what significant changes had occurred since their friends and family members had attended, but also how so many things remained the same in terms of school culture, athletics, clubs, and the spirit of the campus. One student was quite intrigued with a photo from the 1930s and remarked about how much more diverse the school is today.
Many students were surprised and excited to learn about the famous people who were past students at McCaskey High School. Students recognized such names as filmmaker Madeleine Anderson, Olympic sprinter Barney Ewell, and war hero Richard Winters from Band of Brothers. Most had no idea such prominent and significant people had attended the same school as they do!
When we returned to the classroom the next day, we talked about how our perceptions of community have changed since our visit, and how our projects will evolve. Several students adopted social themes about the immigrants that have come to Lancaster and how that influences our culture. Other students went home and talked to their parents and relatives who were alumni about their time at McCaskey. This created an extended opportunity for learning and community building beyond the classroom.
My goal is connecting students to their community and creating visual narratives associated with that personal connection. To do this, our students needed to understand the history that has made up the culture of our community. I wanted students to know how they can use the Alumni center as a resource. They appreciated that their time at McCaskey would be preserved in the Alumni Center, and that they had a recourse to help them connect with friends and the community after they graduate.