Students Preserve Capitol Hill History

A New Nonprofit Story of Our Schools Will Help Local Students Explore Their Community Stories

An old photo of a local school archived in the Library of Congress. (Photo courtesy Story of Our Schools)

Students at the Capitol Hill Montessori will explore their community’s history through a pilot program that started in November. Story of Our Schools, a non-profit organization, and DC Public Schools (DCPS) will help fund a project for a group of 26 students to research, interview neighbors and put together an exhibit at the school on the 200 block of G Street NE.

The students could finish and install the final product at the school as early as the fall of 2016.

Jen Harris, the executive director and founder of Story of Our Schools, developed the idea in 2014 after visiting Payne Elementary to vote. She said she realized schools act as community centers as well as educational institutions. As an exhibit designer and photographer by trade, she saw an opportunity to share the local history with people visiting for events like voting and meetings. 

“I think a lot of eyes can be opened from this project,” she said. “A lot of new residents can learn through the project.”

The students grade one through eight at Capitol Hill Montessori applied to participate in an afterschool program every Tuesday during the academic year called Thinking Like A Historian: The Logan Club. Harris and her team of eight at Story of Our Schools worked with the principal and staff to build a curriculum.

DCPS agreed to provide funding for curriculum development, basic tools and field trips for two pilot programs. The funding for the final exhibit will come from private and public grants that Harris and her program will apply for starting in January 2016.

As for the project focus, that’s up to what the students want to learn about, she said.

“Students are going to drive the creation of the exhibit on the campus,” Harris said. “Every school will be different because every story is different. It serves as an ongoing education tool that informs and excites residents.”

Story of Our Schools has reached out to more DCPS schools and plans to build up support beyond the pilot. Other projects may involve more students and produce different styles of exhibits. 

Harris moved to the Hill East neighborhood in 2011. She and her husband renovated their 1909 house and marveled at the stories neighbors shared about their families that had lived in the area for nearly a century. She said she wants to preserve these Capitol Hill stories in a rapidly changing environment. And she wants to give local students a chance to share in that process.

“To have them create this lasting project builds a sense of pride,” she said. “This could bring our community together.”

To learn more about the project, visit http://storyofourschools.org


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