Cemeteries are a great place for people to learn about their community, the changing times throughout history, and even about themselves. This idea is not lost on Baylor University’s School of Education, which held a three-day summit for its first Social Studies Teachers’ Academy as part of their Heart of Texas Council for the Social Studies program this past June.
The program is designed to help current educators use other methods for teaching history and social studies courses to their students. Instead of lecturing or showing slides, the teachers get a hands-on look at bringing their students into the field and having them interact with history. The summit has teacher presenters, new curriculum presentations and workshops to help teacher build original curriculum for their students.
Part of this year’s summit was a scavenger hunt at the First Street Cemetery in Waco, Texas. The teachers searched the cemetery for specific headstones and then had tasks for each headstone. The idea is to get the teachers to engage in the process of asking questions about the headstones, which in turn helps the teachers to think of news ways to present history and social studies classes to their students.
First Street Cemetery is the final resting place to many different groups and organizations, including, “Masonic Lodge and the International Order of Odd Fellows members, Woodmen of the World, other fraternal organizations and a fenced in area for prominent Jewish families (History, Conlon),” so there were a number of headstones which could act as a clue.
One clue involved finding a group of four headstones with asian markings within the cemetery. Tony Talbert, a Baylor curriculum and instruction professor, wanted the teachers to engage with the clues. “‘One of the things I always do is I ask where do we find answers?’ Talbert said. ‘With technology, some were taking photos and shooting photos off to people they knew who spoke Japanese, Chinese or Korean. They were asking, ‘Hey, what does this say?’ and ruling out what language it wasn’t (History, Conlon).'” The headstones are of a Chinese family which immigrated to the United States to work with a missionary family. The family ended up having a thriving business in Waco, thanks in part to the area’s first growth spurt. The family ended up being buried next to the family which brought them to the United States.
30 teachers from 11 school districts participated in the three-day summit and the council is planning other events for the Fall and Spring, though those will be shorter event.
For more on this story by Shelly Conlon of the Waco Tribune-Herald, click here.