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Young researchers dig into history at Wright State’s Archives

March 10, 2020
Miami Valley School

The 30 researchers are busy at the Wright State University Special Collections and Archives, hunched over historic photos and newspaper clippings yellowed with age. They take notes on their findings, using pencils to jot down the historical facts on notepads or typing them into laptop computers.

The information is old but the researchers are new — they are all third-graders from The Miami Valley School.

It is all part of a community outreach program by Special Collections and Archives.

“We usually have Wright State students, faculty, staff researchers, adult researchers,” said Bill Stolz, archivist for reference and outreach. “It’s very rare to get third-graders to come and actually do primary source research.”

Stolz visited the students at their school on Feb. 19, then the students came to Wright State on Feb. 27 to do their research in a classroom near Special Collections and Archives, which is housed on the fourth floor of Dunbar Library.

The students are part of a social studies unit called The Community in which they learn about early Dayton history and compare it with the city’s modern history to see how the community has changed and evolved. The students have designated topics to research, which they will use to produce a newspaper about what they have learned.

Prior to coming to the Archives, the students studied the Wright brothers in the classroom that included the visit from Stolz. Then they brainstormed other research topics following a visit to Carillon Historical Park, which has historic buildings and exhibits on the technology history of Dayton.

Bill Stolz, archivist for reference and outreach at Wright State, assists Miami Valley School students who conducted research at Special Collections and Archives. (Video by Kris Sproles / photo by Erin Pence)

The students’ research topics include Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Wright Cycle Co., the Studebaker/Packard Museum, the Deeds Carillon, Steele High School, the 1913 Flood, the Orville Wright home of Hawthorn Hill and the Dayton Triangles professional football team.

At Wright State, the students went through primary sources of information — old photos and newspaper clippings.

“It brings it to life and helps them be able to travel back in time,” said Julie Paul, a third-grade teacher at the Miami Valley School. “They can feel a little bit of what was going on at that time, trying to bring it a little bit closer to them understanding and making some connections in a personal way.”

Paul said the exercise also helped the students learn organizational skills, taking a group of facts and putting them into a narrative for the newspaper.

Students Genna Sidakis and Jack Arnold researched the 151-foot-tall Deeds Carillon, which was built in 1942 and is the largest carillon in Ohio.

“We’ve been looking at pictures of the Carillon bells and have been taking notes off of those pictures,” said Sidakis. “I like just researching about it, learning more about the topic.”

Stolz said having the third-graders at Special Collections and Archives shows how valuable the historical collections are for the entire community.

“It’s quite a resource for them to come to Wright State to the archives to focus on Dayton history,” he said. “We have all those different aspects of Dayton history under one roof at Wright State.

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