Brayton Elementary third-graders stitch past and present together


Photo Gallery | Brayton Elementary students learn history through cross stitching

NORTH ADAMS — Emily George had no idea that a dozen neighborhood schools once dotted the city where she lives.

But Emily and other Brayton Elementary School third-graders learned about a former school on Miner Street and even one-room schools, among others that existed circa-1896.

"It's interesting when you've find out there's so much history that you never knew about," Emily said on Wednesday.

The students in teacher Jaana Mutka's were participating in a class project that aimed to link students with local history topics, ranging from former schools to historic residents.

Two major goals of the assignment were to help students make connections with local history while expanding their skills with technology, according to Mutka and Title 1 Reading Specialist Debbie Sala.

The project kicked off with a trip to the North Adams Museum of History and Science with a scavenger hunt, Sala said. Groups of students were given an index card with a picture relating to a historic topic — former local schools, major industries and the Hoosac Tunnel, among others.

In the classroom, students were given reading material on local history and assigned to research their topic more. They also had access to iPads, available through a partnership with the Williams Elementary Outreach program through Williams College.

Some children were surprised about what they learned, Mutka and Sala said. The location of the Brayton Hill Apartments, near the elementary school and the home to several students in the classroom, once hosted the North Adams Brick Co. in the 1800s.

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"One student said to me, 'Who knew that where I eat, sleep and live, there is history right underneath me,' " Sala said.

Through an iPad application called Notability, students colored a pattern for a small cat doll. Each pattern was printed onto freezer paper, transferred onto fabric and then cut out by students. Sala assisted them with sewing them together.

The dolls were modeled to the famous "Ithaca Kitties," that were introduced in 1892. One of the first commercial soft toys, they were printed on panels made at North Adams' Arnold Printworks, at the site of the present-day Mass MoCA.

"A lot of kids don't know how things are made," Sala said. "They don't know that people once had to make their own toys; they couldn't buy them at the store."

And using the online cloud storage service Google Drive and the Google Docs client, students wrote a few paragraphs on their research and embedded photos.

Joseph Onorato researched Italian immigration to the city. One person of note was Giovanni Rosasco, an Italian immigrant who helped others learn about American culture, served as a police officer and taught classes in citizenship. The topic was interesting to him because his family has Italian routes himself, he said.

Both Mutka and Sala spoke of inspiring a sense of belonging to the students.

"It's very empowering for them to see it's a beautiful and interesting place to live," Sala said.

Contact Ed Damon at 413-770-6979.


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