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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Civil War Makes Union

College and high school students in Grinnell were recently united by an unlikely research topic: the American Civil War. Grinnell College students enrolled in “The American Civil War and Reconstruction,” taught by Sarah Purcell, History, have worked with Grinnell High School (GHS) students throughout the semester and are planning on holding a poster presentation on Friday, May 2.

The collaborative project between the two schools started late last year, when Dan Covino ’10, a history teacher at GHS, was given the opportunity to teach two elective courses on the Civil War at the high school. As an alum of the College, he took this opportunity to reach out to his former adviser, Purcell, and the two developed the idea of College and high school students collaborating through joint research projects and a public presentation.

“One of the things I’m interested in as a teacher is trying to broaden and strengthen relationships between the high school and the College and community as a whole,” Covino said. “We’re very fortunate in that way that the College is here and there are so many resources for this sort of thing.”

For both Purcell and Covino, the concept of bridging the town and College communities was a driving force in the birth of this project. Both expressed interest in embedding service learning projects involving students engaging in the community as a part of the course curriculum.

“I think the College could be more collaborative with the high school students in Grinnell … They have a lot of resources available to them at the College, and I think that it’s a reflection on the College that they haven’t been taken advantage of thus far. So this project is a good way to get that started or do more,” said Emily Hackman ’16, a student in Purcell’s history class.

Other than collaborating on the research project, Purcell’s students also acted as mentors to the high school students, helping them develop research and teamwork skills. Hackman has thoroughly enjoyed her experience working with a group of three high school students on her research topic, the origins of the Republican Party.

“It was rewarding for us and for them, especially given the fact that these students are going to be going to college in a year of two, Hackman said. “I was in their shoes only four years ago. Just the other day we were talking about colleges.”

According to Hackman, early in the semester, students in Purcell’s class were grouped with their high school counterparts by which Civil War topic they showed interest in. Research topics included the Gettysburg Address, Confederate politics, public memory and the Civil War and more.

Before actually meeting the students with whom they would be working, the members of Purcell’s class wrote research guides specific to their projects in order to help introduce them to the research process. Students from both schools then met four times for roughly 45 minutes to work on their respective research projects.

Meetings mostly took place in Burling, where College students guided their groups of high school students through the research process, such as utilizing library tools.

“[The collaboration] basically uses the College as a vehicle for getting my students to do more advanced work or more rigorous work,” said Covino, who considered the project a means of active learning as opposed to passive reading of a textbook.

As with any collaborative effort, however, there arose some complications, as well. Both Purcell and Covino pointed out that logistics were the biggest challenges they had to face in bringing the high school and College students together.

Particularly, they had to arrange transportation in school buses in order to get the 60 or so students to the College campus.

Due to the efforts of Susan Sanning, Assistant Director of Service Learning and Engagement at the Center for Careers, Life and Service, students from the two schools were able to facilitate communication and share research outside of their meetings through the online platform, OrgSync.

Currently, the students from both schools have finished their collaborative research and are working on preparing to present their findings at a public poster presentation.

 “We hope that the whole campus and the public will come and learn about the Civil War and Reconstruction at our poster session. It’s a chance for our whole community to benefit from students’ research and their insights,” Purcell said.

The poster presentations will take place on Saturday, May 3 in the second floor lobby of the JRC from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students, faculty, trustees, family members and the general public are encouraged to attend.

civil war graphic

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