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Dracut Eighth-Graders Become Mill Workers

Junior High Teams Up With Tsongas Industrial History Center

Dracut students at TIHC
Dracut eighth-graders participate in a water-power workshop in the Boott Mills.

By Sarah McAdams

When eighth-grade teacher Rebecca Duda won a grant to work with local artists, scientists or scholars, she immediately thought of the Tsongas Industrial History Center (TIHC). 
“I asked [Director] Sheila Kirschbaum and the TIHC to partner with Lakeview Junior High School because it is a local resource with great scholars,” says the Dracut social studies teacher. 
Duda was one of a small number of Massachusetts educators to receive funding through the STARS (Students and Teachers Working with Artists, Scientists and Scholars) Residencies Program. Run by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the program offers grants of between $500 and $5,000 to schools to support creative-learning residencies in the arts, sciences and humanities. 
Collaborating with Duda and fellow Lakeview teachers Kimberly Ducharme, Sherilyn Georgoulis and Kirk Monbleau, the TIHC staff created a semester-long program that included both in-school and Park-based programs, each connected to one of Lakeview’s core subject areas. 
At school, TIHC museum teachers presented interactive programs on labor history, the 1890 typhoid epidemic and immigration. Students also used primary sources to investigate the life of mill girl Barilla Taylor. At the Center, students worked on assembly lines, “became” immigrants, wove cloth, built mill-and-canal systems and invented mill vehicles. 
Duda especially liked that the Industrial Revolution is a topic that can be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion.
“This residency allowed the science, English language arts, math and history teachers to collaborate together, which is very difficult to do,” she says, adding that “the students were able to see the subjects as connected, not as individual courses.
“For example, in English language arts they read an additional novel, ‘So Far From Home’ and created original poetry about the mills.”
Being able to bring the students to the mills “so they could see the historical site firsthand and not just discuss it in the classroom” was particularly powerful, she adds.
The program culminated with a June 21 reception attended by students and parents, Dracut Cultural Council members and a Mass Cultural Council representative. At the event, students displayed projects they completed using information they learned through the interactive programs. 
The student work will be exhibited on the fourth floor of the Boott Cotton Mills Museum through the end of the coming school year.
Rebecca Duda
Rebecca Duda