- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - Lincoln High School students working with staff at the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park will soon try their hands at portraying some of the Northwest Territory’s most noted characters.

Nearly 30 students in Mike Hutchison’s college credit U.S. History class will be blogging as George Rogers Clark, British Col. Henry Hamilton and Father Pierre Gibault, as well as many others involved in the 1779 capture of Fort Sackville.

Jason Collins, a park ranger overseeing the program, told the Vincennes Sun-Commercial (http://bit.ly/1m01Wa4 ) that other area students are encouraged to get online, read the blogs and post questions to the characters. The goal, he said, is to create a dialogue between students of varying ages about the history of Indiana’s oldest city.

“We want these high school students to take ownership of the park’s story,” Collins said. “That is the whole goal of this grant project - to reach the next generation of park stewards.

“By these kids posting as these different characters, it gives them a first-person, front row seat to these historical events,” he said. “And using modern technology and modern equipment, we reach the generation coming behind them as well.”

Collins said he and Hutchison will monitor the blogs and check them for appropriateness and historical accuracy before they are posted. All of the county’s students, he said, as well as members of the public, are encouraged to read the posts and interact with the high school students.

“We are trying to cast a wide net with this,” Collins said. “We want to involve students of all ages. Obviously, our main target will be fourth-graders because that is when they learn about our state’s history, but third-graders, middle-school students, high-school students, everyone is welcome. We’ve even had a couple of adults post questions already.

“We’re super excited about this.”

Collins said the class of 27 students has been divided into nine groups of three, each assigned a different historical character to represent. One student will do the research for the blog post, another will do the writing and a third will edit the material before it is posted.

And in addition to the main historical figures, Collins said they have included some more obscure characters such as Richard Lovell, Clark’s drummer boy, who was only 14 when Clark and his men marched on Fort Sackville.

Other characters, he said, will include Madame Godare, a woman many call “the Betsy Ross of the West,” who fashioned the red-and-green-striped flag that flew over Fort Sackville, and William Clark, George Rogers Clark’s little brother, who would go on to lead the Lewis and Clark expedition. He was only 8 years old when Clark captured Fort Sackville.

“Say, for example, the kids posting as George Rogers Clark write about getting ready to leave Kaskaskia,” Collins said. “He is planning an 18-day, 180-mile march. He might ask the kids what things they think he should pack. The kids might write back and tell him dry clothes or lots of food.

“This whole thing will be very interactive.”

Hutchison said his class is “having a blast” with the project, and they have already seen and heard things about Clark’s advance and the memorial itself that they wouldn’t have had exposure to without the grant project.

Doing the blogs, Hutchison said, isn’t a traditional method of teaching, but he believes it will offer them an insight into history that, with any luck, will instill in them a lifelong desire to learn.

“I don’t have any idea right now how many of them will stay local, but regardless, it gives them a good appreciation of their community and their heritage that they might not have gotten otherwise,” he said. “And we believe it will be good for the community as well.

“A lot of people think they know about the memorial, what Clark and his men did, but, frankly, there’s probably a lot they don’t know. We’re hoping to reach beyond these 27 kids and provide a new curriculum for kids not just in Vincennes but around the state as well. Maybe even more than that. It’s just a matter of getting the word out and then hoping that people participate.”

GRC was one of about two dozen national parks to receive the $18,000 grant that allows for the history students to make multiple visits to the park, develop programming like the blog posts and, perhaps most importantly, help park officials see the memorial and its story through their eyes.

Collins said the goal is to keep the program going with Hutchison’s class in coming years, and a portion of the grant, $4,000, will be used to hire two of Hutchison’s students to come back and be interns next summer.

The blogs can be viewed beginning Monday at http://www.nps.gov/gero/forkids/vincennes-lincoln-high-school-blogs.htm. Questions will be taken throughout the school year and usually answered within 24-48 hours.

Teachers or parents with questions can contact Hutchison via email at hutchisonm@vcsc.k12.in.us or Collins at jason_m_collins@nps.gov.

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Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com

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