- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2016

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - If you visit Ashley Littleton’s College Hill Elementary School classroom where her EAST kids congregate, you’ll find them connecting to Texarkana’s rich history.

The Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/1RQw0hS ) reports that this group of bright students researched several of Texarkana’s most historic sites to present this information to the world.

To that end, they’ve been working on code, as in QR codes, to be attached to various buildings. Scan the QR code with your smartphone and you’ll call up information about, for example, the Hotel Grim or Arkansas Municipal Auditorium. They hope to do this for a couple dozen locations.

The Texarkana Museums System and Texarkana, Ark., School District partner on this project, which plugs kids into history and gives visitors to these locations essential background information, including historic photos and short biographies. QR codes will be placed somewhere visible at each spot so people can find them.

The project also makes sense for EAST student participation, given that EAST is an initiative to teach environmental and spatial technology. As of about a week ago, Littleton’s group was working diligently, having mapped the sites they’re working on.

“We’ve researched 23 sites downtown,” Littleton said. They’re tackling the project in a couple phases, having conducted most of the research for all these sites. But they’re working on roughly half of them for the first phase. They’ve scouted for photos to include.

Other sites include the Museum of Regional History (formerly the Offenhauser & Co. building), Beech Street Baptist Church, the old St. Michael Hospital, Ahern House, Ace of Clubs House, Garrison-McLain House_all historic, all downtown and situated on both sides of the state line.

“The museum actually chose the sites that they wanted us to do. They tried to choose the most historical sites and have them equitable to both Arkansas and the Texas sides,” Littleton said.

Research required a field trip down to the MoRH to meet with curator Jamie Simmons. Kids donned white gloves to pore over historic archive documents.

“All the old maps and photographs and that kind of stuff,” Littleton said.

Students wrote a paragraph bio of each site, including historical, interesting points such as what the building served as before and what it’s used for now, when it was built, architectural style and similar sorts of information.

Littleton’s students generate QR codes using a template on the computer. Scanning the code will bring someone to an online Webpage with the bio and photographs.

“So when someone comes and visits that particular site, whether it’s the Miller County Courthouse or whatever it may be, if you have a smartphone or smart device you have a QR code reader and you’ll just scan the QR code and that information will come up,” Littleton said.

Littleton says the project is rooted in the vision of College Hill’s former principal, the late Marguerite Hillier. The teacher says Hillier suggested the project idea before she died last summer.

“She passed away before I ever got to talk to her about it. Thankfully, she had talked to other people about it so I was able to get the idea of what she wanted to do,” Littleton said.

The class meets twice a week in Littleton’s room. “It’s really a student-driven class where they kind of choose and pick projects they want to do that benefit others in the community, whether it’s the school community or community of Texarkana or the whole state of Arkansas,” said the teacher. She guides them to make these projects come to life.

“They’ve been wanting to do something with QR code,” Littleton said. At school, QR codes are used in such places as calendars. One of her students wants to instruct teachers about different ways to use the codes in the classroom, such as using them on bulletin boards.

This project is an ongoing one. They may not finish this year, so the second phase may continue next year. There’s not always a definitive start and finish point in these projects, the teacher explained.

Littleton’s students are headed to a three-day EAST conference in Hot Springs, Ark., this upcoming week. EAST is based in Arkansas and EAST schools will attend. Her students will show off their hard work there.

“This project with the museum is our huge focal point,” said Littleton. She may have helped but her students did the research and writing. Some sites had Wikipedia pages, some didn’t. For some places, students had to dig harder for information.

“They picked what they thought should be included,” Littleton said.

Garrett Pendergraft is one of those star students participating.

“We actually get to do more than one building, and I’ve been waiting pretty much the whole entire time to get to do the QR code,” he says about what he enjoys. He’s responsible for the Hotel Grim, Four States Auto Museum and an Ensign Fountain downtown

In his research, Garrett discovered that fountain is one of about 125 in the nation of this particular kind. “We’re so honored to have one in Texarkana,” he said. And about the Grim, he noted that famous people stayed there, although it was later abandoned. Reportedly, the outlaws Bonnie and Clyde visited.

“On my building, we actually found the original blueprint,” said Ainsley Richardson, another student, about the Downtown Post Office. Other students working on this project are Rett Jenkins, Savannah Pascarella, Seth Coker and Kynlee Garrett.

While at the MoRH downtown, they gathered new facts from exhibits and an information kiosk. They also looked through books that detail Texarkana’s history, such as one written by local historian Dr. Beverly Rowe. Littleton ended up buying that one for the class, a good donation to the TMS, she says.

“The kids were real excited about it when they saw that the majority of their buildings were in here,” Littleton said. “Some of the buildings, it was difficult to find things online. They found them here real quick.”

Students have also been pinpointing these downtown locations for a GIS map. They’ve actually used this technology before.

“We used it last year for all the fire addresses that have happened from 2010 to 2014 in Texarkana,” Rett said about mapping fires in the city. They’re using the same system for these historic sites, giving each type of building, such as a church or theater, an appropriate symbol.

All of this gets the students excited and engaged. Littleton only sees them for two 45-minute sessions weekly.

“The amount of work that they have done, I’ve been so proud of them,” she said. They’ll come talk to her during recess or other times when they can to talk about the project. They’ve kept busy with it. That’s what happens when learning is fun.

“We’re hoping that in April we will actually be able to place the codes on the buildings for at least the first set of buildings,” Littleton said.

She hopes people will find the QR codes and learn something new about Texarkana. And as a teacher, she hopes her students gain a deeper understanding of their hometown.

“I just hope they have a better respect for their town and their city, you know, because there’s a lot more to their city than the here-and-now. A lot of time kiddos, they think ‘right now at this point and this time,’” Littleton said. “They’ve actually taken the opportunity to go back and find things that most students or kids their age would never know about their city.”

“They’ve actually taken the opportunity to go back and find things that most students or kids their age would never know about their city.”


Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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