East Middle School, Martinsville, IN
Successful Student Preservationists
By Chris Sturgeon
During my student teaching at East Middle School in Martinsville, Indiana, my eighth grade American History class raised over $290.00 in two weeks for battlefield preservation. Throughout the trimester, several students asked me to shave my beard. Unwilling to do this for nothing, I came up with the idea to shave my beard if the students raised money for charity. After brainstorming ideas with faculty and staff, I decided that the charity should be one that promoted historic preservation and the values of American History that I was teaching in class. I’ve seen several fundraising efforts from schools around the country in the Hallowed Ground magazine and website, and decided that donating to the Civil War Preservation Trust would allow me to connect students to history in a unique way.
I brought in a large jar and told the students that if they fill it halfway with coins in two weeks, then I would shave my beard. During the first week, several students asked me what would happen if they filled three-fourths of the jar, hoping that they could convince me to dye my beard instead of shaving it; seeing an opportunity to get students more excited about donating money, I changed the project’s rewards. I drew one line halfway on the jar for beard shaving, a second, higher line for beard dying, and a third line at the top of the jar for student’s choice in color for beard dying. These lines emphasized to students that the fundraiser was not only about embarrassing their teacher, but understanding the importance of preserving America’s history.
My students voted to help the CWPT in its fight to preserve the Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefields. During the two weeks, they created posters illustrating their concerns about urban sprawl and other threats to American battlefields and historic landmarks. By the last day of the fundraising period, students brought in enough money to surpass the third line, which meant they could choose what color I had to dye my beard. After taking a vote, the classes chose the color purple.
On the last day of my student teaching, I walked into school with a bright purple beard; students were giddy with how silly I looked. However, whatever embarrassment I had about my appearance quickly turned into pride. Faculty and other students were both amused at the lengths that the eighth grade students went to embarrass their teacher, and impressed with the student’s dedication to fund a battlefield that is 640 miles away. I am extremely proud of my students because they have shown me how much they care about and respect their heritage. The eighth grade class at East Middle School will be able to look back on this experience due to the hundreds of cell phone pictures that ended up on Facebook, and take pride in the knowing that they made a difference in preserving their history for future generations.