Hermosa South Dakota Middle School, Hermosa, South Dakota

Successful Student Preservationists
By Tammy Jo Schlechter

American history – my students are creating it every day. Despite this idea, and our attempts to relate today’s world to the past, our history lessons needed more spice. We needed help. I had even attended a Smithsonian Institute workshop sponsored at the local Journey Museum. At this workshop, I learned more about making history become more alive with artifacts, and strategy on how to get kids engaged. I saw activities that hooked kids by using music from a particular era, along with pictures and possibly articles of clothing. I thought that I could really jazz up my history class, but it would take some time. But, as my tale continues, my class did not have to wait long!

Unexpectedly, I received a call from a gentleman that was interested in sharing about the Civil War. He did not claim to be an expert, but he did love the history of our country and just wanted to share what he knew. The timing was perfect. Our 8th grade class was headed towards the Civil War unit in our studies. And here was this unknown gentleman, Mr. Don Balyeat, ready to share artifacts and knowledge about the Civil War. He could even trace back his genealogy to this historic time frame. We established a time for him to come into our classroom. After scheduling around spring testing dates, the day finally arrived for our visitor. My eighth graders were curious about this snowy white haired gentleman, especially when he turned on some unfamiliar music. My students knew his visit would help us launch our Civil War unit, but little did we know how much we would learn AND what we would help launch…besides our Civil War unit!

Hermosa middle school students

Some of Ms. Schlechter's 8th graders at the local Hermosa Cemetery with cannons that originally stood in front of Dr. Samuel Mudd's casement at Ft. Jefferson, FL. Image courtesy of Russell Lloyd Jensen, Sage Studio.

Our time flew by with Mr. Balyeat as he shared artifacts from the Civil War era. The pictures that accompanied his talk were interesting and memorable. Long after his visit, my students can still tell you about the characters he shared and about a submarine hauled up from the depths that had sunk for unknown reasons during the 1860s. The visitor who modestly claims he is not an expert made history come alive in my classroom.

Our connection did not end there, however. Mr. Balyeat later spoke at our local historical society’s fundraiser, where three of my students volunteered to help for an afternoon. Mr. Balyeat had become interested in our local cemetery, because we have actual artifacts from the Civil War that greet persons who decide to visit. What are these artifacts? The Hermosa Cemetery has two cannons from the Civil War at its entrance. With the assistance of Mr. Balyeat, our local community and my future eighth grade students will join together to preserve these cannons and research the history represented by those quiet graves on the hill on the west side of Hermosa. We have discovered that there are Civil War veterans buried in our cemetery, along with other veterans from other American conflicts.

The eighth grade class of 2012 is considered the catalyst for our school’s involvement in this evolving opportunity for studying our local history. It was their giving and caring spirits during discussions on how to become more involved in our community that led to a commitment for future work with our local historical society. These caregivers along with Mr. Balyeat, are responsible for that maiden “voyage” to our local depository of history waiting to be discovered by our youth or revisited by their elders. We are sharing a picture of this group of students who helped chart the course that other eighth graders will follow, as we try to learn more about our country’s history. Thank you to Mr. Balyeat and the Civil War Trust for preserving our history for us and making it accessible in such a meaningful manner. Thank you to my eighth grade class of 2012 for making a difference in our current era.   

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