It’s interesting how life works. Persell Middle School social studies teacher Jeff Kresge has two students, current eighth grader Emily Whitney and former student Julia Olson, who have been influenced by local historical figure, Calista Jones. Born in 1823, Jones became a teacher. When the Jamestown schools fired a male teacher for failing to properly manage the school, the board asked Jones to replace him. She’d only accept if paid the same salary as the fired man. At first the board refused her, but Jones won them over and became the first woman in Jamestown’s history to receive the pay of $1 a day.
Emily developed a strong interest in Jones through Mr. Kresge. She has created an interactive eBook project on Jones’ historical significance for the upcoming New York State Student Archives Research Awards. The NYS Student Archives Program promotes and recognizes excellence in student research. Persell Middle School’s Lost Neighborhood Project won awards in several categories in 2008. Emily will make the book available to the public to share her discoveries about the significance of this local figure.
“I thought it was cool that a woman from Jamestown accomplished what she did,” said Emily. “I want more people to know about her and that she went above and beyond her duties as a teacher. She was the first woman to vote in Jamestown. I don’t think kids think about learning more about our city’s history but if they took the time to learn, they’d find out it’s so interesting.”
Coincidentally Ms. Olson, who works at Northwestern University, runs a blog named after Jones. Ms. Olson portrayed Jones as part of a local lore project as a fourth grader at Fletcher Elementary School. The experience changed her life. Most of the girls were paired with boys as the wives of famous leaders but she quickly realized that Jones was historically important herself and became Ms. Olson’s first feminist influence. It wasn’t until she was out of college that she decided to use Jones’ name for her blog. Olson was the perfect resource for Emily’s project.
“I’ve shared websites with Emily that are for younger feminists and plan to Skype with her,” said Ms. Olson. “It’s fun to connect with another younger female. At Emily’s age, I was interested in understanding feminism and women’s rights and I would have been really happy to have someone encourage me in that aspect. Emily’s project is important as most of our historical understanding comes from the vantage point of men’s experiences. While their accomplishments are certainly significant, it’s fair to say that many women who have shaped our culture and country have been overlooked. For Emily to study Calista and bring her story to more people, she will only encourage others to look into the lives of other women from their hometowns. Jeff Kresge was definitely an influential teacher for me. I have always been super into history and as my social studies teacher he not only taught my favorite subject but connected all of the information to us in a fun and interesting way. You can tell that he really cares about what he does, which made his classroom really interesting for students.”
Emily is just one student at Persell who is entering the New York State Student Research Awards Program with a project that is done voluntarily and on the student’s own time. The second is eighth grader Cameron Hurst who is investigating the historical significance of the Arcade Building in downtown Jamestown. Cameron’s interest in the building came about during a class project in Mr. Kresge’s class, Students were asked how they could “fix” something in Jamestown. Cameron was always interested in abandoned buildings and immediately thought of the Arcade Building. He has since done extensive research, talked with local historians and former owners of the building, and recently took a tour of the building with city officials and Rob Black from Habiterra Associates.
“What I found was an incredibly cool architectural structure that gave a glimpse into Jamestown at that time,” said Cameron. “The atrium was so beautiful but unfortunately, it would cost too much money to restore the building. However, it is still important that people understand the historical significance of the Arcade Building. It was the first ‘mall’ in Jamestown. I’ve always loved local history and had a Fenton Museum card since I was 7 years old.”
Cameron’s started a Facebook page (www.facebook/savethearcade) on the Arcade Building to learn as much about its history as possible. During his tour, he found old receipts and bills and took many photographs to help put his project together. He credits Mr. Kresge’s class for inspiring his project.
“By starting this as a class project, it’s really helped develop my love of history, especially local history,” said Cameron. “I’ve learned so much about my hometown through the Arcade Project that I would have never known.”