HARPERS FERRY - A service learning project created by Harpers Ferry Middle School students about the story of John Brown's Raid was publicly unveiled Thursday to local, state and national officials.
"Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student" includes student-produced mini-movies, or vodcasts, and the premiere was part of daylong kickoff celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War and the upcoming anniversary of Brown's historic October 1859 raid.
Many historians believe the raid lit the fuse that touched off the Civil War.
"(This is) no question one of the most exciting and best things I'll be able to say I ever did in my career," Harpers Ferry Middle School Principal Joe Spurgas said of the project. "It's been a wonderful experience. ... I'm very proud of my teachers and staff that were heavily involved."
Students conceived and created six vodcasts, short downloadable Internet videos, which interpret the history of Brown's raid from a young person's perspective. They will be used by the National Park Service and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership to help educate visitors about the significance of the raid. They will be available on both agency's Web sites, as well as YouTube, an online video-sharing site.
"It's a very innovative and unique approach to bringing history to other youth. A lot of people have worked to make this possibility occur," said Dennis Frye, chief historian of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
The guest speaker at the premiere Thursday was Robert G. Stanton, deputy assistant secretary of the Interior and the former director of the National Park Service.
He commended those present for giving him the opportunity to personally witness the support of so many partners in what he described as a "noble endeavor" to preserve and share the nation's collective heritage.
"I reserve my warmest greeting to the young people who produced this outstanding presentation," he said. "What you have given of yourselves toward this noble cause of preservation stands as a hallmark, which I will ... share beyond the state of West Virginia."
Stanton later said he will tell others that if they want to see a model of citizen engagement and commitment to their youth, they only have to come to Harpers Ferry.
"I'm privileged for the opportunity to join with you on such a special occasion ...," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have some outstanding documentary filmmakers in our presence."
The project, supported by the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the JTHGP and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, is a model intended to spur service learning at other federal, state, tribal, community and local historic properties across the nation. The overall program was created by the JTHGP at the request of the advisory council, in conjunction with the park and the school.
"The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership is thrilled to be part of today's vodcast unveiling," said Cate Mangennis Wyatt, president and founder of the partnership. "(The students) came at it with different perspectives, came at it with an enormous amount of talent, skills and abilities. ..."
It's the first tangible result of the ACHP's Preserve America Service Learning Project program, representatives said. It's intended to inspire similar efforts by local schools and historic preservation organizations to create educational efforts tied to curricula using local heritage resources, and to help people better understand American history.
"I'm just to delighted to be here today to see the fruits of everybody's labor ...," ACHP Executive Director John L. Nau said. "We can look at (this) as a model to take to states and parks and other partners around the country."
More information is available at www.harpersferryhistory.org/johnbrown/videocasts.htm.