Thanks to history buffs, area students are learning about hometowns' pasts
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2013
1/18/13 at 7:32 AM
History may not be a student favorite, but one way to hook kids on the subject is to go local.
"Regardless of how the locality is defined, there is great value in connecting the people and events of the local area to state, national and world history," said Kathryn Shurden, who along with her daughter, Mandy Brumley, has created a curriculum so that students can learn about the history of their own hometowns.
The Oklahoma Local History Curriculum provides resources, lesson plans, assessment standards and more to guide teachers in localizing history.
"History - the events that shape our lives - doesn't just happen on some grand scale. History becomes much more meaningful when we understand that we are the heirs of the ideas, values and traditions resulting from those events," Shurden said. "History, like politics, is really just local, after all."
An avid history buff, Shurden grew up in Seminole County hearing stories about the region's rich history, including the oil boom days springing from the Betsy Foster No. 1 oil well near Wewoka and her father's childhood growing sorghum cane and making cane syrup to sell to folks in town.
"I thought everyone knew the events that shaped their communities and how it affects who we are today. Then I moved," she said.
Shurden's local history effort began when she saw a map at a downtown office in Henryetta that showed a labyrinth of tunnels that run beneath the town's streets.
" 'What are those?' I asked. 'Coal mines' was the short answer," Shurden recalled.
The long answer, she said, has been a research project of nearly two decades to understand how coal attracted railroads, immigrants, labor unions and land speculators to Indian Territory.
Shurden found that most people in the area had no idea about the history of their own town, and she set out to remedy that, starting with Henryetta students. The curriculum has spread to more than two dozen districts, including Alva, Broken Arrow, Eufaula, Okemah, Okmulgee, Stidham and Tuttle.
The curriculum is customized for each town and suggests activities and reference sources so students and teachers can dig deep into history. It requires no textbook because information is found online through the Oklahoma Historical Society or through state history books at local libraries, Shurden said.
"It's kind of a little secret," said Shurden, who has a master's degree in education and has taught at CareerTechs and Oklahoma State University's Okmulgee campus. Her husband is former state Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta.
Weleetka Superintendent Dan Parrish had only praise for the curriculum, saying it adds relevance to history lessons.
Andrea Spurlock, who teaches second grade at Weleetka, said, "I think it's important for students to learn about where they came from, their home, their environment and how their culture functions."
Teri Crawford, who teaches third grade there, said the students love learning about Okfuskee County and that she is pleased with how the curriculum aligns with the Common Core standards that are coming next school year.
In Kim Williamson's class at Weleetka, third-grade students made their own books about their local history.
"We have a large number of Native American students that really enjoyed reading about the importance of their ancestors," she said.
Shurden said she offers the curriculum for an affordable one-time license fee, just to cover all the research she and her daughter put into the effort.
"Regardless of whether schools use our materials to teach local history or develop their own processes, we believe that all students should understand the events that have shaped their lives and still influence their values today," she said.
To learn more about the Oklahoma Local History Curriculum, email Kathryn Shurden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original Print Headline: Home-grown history
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Kathryn Shurden, Henryetta's history curriculum creator, stands outside the home of town founder Hugh Henry in Henryetta last week. She and her daughter have created a curriculum so that students can learn about the history of their own hometowns. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Kathryn Shurden stands next to a tile mosaic wall erected on the town's Main Street in the 1920s by a Syrian emigrant to Henryetta. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World