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Using today's tools to explore the past

Using today's tools to explore the past

The Philadelphia area is famous for many historic locations, but Colonial Elementary School students were surprised to learn that some of these locations are right in their actual backyards.

The students used Google Earth on a recent day in February to go on a virtual scavenger hunt for historical markers and other items associated with places in Plymouth Meeting that were important in the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement. At least three of the fifth-graders in Tyrone Freebairn’s library class said they had no idea their town had such a rich past but they were glad to find out.

“It’s important to learn our own history,” said Ali Charabi, a fifth-grader.

Mr. Freebairn came up with the idea to create the scavenger hunt for students as part of a district-wide study of the book, “A Village Remembered.” The book, with poetry by Plymouth Whitemarsh High School graduates Dr. Arthur Turfa and paintings by artist Carol Worthington-Levy, is being introduced to students during Black History Month because it provides a look at some of the area’s landmarks and conveys their important role in American history.

During Colonial Elementary School students’ regular visits to the library, Mr. Freebairn is challenging them to use today’s tools to travel to various historic landmarks and locate specific items. For example, students visiting the Plymouth Meeting Friends House were challenged to locate the historic marker that is on the grounds. On other sites, students were asked to find items like lanterns or chimneys.

Mr. Freebairn also explained to students that they live in an area directly along the Underground Railroad routes extending from southeastern states like South and North Carolina to the northern states. People who once lived in this area, he explained, risked quite a bit in opening up their homes, businesses, barns and churches to provide refuge for those escaping slavery. Mr. Freebairn noted that the buildings students pass by every day, like Maulsby-Corson-Hovenden House on Germantown Pike and the Ellwood Jones House on Butler Pike, were some of the stops along the Underground Railroad.

“It’s interesting, because we’re searching places that have been here for thousands of years,” said fifth-grader Ryan Dubin.

While Ryan might have overestimated the age of the buildings he was visiting just a tad, the locations probably do seem like ancient history to today’s students. But it’s that history that Dr. Turfa and Ms. Worthington-Levy are hoping students will learn more about through their book, “A Village Remembered.” You can learn more about these Plymouth Whitemarsh High School graduates and their book, which was created to support preservation efforts in the area, by clicking here.


students look at a map showing routes of the Underground Railroad
students go on a virtual scavenger hunt using laptops
A student uses Google Earth to locate a landmark
students go on a virtual scavenger hunt using laptops