I was a pretty good student, and I liked learning history, so even years after leaving school, I can still name most of the presidents, find the Suez Canal on a map and remember that the death of Franz Ferdinand started a world war.
But I have no idea how my hometown got its name, or who its first settlers were.
Sometimes we focus so much on the big picture that we lose track of what's right in front of us.
Back in January, I wrote about a group of Mount Pleasant Elementary students who were learning about local landmarks and, in the process of their study, discovered some important history right under their noses.
Sara Parnell's fifth-grade AIG students visited the Heritage House, devoted to the preservation of local history, at St. John's Lutheran Church as well as a monument erected at the church's original site a few miles away. The students were surprised to discover a historical landmark so close to their school, yet unknown to most people in the community.
Everything they learned that day from their guides John Suther and Ronald Hurlocker must have inspired them, because the students decided they wanted to help preserve their local history.
Parnell challenged her eager pupils with a Make a Difference project. Each student, either individually or with a partner, came up with a plan to raise money to give to the Heritage Committee at St. John's Lutheran. Earlier this month, the students gathered at the church to tell the committee about their project and to present their donation to the Rev. Mark Ericson, pastor.
Several students offered themselves as hired labor and donated their wages to the project. To help students who wanted to sell items, Parnell set up a Make a Difference Market at the school. Evan Harkey, who designed and sold bookmarks, earned more than $100. Samuel Webb made bracelets out of pipe cleaners and netted $26.10. Other students sold pencils, lollipops and even football cards to classmates.
Rather than sell at the Make a Difference Market, Isaac Barton and his partner took orders for St. Patrick's Day suckers and delivered them all over the school on the holiday. I suspect a good part of their success was the appeal of Isaac in his giant leprechaun hat.
Evan DeVitto devised a plan for a raffle. He sold $5 raffle tickets for a $25 cash prize. The tickets sold so well that he had to make more and offer a second cash prize. He earned more than $200 for the Make a Difference project.
The total amount donated to the Heritage Committee was $562.16. Chairman John Suther said the gift will most likely be used to purchase archival quality supplies for the center. He and Mark Ericson knew the children would be presenting them with a gift, but they were pleasantly surprised at the generous amount.
But even more than the gift, they were very pleased to see young people learning the importance of their local history, as special as the place we live.