Tsongas Industrial History Center celebrates 30 years of hands-on learning

When Sheila Kirschbaum’s son started attending kindergarten at Lowell in 1989, she was teaching English at Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire.

“I was a teacher and I thought, ‘I can’t just send my little Andy to Lowell Public Schools without learning more about them and finding out what I can do to support them,'” she says.

Kirschbaum began attending monthly citywide Lowell Parent Council meetings, which were facilitated by Mary Bacigalupo, Partnerships Coordinator for the UML School of Education and community activist.

Photo by the archives of the Tsongas Industrial History Center

From left, former U.S. Representative Chester Atkins, the late Senator Paul Tsongas, and the late Ed Pershey discuss federal funding for the Tsongas Industrial History Center in 1988. Pershey became the center’s first director when it opened in 1991.

Soon, Kirschbaum became the elected president of the council, even as a new university-community educational partnership was in the works: the Tsongas Industrial History Center, a collaboration between the School of Education and Lowell National Historical Park.

Funded by federal grants and budget appropriations and championed by the late U.S. Representative Paul Tsongas, the park was the first to focus on industrial history when it opened in 1978. The New Education Partnership has also been the first of its kind when it opened in the Boott Cotton Mills, a former textile complex, on October 15, 1991.

Kirschbaum began working as a part-time museum teacher six months later, introducing schoolchildren to industrial history and technology, labor and immigration history, and the environment through books. practical activities.

“It was practical industrial history, which is human history. We asked questions like, “How did people get here? How was the fabric made? Where did the cotton for the fabric come from? What was the impact on the environment? says Kirschbaum, who became director of the Tsongas Industrial History Center in 2011. “I was hooked. There was no turning back.

History major Bradley Sherwood '20 had a rotating job during the four years at the Tsongas Industrial History Center
Photo by K. Webster

Bradley Sherwood ’20 is one of many UML history students who have interned and worked at the park to gain museum, research and teaching experience.

Over the past three decades, more than 1.4 million students, summer campers, teachers, international educators, and teaching fellows funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities have participated in the center’s programs in person. Thousands more students and teachers have participated in the live, online field trips the center has developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The center quickly became a model of educational partnership between other national parks and teaching schools.

Under its first principal, Ed Pershey, and school liaison Dorrie Kehoe, it also forged a lasting partnership with Lowell Public Schools. In 1994, Kirschbaum was at the table when they agreed that the center would lower its prices for the city, and in turn, every fourth-grader at Lowell would come on the field trip.

“We want to give them pride of place,” says Kirschbaum now. “Of all the things I’ve done here, I’m the happiest with this partnership and the fact that everyone around this table was interested in making it happen.”

A boy weaves fabric in the Bale to Bolt workshop at the Tsongas Industrial History Center
Photo by K. Webster

A boy learns to weave in the Bale to Bolt workshop during a summer camp.

In early October, just before the center turned 31, some of the current and former founders, alumni, and interns met with city, park, and university officials at UML’s Bellegarde Boathouse to celebrate three decades of success and look forward to the next 30.

Among them was Harold Crowley, a retired middle school science teacher from Quincy, Massachusetts, who served on the center’s first teachers’ advisory board and donates $1,000 to an endowment to benefit its programs each year. .

This teacher advisory committee helped educators at the center understand how to design the hands-on workshops and link them to the school curriculum. Hands-on workshops include the Water Power Room, where students can test out waterwheels and build canals before or after visiting the park’s River Transformed exhibit in the Suffolk Mill, and Bale to Bolt, where students learn to weave by hand on individual looms and visit the park’s industrial weaving room with its electric looms.

Students build canals in the hydraulic power workshop at the Tsongas Industrial History Center
Photo by K. Webster

The girls work together to build channels in the Water Power room.

The teachers’ advisory board even came up with the idea for one of the workshops, Workers on the Line, in which students perform repetitive tasks on a simulated production line while “supervisors” continue to ramp up production and to cut workers’ wages until they “go on strike”. .” Students also visit the museum boarding house or the immigration exhibits.

Crowley and other Quincy science and history teachers have designed a whole program, “Farm to Factory Through Technology”, around their annual field trip to the Tsongas Industrial History Center and a similar excursion to Old Sturbridge Village. Not only was their program named a National Program of Excellence by former President George HW Bush, but students have continued to be inspired by their experiences at Lowell for years, Crowley says.

“They never forget that day,” he says. “I’ve been retired for 27 years now, and I still have former students who remember their visits to Lowell and Sturbridge.”

At the 30th anniversary event, several people involved with the story center since its inception were recognized, including Crowley; Don Pierson, dean of the School of Education at the time of the center’s founding, former center curriculum specialist Elizabeth Hoermann and Kehoe, the school’s liaison.

Forest ranger Frank Clark builds a canal during a live virtual field trip offered by the Tsongas Industrial History Center
Photo of the Tsongas Industrial History Center

Teaching Ranger Frank Clark live on an interactive, virtual field trip during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For three decades, strong support from the university, local and state officials, and the national park has helped the center survive despite recessions and state budget cuts, federal government shutdowns, and an extended shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirschbaum said.

Now the center is working on a new strategic plan that will continue its legacy of innovation, particularly in the development of courses and field trips centered on climate change, civic education and social justice, Kirschbaum said.

“Teachers need more curricula on these issues,” she says. “Anything we can do to help students understand the natural world and human impacts – the world we became as Lowell blazed a trail as an industrial leader, blind to the potential impacts on the planet – we will do it.

“And maybe we can help students imagine technology that will help us solve some of the problems we’re facing right now.”

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