BANGOR, Maine — It must have been an educator’s dream.
A few weeks ago, students at the William S. Cohen School were researching the events of 1937, the year the notorious Brady Gang was gunned down in Bangor, when the students found a photograph, the back of which had been labeled as coming from Brady’s funeral.
In trying to determine whether the photograph was actually from the funeral, the Cohen students looked into a lot of the details, including the hood ornament of an automobile.
The students did some research and determined that the automobile didn’t exist at the time of the funeral — which meant the photograph couldn’t have been from that time. It also meant the photograph couldn’t be included in the Maine Community Heritage Project in which Bangor is participating this year.
“For educators, this is a real, authentic experience,” said Bangor High School Librarian Debe Averill, who is coordinating Bangor’s community heritage project team made up of representatives from three city schools, the Bangor Public Library and the Bangor Museum and Center for History. “[The students] have to research everything they scan, so they’re doing what any historical researcher would do.”
Bangor is one of eight Maine communities in the second year of the Maine Community Heritage Project, a grant program in which students, librarians and local historical societies collaborate to research aspects of a community’s heritage.
That research is eventually turned into a Web site launched through the Maine Historical Society’s Maine Memory Network site.
Web sites created by the communities in the program’s first round, which were Bath, Farmington, Hampden, Islesboro, Lubec, New Portland, Presque Isle and Thomaston, were launched this summer.
Bangor was selected for the second round along with Blue Hill, Cumberland-North Yarmouth, Guilford, Hallowell, Lincoln and Scarborough.
Each community receives up to $7,500 to support the individual projects. Averill said Bangor’s grant money would be used for secondary resource materials and equipment such as scanners, and for a communitywide celebration of the final product in June 2010.
Funding for the Maine Community Heritage Project originated as a three-year, $850,000 federal National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
Bangor’s project, in which hundreds of local students are involved, is progressing well, Averill said recently, and teams at the different sites have started the researching, scanning and cataloging of at least 150 images which eventually will be loaded onto the Web site.
While William S. Cohen School students are working on Bangor and the Brady Gang, another group of schoolchildren at the James F. Doughty School are focusing on Bangor in the 1940s, and Bangor High School students are working on the 1911 fire. The Bangor Public Library’s project is the early Bangor railroads, and the Bangor Museum and Center for History’s focus is the Civil War.
Those topics may seem random, Averill said, but there was a reason behind each. Ideas were gathered during a community forum in September.
The Doughty School, for example, chose the World War II era because students there read the book “The Diary of Anne Frank” as part of the school’s curriculum. Averill said the museum and center for history may have chosen the Civil War because the 150th anniversary of the conflict will fall in 2011.
“The beauty of this is that it can really work with any part of the curriculum or any level of kid,” Averill said. “It doesn’t have to be history, and people who are enthusiastic about it and interested in it can make it work in any area.”
The students have responded well, Averill said, in part because they’re excited to handle delicate photographs and documents that are used as primary-source research materials.
“It really brings history to the fore,” she said.
David Bergquist, a local historian and author who tutors English as a Second Language students at Bangor High, will tie all five projects together with a narrative history of Bangor, which also will be loaded to the community site. The narrative will provide links to each project, where Web site viewers can click to read more about the Brady Gang or Bangor’s railroad history.
In addition to Averill and Bergquist, other Bangor team members are Cohen School librarian Priscilla Soucie, Doughty School librarian Lori Patterson, Cohen School social studies teacher Ron Bilancia, Bangor High U.S. history teacher Joseph Pelletier, Bangor Public Library’s local history and special collections librarian Bill Cook, and Dana Lippett, who is the Bangor Museum and Center for History curator.
Everything that goes on the Web site will be reviewed by the team and then the Maine Historical Society to make sure the information is historically accurate.
“Something the historical society has emphasized is quality of product,” Averill said. “If you look at the previous eight projects, you see they are intended to be written and prepared by the level of student, but the history itself still has to be good history. It’s wonderful for kids to be part of a project like that.”
For more information on the statewide effort go to www.mainememory.net/mchp/