Thanks to grant, McMurray middle schoolers will learn about Vashon history

Seventh-graders at McMurray Middle School will get a healthy dose of local history next year, thanks to a grant from 4Culture that will help teachers educate their students about Vashon's past.

The $6,500 grant will pay for the services of a museum educator — an Islander who attended McMurray and graduated from Vashon High School in 1996 — who will put together learning kits of primary documents that teach Vashon's seventh-graders about the history of the place they call home.

Educating Vashon students about the history of the Island — from before European settlers discovered the Island to recent decades — will help ground them in the present day, said Tara McCauley, the museum educator who will work with Vashon teachers to craft lessons about the Island.

"I think community-based learning is so meaningful, because it can really create connections for students," said McCauley, who is the White River Valley Museum's education curator. "The idea is that we'll do a lot of then-and-now comparisons, looking at things like industry on Vashon or the geography of Vashon. ... To make that relevant to a student's own personal experience and personal history, that creates more meaning to the history."

Seventh-graders already have a unit on Pacific Northwest history, so it made sense to add a section about Vashon to the seventh-grade curriculum, said McMurray principal Greg Allison. Their Vashon history section will likely culminate in a research project, he said.

The purpose of teaching Island students about the history of Vashon, Allison said, is to help them better understand the Island and the Pacific Northwest — past and present.

"I think the goal of any history project is to relate those things they learn from the past to the present," he said. "I think it's important for students to know their past. ... They'll better understand our heritage and our history. Any time when you're in a place I think it's important to understand where folks have come before you, and to be able to relate it to your lives today."

Students will analyze primary sources from Vashon's past, like journals, photographs and artifacts, and write about what they learn from the documents and items, Allison said.

The grant from 4Culture, King County's cultural services agency, was awarded to Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum, which is partnering with McCauley and McMurray to pull the project together.

As part of the grant and project, all seventh-graders will take a field trip next year to the heritage museum.

"Understanding the history of your community helps create pride in the community," McCauley said. "Not to mention it's interesting — Vashon has such a neat history full of rich stories."

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