Our biggest project right now is revamping our school programs for elementary students. The first step in this process is going through our current programs and making some necessary changes to those. For one thing, we're making each station approximately an hour, instead of 25 minutes. This means putting a couple stations together--for example, beginning in the fall, when teachers want the Indentured program, they'll also get the slavery program, too (these were previously separate, and it was possible to choose one over the other). If we talk about indentured servitude without talking about slavery, students are only getting part of the picture of workers on this plantation when the Lees lived here. Thus, we're putting those programs together, adding additional hands-on activities, updating the information we tell students when they're here, and tightening up all of the programs' ties to the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).
We're also updating the information that goes out to the schools--pre-visit information will become more detailed and post-visit information will ask how this trip affected the students' learning, so we can judge whether or not our programs are effective. This is going to be a long process, but we have high hopes that all the work will be done by the summer so we can use these newly updated programs for the fall 2010 school visits. To do this work, I've asked several of the interpretive staff to spend their time researching, brainstorming, writing, and doing these programs. I also have two interns from the University of Mary Washington working with me to create a new school program and update several of the older ones. We're all working together to make school visits here top-notch.
Along with this big project, the interpretation department is conducting a lot of training this winter. Aside from several in-service days where we discuss (and practice!) techniques to working with school students, the importance of a theme in tours, and the different types of interpretation, we are also visiting several local historic sites to see how those places do their tours and programs. Last week, we went to Montpelier to see the changes made there and how its staff works in an atmosphere that is always evolving (a very helpful learning experience), and soon we're going to drive the opposite direction to visit Shirley Plantation and Berkeley Plantation on the James River.
These are just a few of the projects going on in the interpretation department this winter--as you can see, we're keeping busy learning new things in order to make your visits to Stratford Hall better every time!