ProjectWA Outstanding Achievement

The original ProjectWA team reunited at Seattle’s Washington Hall on May 30th to receive our award for Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation from the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Congratulations to Anna, Ava, Mallory, Shayna, Sonnette and Mr. Rovente for your innovation and hard work to help raise awareness of our state’s heritage. And, thank you to the State Historic Preservation Officer for this recognition.

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What Would You Do If You Were President?

As 52 seventh graders from St. John Catholic School lined the perimeter of his conference room in the Washington State Capitol, Governor Jay Inslee was peppered with questions. One student asked, “What would you do if you were president?”

The Governor gave a very clear and thoughtful response: “I’d focus on our biggest possibilities and our biggest threats.” The biggest possibility? Education. As the Governor sees it, “education is the investment that will have the single biggest impact on our future.” The biggest threat? Climate change. The Governor explained how the environmental changes we are causing are a threat to our very existence. He went on to tell the group about his recent visit with some Puget Sound oyster farmers. The acidity of the Sound has doubled since pre-Industrial times, and it’s on track to do so again soon, threatening an entire ecosystem, from the oysters on up to Orca whales. His answer resonated with everybody in the room.

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The St. John seventh graders’ visit with Governor Inslee was how they kicked off their four-day tour of Washington State this week.

Not all the Governor’s answers were as heavy as his discussion of education and climate change. His favorite part of the job? “Meeting with seventh graders.” Another thing he’d do as president? “Find a good National Security Advisor.” The Governor also discussed some of the 55 bills he was scheduled to sign into law today, including a law that tightens the rules about using mobile devices while driving.

Speaking of mobile devices, after a very inspirational Q&A session, a few students showed Governor Inslee the St. John Explorer app they have been populating in history class, which includes various places they plan to visit over the next several days. Upon hearing the group’s next stop is Yakima, the Governor suggested they check out the railroad bridge under which former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and hobo, William O. Douglas, used to hang out. He also suggested the students take a detour to St. John, Washington, birthplace of recently deceased Mike Lowry, the twentieth governor of Washington.

After collecting their St. John Explorer app points in the Governor’s office, the St. John seventh graders made their way to the Cherberg Building, where everybody received a civics lesson from Page School Teacher, Leo O’Leary. Here are few things we learned:

  • Washington State has the only Supreme Court in the U.S. that is majority female (6 of 9 justices).
  • Washington State has a “citizen legislature,” meaning most of our state representatives and senators have jobs outside of their legislative duties.
  • Only the first and last lines of a bill are read out loud on the floor of the legislature (we assume our representatives read the rest).
  • The lieutenant governor must first recognize a legislator (when they stand), before that legislator can speak on the floor of the legislature.

What’s interesting about this last legislative tradition is that our current Lieutenant Governor, Cyrus Habib, is blind. When he took office, a new system was put in place that alerts him, via Braille, that a legislator has requested to speak.

Based on their numerous questions, it was clear the St. John students were inspired after their day at the State Capitol. I’m sure more than a few will apply to be pages when they’re old enough (their interest level increased when they found out pages earn $35 dollars a day). For those who don’t become pages, Leo O’Leary listed several other options for students to get engaged in civic life before they are of voting age: write a letter to a legislator, volunteer to work on a campaign, or run for student government.

It was a great start to what I am sure is going to be quite an adventure across Washington State for these St. John Explorers.

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Beyond ProjectWA: Monuments Project

On January 23rd this year, my ProjectWA partner-in-crime, Anthony Rovente, and I received an email from a guy named Tom Neville in Paris, France. He asked us if, “ProjectWA might like to go beyond WA.” It didn’t take long for Anthony and me to answer, “Why not?” – which is exactly what we said a year earlier when we came up with the idea for ProjectWA. A little more than three months later, that “Why not?” has turned into the Monuments Project, which we announced at a ceremony this week in the Columbia Room of the Legislative Building in the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, WA.

MonumentsProject_LogoSimilar to ProjectWA, the Monuments Project is an effort to tell history’s untold stories. In this case, the stories are about 29 Washingtonians who lost their lives in World War One and are buried in the Suresnes American Cemetery outside of Paris, maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. This time around, the students at Lopez Island School are working with students 5000 miles away at the American School of Paris (ASP).  Collectively, they will research and document the backgrounds of these Washingtonians who made the greatest sacrifice. On the Monuments Project website and, ultimately, the Monuments Project app, this transatlantic effort will uncover photos, letters, newspaper articles, speeches, draft documents and who knows what else.

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The Suresnes American Cemetery

For the past three months, Anthony, Tom, his instructional technology coach, Claude Lord, and I have been doing weekly Skype calls to plan this project. It quickly became clear that we would need access to as many historical archives as possible – in the U.S. and Europe. When I mentioned this to the Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees Legacy Washington and the Washington State Archives, they immediately offered their assistance. They were also in the process of planning an event at the State Capitol with the Washington State Historical Society to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entrance into WWI. So they invited us to announce and demonstrate the Monuments Project at the April 25th ceremony in Olympia.

We invited both Lopez and ASP students to participate in the WWI ceremony, which was heavily attended, with remarks from historian Lorraine McConaghy, State Senator (and history buff) Steve Conway, and Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane. Lopez student, Kayla McLerren, kicked off the event by leading the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Anthony and the students presented Monuments Project from the podium, while Tom, Claude and two of their ASP students presented via video. It was a site to behold – not only the use of technology to drive interest in history, but perhaps more fundamentally the example we were all setting for how the world should be collaborating across borders.

After the ceremony, we proceeded outside to lay a wreath at the WWI monument right outside the Legislative building. Then, Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane, treated the Lopez students to a tour of Secretary of State, Kim Wyman’s office. We learned some interesting history during that tour, including the fact that Secretary Wyman is only the second Republican woman to hold statewide office in Washington State (the first was 100 years ago).

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The Lopez Monuments Project Team with State Senator, Steve Conway, Pierce County

We also learned how the Secretary of State ended up with the sweet corner office in the Legislative building when it was built nearly 100 years ago. You guessed it, it was due to partisan politics. The Governor at the time was giving the State Legislature a hard time about spending so much money on the building’s furnishings – even touring the state with one of the opulent chairs they’d purchased for offices. Well, the Legislature had the last laugh: they placed the Governor’s office at the far corner of the building – the farthest distance from the Governor’s Mansion. The Secretary of State got what had originally been planned to be the Governor’s office.

Finally, a bit of fun. Deputy Secretary Lane taught us that the Secretary of State is responsible for the Washington State Seal. The official seal maker, which weighs about 50 pounds, sits in the corner of the office. Each of us got a chance to try it out, stamping our own gold seals.

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Creating my own Washington State Seal, with Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane

It was quite a day in Olympia. As we enter the centenary of The Great War, everybody is excited about the stories we’ll tell. Follow along at monumentsproject.org and on Instagram. The Monuments Project mobile app will launch in early June 2017.

 

ProjectWA travels to St. John School

When Anthony Rovente and I created ProjectWA with a group of Lopez Island students in 2016, one of our long-term goals was to extend this model of education to other schools. That goal came to fruition last week when St. John Catholic School in Seattle launched their own version of ProjectWA with their 7th and 8th grade students. Using the 468 Field Trip platform, St. John has created their own app, St. John Explorer.

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In their social studies classes, the St. John 7th and 8th graders have begun the process of researching the historic locations they want to add to their app. I helped kick things off last week by telling the story of what we did on Lopez Island and showing the students how they can play a bigger role in educating others about history. The 7th graders will create content associated with their spring history trip around Washington State à la ProjectWA summer road trip. The 8th graders are focusing on the other Washington, where they plan to visit in May.

I can’t wait to see what places they decide to add to the St. John Explorer app (available on App Store and Google Play).

Five Lessons from a Two-Month Tour of Washington State

In mid-June, from the northern tip of Lopez Island, my family and I drove our ProjectWA-branded RV onto a Washington State Ferry to begin a two-month exploration of the Evergreen State. After reflecting on our 2000-mile adventure, I would like to share a few of the lessons we took away from the experience.

1. We can live on less. Much less.

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There’s nothing like living for two months with three other humans in a 24-foot motorhome to remind you of how little we really need to survive. With no room for excess, everything was a ration: food, water, power, clothes and personal space. In some ways, all these constraints made daily life easier. With only the color of the day’s ProjectWA t-shirt to decide on, getting dressed was pretty straightforward. Bathing not so much. I regularly wondered by what order of magnitude my water consumption fell by being limited to 3-minute showers in state parks.

As we crisscrossed the state, we learned about the constraints under which people before us lived – long before the invention of the RV. When pioneers arrived via the Oregon Trail, everything they owned was packed into a four-foot-by-nine-foot covered wagon. Before American and European settlers showed up in the Pacific Northwest, native tribes maintained a much smaller footprint. Even the large plank houses of the Makah were a lot smaller than today’s average American home.

I’m not about to compare our RV lifestyle to that of the original peoples or American pioneers. After all, our motorhome was equipped with a microwave oven. No matter how one does it, I encourage everybody to force themselves to live on less for an extended period. The world would be a different place if everybody had to deposit 25 cents after every minute in the shower.

2. Washington state’s water has changed the world.

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One look at Washington state on the map shows that water defines our existence – from the mouth to the Columbia to the upper reaches of Lake Roosevelt. This summer we learned how water dramatically changed the way of life for not only the inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, but also the world. The Missoula Floods of the last Ice Age gave us the unique landscape we know today. David Thompson’s 12-day, 500-mile canoe trip down the Columbia River in 1811 helped create a global economy by completing a trade route across North America to Asia and Europe and back.

The hundreds of dams placed along our rivers over the past century transformed agriculture in the state and created a source of electricity that helped produce the first atomic bomb at Hanford. Those same dams wiped hundreds of small towns off the map and eliminated salmon runs that had been in place for millennia. Today, some of those dams – like the Elwha River Dam – are being removed, leading to even more dramatic changes to the ecosystems surrounding them. Some of the most significant events in world history can be linked to the water that flows through Washington state.

3. Washington is incredibly diverse.

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By many measures, Washington state has to be one of the most diverse states in the U.S. During our summer tour, we saw almost every type of land formation, body of water and climate imaginable. We started and ended our trip on a ferry navigating through the many islands dotting the Salish Sea. We drove through mountain passes in the north, south, east and west – usually with snow-capped peaks towering above us. We camped on lake shores, river banks and ocean beaches. We hiked through the arid hills of the Palouse, the dry desert of central Washington and the wet trails of the Olympic Rainforest. The chore of breaking camp was always exciting because we knew we were about to travel through an area that was radically different from the one in which we’d been staying.

Though statistically not the most ethnically diverse state in the union, Washington is made up of people from every background – from the Volga Germans of Ritzville to the Makah of Neah Bay. With our road trip falling during the major parties’ election year conventions, we passed by countless yard signs reminding us of the political extremes that exist in Washington state. If you want a sense of just how diverse this country is – on every level – I strongly encourage you to travel from one side of Washington to the other.

4. This land doesn’t belong to us.

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“ProjectWA” almost seemed like a misnomer by the end of the summer. Most of what we experienced during our trip reminded us that the vast majority of this region’s heritage dates back long before 1889, when Washington became the 42nd state. U.S. citizens are newcomers here, and we have a lot to learn from the people who occupied this land for thousands of years before David Thompson took his canoe down the Columbia River. For instance, before the creation of Lake Roosevelt that flooded the Kettle Falls, Native Americans figured out how to fish sustainably – allowing large numbers of salmon to spawn upriver before the first fish was plucked from the falls every year. The Makah practiced sustainable whaling for 1500 years, using every part of a whale for subsistence, before unsustainable whaling by other cultures placed whales on the endangered species list.

Yes, there is so much to learn and be proud of from the past 200 years. But no examination of Washington state is complete without an understanding of who inhabited this region before its “discovery” just a few hundred years ago. When you’re in Northeastern Washington, look up Joe Barreca, president of the The Heritage Network. And the next time you’re on the Olympic Peninsula, pay a visit to Kirk Wachendorf at the Makah Museum in Neah Bay. What you’ll learn from them is that this land doesn’t belong to us as much as we belong to the land.

5. We should invest in a heritage economy.

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Washington state’s secondary highways are the Main Streets of so many small towns, and it seems like our ProjectWA RV drove through most of them this summer. Unless one stops and looks around, it’s easy to put all of these communities into the same category: towns that peaked sometime in the 20th century and have been in decline since losing a major industry – usually one based on a natural resource such as timber, mining, farming or fishing.

When we did stop to investigate, Team ProjectWA quickly discovered a gold mine just below the surface of these small communities: their unique heritage. Whether it’s the baptismal font installed without a drain, the insider trading that established a county, or the haunted hospital on the hill, the stories of these towns run deep. With a little creativity, like what Colfax has done with its ghost hunts, a new heritage-based economy can emerge to supplement or replace the industries that allowed these communities to thrive in years past.

Creating a heritage economy isn’t about building more museums. It requires engaging people in the community’s unique history in a way that makes them want to stick around and explore more. Doing so is of course easier said than done. Community leaders must find a new way of doing things and challenge old assumptions. In Colfax, Val Gregory turned her town’s greatest weakness, abandoned buildings, into a strength: revenue-generating ghost tours.

Given its presence in our daily lives, technology should play a role in a heritage economy. What a group of Lopez Island middle schoolers and I did with Washington State Insider is just one use of technology to showcase history and drive exploration. Spokane Historical, created by EWU students, is a great mobile app and website that tells the stories of Spokane and Eastern Washington. Lake Chelan is placing interactive kiosks around the state to grab travelers’ attention. And, we all saw how Pokémon Go got people exploring all kinds of places this summer.  Regardless of how it’s done, the key to maximizing the return on a community’s historical assets is to make its heritage relevant to a new generation.

Our ProjectWA summer will not be soon forgotten. After traveling more than 2000 miles around this state, my family received much more than a history lesson. We became deeply connected to our home and inspired to make “old” things new again. The “Evergreen State” moniker has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Team ProjectWA

ProjectWA Students Become the Teachers

Yes, ProjectWA is about connecting history and place. For five Lopez Island Middle School students, their teacher, and me, it’s been about so much more. Fundamentally, ProjectWA has been about connecting people. Anna, Ava, Mallory, Sonnette and Shayna have made many connections this semester: with historical figures, with preservation advocates, and with each other. Today, they connected with the 4th Grade Lopez Elementary Social Studies class.

As their final ProjectWA assignment, our students were to write a blog post on one of this year’s Most Endangered Historic Properties. They learned quite a bit in the process: different approaches to research, how to interview an expert, and how to write a compelling call-to-action. The final articles are great. Mr. Rovente and I wanted the kids to go a step further – by turning those written works into presentations.  Lori Swanson, the Lopez Island Elementary social studies teacher, agreed to provide the audience for those presentations: twenty fourth-graders, whose final topic of the year is Washington State History.

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It was gratifying to watch the ProjectWA students become the teachers. The fourth graders were engaged throughout, and their questions for the middle schoolers were great. After every presentation, the younger kids got a chance to connect history and place the old-fashion way – with stickers and laminated maps of Washington State. Apps are cool, but stickers make everything more fun.

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With the student presentations complete, this semester’s ProjectWA class has come to an end. Now it’s time for me to go to school. For the next two months, my family and I will travel all around Washington State, checking out as many of the students’ app locations as possible. We’re also in search of other historic places, so we’re inviting people to send us suggested locations for us to research and then incorporate into the Washington State Insider app.

I’m incredibly proud of what Anna, Ava, Mallory, Shayna and Sonnette accomplished this semester. I’d like to thank them – and their awesome teacher, Anthony Rovente, for taking on something that had never been done before. We all learned a ton. I know there’s a lot more to learn.

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“Maybe not a gas station… but always a museum.”

Last week I paid a visit to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma to give Erich Ebel a preview of the Washington State Insider app, which is set to launch by mid-June. Erich is the Marketing and Communications Director for the Washington State Historical Society, who manages the History Museum. They have agreed to give discounted admission to Washington State Insider app users who have collected points by visiting historic places around the state.

Erich had just returned from a whirlwind trip around the state, passing through many of the same places that my family and I plan to visit during our ProjectWA summer tour. After visiting dozens of small towns across Western and Eastern Washington, Erich was struck by the one thing they all had in common. “Every town, no matter how small, has a museum,” he said. “Maybe not a gas station or a stoplight, but always a museum.”

WA State History Museum

Erich is absolutely right about this. My home, Lopez Island, with a population of only 2,400, has no stoplights or sidewalks. But it has a great museum. This phenomenon makes a statement about the priorities of smaller communities; and it is why, according to Erich, “people are gravitating toward heritage tourism.”

Museums of all sizes are critical to reminding us of our history. If our cultural heritage is to be preserved, though, we need more than museums to curb the advances of shorter-term commercial interests that can be antithetical to historic preservation. In Woodinville, the City Council wants to tear down the town’s original schoolhouse to make room for a parking garage. In Kent, the last barn standing – representing the area’s agricultural roots – will likely be torn down if the City Council’s current plan to widen the Green River is implemented. During my trip last week I visited both the Woodinville Schoolhouse and the Dvorak Barn in Kent. Losing them would be a massive loss for each community.

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Left: Rick Chatterton, Board President, Woodinville Heritage Society | Right: Nancy and Chuck Simpson, long-time Kent residents

The groups fighting for the protection of these endangered properties are not necessarily advocating for keeping these old buildings in their original state. They recognize that economies, industries and demographics change. Instead of creating relics that have no apparent use in today’s communities, they would like to see these buildings preserved and used as community gathering places of some kind. History and modern life don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

It is this integration of yesterday and today that is driving the development of the Washington State Insider app. 80% of Americans walk around with smartphones today. Let’s find a way to capitalize on that trend in a way that helps raise awareness of and preserves our cultural heritage.

Over the next week, students from Lopez Island Middle School will be posting stories about the Most Endangered Properties of Washington State that they want to see preserved. Those places, along with nearly 70 other locations around the state, will also be found in the Washington State Insider app, available for iPhones and Android devices.