RevitalizeWA

For most Lopez School students, the word “endangered” brings to mind species of plants or animals that live in this fragile ecosystem that is the San Juan Islands: disappearing lichen from rocks on Iceberg Point, diminishing populations of sea birds, or hundreds of other species of concern around the Salish Sea. In the past few weeks, we’ve learned about another endangered list: historic properties around Washington State.

In late April I attended a conference in Chelan, called RevitalizeWA, organized by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. With my summer history trip around the state approaching, I thought this would be a good way to get a sense of some of the communities I’d be visiting in advance of hitting the road to promote the Washington State Insider app. During the opening reception of the conference, Chris Moore, the executive director for Washington Trust, announced the 2016 Most Endangered Properties List for Washington State – seven at-risk properties that embody the cultural heritage of their respective communities and the region overall. I was surprised to see that the #1 Most Endangered Property is Enloe Dam – a location that Ava, one of our ProjectWA students, had identified to put in the Washington State Insider app!

I learned so much at RevitalizeWA – from strategies to “right size” legacy cities to innovative approaches to preserving communities’ Main Streets – that I had to report back to our students upon my return to Lopez. To my surprise and delight, the students suggested that their final ProjectWA projects (a blog post to be published on this site) should be focused on this year’s Most Endangered Properties List. The idea makes so much sense, and I’m thrilled that this was the students’ idea, not mine.

We immediately took action on this idea. Each student picked one of the properties from the 2016 list, reached out to that property’s champion (usually the local Heritage Society), and created a location entry for the Washington State Insider app. We have a small class of just five students, but we’ve created app entries for each of the seven properties. For their blog posts, Ava picked Enloe Dam, given she was already interested in that place; Anna picked Woodinville Schoolhouse; Shayna picked Providence Heights College, Mallory picked the Dvorak Barn; and Sonnette picked the LaCrosse Rock Houses. Every one of the students’ property contacts replied immediately with enthusiasm – answering questions and providing more background information, maps, photos and videos. The students are now in the process of writing their blog posts.

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Lopez Island Middle School students work on their final projects, Most Endangered Properties

When Mr. Rovente and I came up with the idea for this semester’s ProjectWA class, we had no idea this is where we’d end up. We started with a good cause: raising awareness of the lesser known aspects of Washington State history while raising money for new text books. We’re ending up with an even bigger objective: helping preserve the places that represent Washington State’s cultural heritage.

RevitalizeWA

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From George Vancouver to Kurt Cobain

We’re a little more than one month into Project WA. I’m pretty sure I’ve learned more about Washington State history in the past four weeks than I learned in the previous four decades. My fellow students, Anna, Ava, Mallory, Shayna and Sonnette; and our teacher, Mr. Rovente, have uncovered some pretty interesting stories along the way – from George Vancouver’s long-lost anchor to life and death of Kurt Cobain.

A big challenge for any student of history is finding a deeper meaning behind people, places and events. To avoid simply generating random trivia, Mr. Rovente and I constantly challenge the kids to ask themselves: Why is this significant? As we told the group on the first day of class, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. To that end, ProjectWA is more a search of Why than it is the search for Who, What, Where and When.

I think our students are beginning to appreciate that they’ll learn a lot more than Northwest History in this class. To start the semester, we simply required them to turn in short reports for each region of Washington State. Last week, much to the students’ chagrin, we added weekly presentations to that. Now they’re learning the art of storytelling and public speaking.

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To give the kids a sense of accomplishment along the way, we’re having them place pins on the big Washington State map every time they finish a region. So far, we’ve covered The Islands, Peninsula and Coast, and Seattle regions. The upper left quadrant of the map is looking pretty good. Next up: The North Cascades.

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History by Students, for Students

ProjectWA is a quest to build interest in Washington State history by crowdsourcing historical information from across the state to live in a smartphone app. In 2016, students from Lopez Island School are researching and documenting the people, places and events they view as the most interesting in Washington State history. The students are publishing articles to this website and creating a companion mobile app called Washington State Insider, which is free for anybody to download. The app, built and donated to this program by 468 Communications, has a game component that can be used for fundraising. Users of the app can collect points every time they physically visit a place that’s listed in the app. For every point collected, 468 Communications will donate $1 to the purchase of new Washington State History textbooks for Lopez Island School District.

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