Pupils learn with local view; Role: At Elkridge Elementary, lessons show where the town fits in history, and how it has changed.


Between learning multiplication tables and becoming skilled readers, pupils at Elkridge Elementary School have gotten a timely lesson in local history.

For the past year, teachers have been helping schoolchildren connect with the history of the 265-year-old town. They have been illustrating a few facts here and there about Elkridge -- nothing, they say, that these pupils could have found in a history textbook.

Did you know the role the town played in the Civil War? Do you know about Colonial life in Elkridge and the importance of its iron furnace?

Most people in Howard County probably would respond no. They might benefit from a refresher history course through elementary pupils who have been studying the town's origins for months.

"There is a tremendous amount of history in Elkridge. We wanted to try to find a way to preserve that history and pass it on to the younger generation," said Sally Voris, a longtime resident whose son Alex, 9, attends the school.

Voris, who works as a community columnist for The Sun, had been thinking about ways to pass along Elkridge's history to its youth. When she came up with incorporating the history with the social studies curriculum, Elkridge Elementary School Principal Diane Mumford immediately embraced the idea.

"I think the concept is wonderful," said Mumford, a lifelong Elkridge resident. "The students will say, 'I know where that house is,' or 'I've been to that place before.' It really has made mature members of our community very pleased that the students are so interested in the history."

With the assistance of Elkridge Heritage Society; Ed Orser, a local historian who teaches at University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Brooke Voelp, a teacher of gifted and talented pupils at the elementary school, Voris designed a program.

This year's program is to culminate tonight at the school in an "Elkridge History Night" presentation to the community. The schoolchildren will put their history lesson to the test. First-graders will present a coloring book they created that details the lives of the Piscataway tribe, one of the early Native American groups that settled in Elkridge, and second-graders will perform songs they wrote about transportation routes.

Third-graders learned about Elkridge by interviewing longtime residents. Sam Merson, 70, a retired construction worker who has lived in the area all his life, was one the pupils interviewed.

"It was a lot of fun," Merson said. "The students were so surprised at how different Elkridge is now from when I was growing up as a kid. When I went to school, we only had seven classrooms in the building. That was hard for them to believe."

In studying the Colonial period, fourth-graders learned about Furnace Inn, which was built around an old furnace used as an iron ore smelting plant decades ago. They wrote a play about the inn, which today is a popular restaurant.

The fifth-graders have studied the Civil War by examining the history of Thomas Viaduct and Elkridge Assembly Rooms, where residents voiced their concerns about the war. Their gatherings eased the tension.

"Elkridge has such a rich history, and there was a concern that the history wasn't being passed on to a younger generation," said Voelp, who led the effort at the school. "The students were really interested and excited about learning about the town's history."

Parents have welcomed this instruction and said they hope it remains a part of the yearly social studies curriculum.

"This kind of learning can only do positive things," said Cindy Burton, president of the PTA, whose son, Patrick, 7, attends the school. "It helps to enrich the children. So many things have changed. It's important to teach this history to the kids so that they don't take things for granted. What exists now wasn't always here."

Said Karen Clark, whose two children attend the school: "Elkridge is a homey town. I think it's awesome they're learning this history. They'll remember it years down the road."

Voris, who received a grant of $1,198 from the Maryland Humanities Council for the pilot program at the elementary school, recently received $7,500 from the Columbia Foundation to help start school programs throughout the county that focus on local history.

"It's a wonderful time for this to happen," Voris said, noting that Howard County will mark its 150th birthday in 2001.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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