Submitted by Erin Yablonski, Fourth grade teacher, Mill Pond School
Westborough – Every morning, Westborough students flood the halls of Mill Pond School. At recess, they plunder through the soil, laughing with their friends. However, buried deep below the back of Mill Pond School, right outside their classroom window, is a fascinating treasure from the past.
The school is relatively new, built in 2001 between conservation lands. It was when yellow construction trucks dug into the earth that mysterious objects began to be discovered; among them were petrified wood, fern fossils, and remnants of pottery.
On Dec. 14, Alan Leveillee, the lead archeologist from Public Archeology Laboratory spoke with two of Mill Pond’s fourth-grade homeroom classrooms. Alongside him was the passionate and knowledgeable Sue Speckman from the Westborough Historical Commission. Together, they transported students and staff to a time where indigenous tribes made their lives in the lush green of the forest.
Suddenly, an entirely new image of the past was painted alongside a landscape the students had always known. The soil that stuck to the bottoms of their sneakers at recess suddenly was the vehicle that transported them 5,000 years ago, and into a time surrounded by the beauty of nature, a time when communication was verbal, and not through a screen. Both Leveillee and Speckman helped the students uproot the thousands of stories buried deep below the surface.
Inspired by the appreciation for the land around them, students in the classes of teachers Erin Yablonski and Ashley Orlando are currently developing a project-based learning unit called “Vista Trails” where they will bring Mill Pond’s past to life by building an interactive natural and human history learning trail for all community members.
Stephanie Garrett, Mill Pond’s technology integration teacher, has become an integral part of the project and has shared her love for nature and technology expertise with the students. With her help, the students hope to construct an interactive walking trail with QR codes linking up to the students’ research by the end of the year. Each code can connect with a student’s research, poem, iMovie, podcast and more. Students will use old-fashioned researching and writing skills to explore and report on such topics as the history and culture of the Nipmucs, glacial rock beds, flora, fauna, and animals of the SuAsCo Watershed region, combined with 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication using their iPads.
With important moments of history mostly seen through glossy pages in textbooks, Mill Pond’s fourth-graders have found a newfound appreciation for the land the school was built on. Now they know they weren’t the first to step there and will be sharing their research and stories with the community.