Some teachers at Southwest Early Childhood Center have been taking their students this week to historical sites around Jefferson City, making the people behind the stories of monuments come alive again.
Resurrection only goes so far in a cemetery, but "the cemetery is like an outdoor museum," with stories behind each stone, Ruthie Caplinger told her students Wednesday.
Caplinger is an Exploration, Enrichment and Research teacher at Southwest. EER is also known as the program for gifted students, serving students who qualify with high IQs in the Jefferson City Public Schools district, as well as from the parochial schools using the program.
Every day this week, Caplinger has taken students on a trolley tour to sites including the Capitol, Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, Missouri State Penitentiary, and the Woodland-Old City and National cemeteries.
The Jefferson City Cemetery Resource Board Chair Nancy Thompson was along for part of the tour. She said children are often taught to think of cemeteries as scary places, but she wants to introduce them to the idea of cemeteries as a source of historical knowledge.
Caplinger told her students the landmarks and grave markers "are a window into how people thought" and tell the stories of how they lived. "They represent real people," she said, reminding her students to "be kind by not touching" anything, as the oil on human fingers can damage objects over time.
On Wednesday, 15 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from St. Joseph Cathedral and Immaculate Conception schools learned the history behind various graves: for Union soldiers massacred at the hands of a band of guerrillas including Jesse James and the ensuing battle; the daughter of the governor who put a bounty on James; the Missouri Supreme Court judge who authored the majority opinion of the infamous Dred Scott slavery case; and a Confederate military leader who later became governor of the state.
Caplinger told students she views the headstones like book covers she doesn't yet know the stories of the pages beneath. "It's kind of like solving a puzzle," she said.
Gregory Medlin's EER students were also on the tour Wednesday. Medlin's students are studying architecture, and he said they'll have to design a building that could be used in Jefferson City. His students won't have to make a 3-D model, but they will have to draw the design and create an artist's rendering.
He explained landmarks they viewed on the tour are inspirations for the purpose and style of his students' architectural designs.
Caplinger said her students are using the landmarks "as a vehicle for research." Her students will write a research paper using information from primary sources at the Cole County Historical Society and Missouri State Archives, and then create informational displays they will share with Historic City of Jefferson members at their December meeting.
She also explained the volunteer work it takes to maintain many landmarks including the cemeteries is something she wants to inspire her students, too, even if they're too young to know exactly what their passions will be later in life. "We want them to use (their potential) to make their communities the best places they can be," she said, and she wants to provide examples of other people using their potential as volunteers.
St. Joseph fifth-grader Maddy Larkin said her favorite part of the Tuesday tour was "going around the cemetery and learning things about people who helped our community."
Fellow St. Joseph fifth-grader Anthony Baker said his favorite part was "probably going to see all the old fire stuff" at the Fire Museum of Jefferson City.
"I learned a lot of stuff about Jeff City," Immaculate Conception fourth-grader Cael Gibbs said.