Shenandoah Park launches curriculum on park establishment

‘We cannot change the past; however, we must embrace history and move forward’

Saying we “cannot change the past,” but rather must “embrace history,” Shenandoah National Park Superintendent Jennifer Flynn yesterday (Wednesday) announced the release of “The Spirit of the Mountain,” a web-based interactive curriculum designed to tell the public the complex story of the park’s establishment and its effect on the local region, including Rappahannock County.

Besides numerous historic photos, the curriculum contains primary documents, and video oral histories of displaced residents and descendants living today.

One of the lessons we looked into told of “General mountain family home statistics: Average family size, 7 members; average house size, 4 rooms; most had no indoor plumbing; mountain properties varied from less than one acre to as much as several hundred acres; and the vast majority of mountain family homes were comparably similar to those of rural homes throughout the south during the 1930s.”

Photo courtesy of Shenandoah National Park
A displaced former resident of what is now Shenandoah National Park

Said Flynn: “We are excited to offer this additional method for the public to understand the complex story of the park’s establishment and to present this content in way that allows teachers across the country to use our story to teach important concepts in their social studies classes.”

The program connects the social, economic, geographic, and political history of the 1920s and 1930s with the establishment of Shenandoah Park and the people whose lives were impacted. The program provides informative videos, interactive activities, and suggestions that can be used for thought provoking journaling/discussion topics or additional activities.

The curriculum also aligns with state and national standards for history, government, civics, economics, and geography for middle and high school students, according to Flynn. In addition, the program is  appropriate for the general public and will be used in a variety of park programs.

The launch is the culmination of a two-year project led by the park’s education division and largely shaped by local government teachers, Ginny Browne of Page County High School in Shenandoah, and Kim Dean of East Rockingham High School in Elkton.

Dean brought a special perspective to the project; she is a descendent of several residents of the area that became Shenandoah National Park who were displaced by its creation, according to the park’s news release.

Dean captured her feelings about the impact she hopes the program she helped create will have: “The establishment of the park, with all its accomplishments and heartaches is a story influenced by time and place. Through this program, we can better understand the perspectives, opinions, and motivations of all those who influenced and were impacted. We cannot ignore the spirit of those who once called the majestic Blue Ridge home. We cannot change the past; however, we must embrace history and move forward on the common ground we share.”

The development team, including teachers Browne and Dean, has conducted teacher workshops in Page and Rockingham counties, and teachers in those systems are already using the program in their classrooms.

According to Flynn, teachers can utilize the program’s  resources to create lesson plans designed to meet their specific curriculum requirements, and to create project-based assessments. Materials can be used for a wide range of topics including, but not limited to: History of Shenandoah National Park; Constitutional Power of Eminent Domain; Examining Opportunity Cost and Benefits; Social, Economic, and Political History of the 1920s and 30s; Virginia History and Geography; and History of the National Park System.

The program is divided into five lessons providing a comprehensive overview of the establishment story of Shenandoah Park: Lesson 1, Historical Context of Time; 2, Concept of Place; 3, People and Perspectives; 4, Creation of Shenandoah National Park; 5 – Forward on Common Ground.

“The Spirit of the Mountain” was funded through fee revenue and donations to The Shenandoah National Park Trust.

Schools that are interested in scheduling a workshop should contact the park’s education department. “The Spirit of the Mountain” is the third web-based interactive in the park’s cultural history series. All three can be accessed via the Park’s website: www.nps.gov/shen.

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.