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Teens and history? But of course!

There are a lot of people that shudder when they hear the words “teenager” and “museum” in the same sentence. Two weeks ago, we held our annual Junior Historian training camp. During that week, I went to get my hair cut and my guy asked me what I had been up to lately. I said “Well, this is Junior Historian week. So I’ve been outside with a bunch of teenagers.” His shocked response: “Whatever possessed you to do that?”

Confession time: this is one of my very favorite programs. But maybe I am a little crazy. For many, many years (no one is exactly sure how long, but we’re talking about decades), Dallas Heritage Village has had a Junior Historian program for teens. The basic format hasn’t changed too much: a week of training in early summer and then these kids are ready to volunteer. I took over the program in 2004, which makes this the 8th class I’ve trained. Eight seems like a very big number! Over the years, I’ve made a few changes to the program—some inspired by the teens themselves and some inspired by looking at what other institutions are doing. One of the biggest changes over the past couple of years is adding a special project each year. In 2009, we hosted our first “Teens in History” event, where they researched certain topics that linked teens to the past and presented them to the public. We did the same thing on a slightly smaller scale in 2010. This year, a group of them is currently working on re-interpreting the Doctor’s Office. But I’ll let them tell you more about that in a few weeks.

This year, we had 15 kids become Junior Historians—the largest class I’ve ever taught. They range in age from 11 (entering 6th grade) to 18 (entering 12th grade). They join about 30 other Junior Historians. So adding the new kids and subtracting my three seniors, we’re now at about 40 kids. When I began this job, I could count the Junior Historians on one hand.

On their last day of camp, I asked them to help me write this blog post. So, drum roll please:

The 2011 Junior Historian Top 5 Reasons Why We’re Excited About Being Here

#5 Because we can go back in time. Even though time travel isn’t really possible, it feels like it is.

#4 We love to see all the outfits they wore. (said by the girls!)

#3 We can have so much fun meeting new people.

#2 Volunteering gives us a fun thing to do for a good cause.

#1 We get to enjoy history that’s a part of ALL of us.

And because my reasons for loving this program a bit different , here are

Melissa’s Top 5 Reasons Why I Love the Junior Historians

#5 Junior Historians will do just about anything we ask them to do. They are runners during Candlelight. They have cleaned out donkey poop from the Paddock. They sell root beer in the saloon. They help tons of little kids with crafts. They learn to play graces. They weed the gardens. And they give great tours!

#4 Every single Junior Historian is an example of all that is right with “these kids today.” As an optimistic educator, I get tired of other adults speaking negatively about “these kids today.” My kids are amazing and give me great hope for all of our futures.

#3 They’re willing to go above and beyond. Those projects I mentioned above? Well, they require extra meetings and some work at home. And it always gets done. Though some of them do receive service hours credit for school, not all of them do. This is an extra-extra curricular activity for them.

#2 I get to share history with teens that have brains like sponges. They soak up everything! I don’t teach as much as I used to, so this is a real treat for me. And sometimes their responses crack me up. Just one example: At past camps, we’ve focused a lot on architectural styles during camp. Right before their practice tours, one teen declared “We need some sort of rally cry before we do this. How about (dramatic pause, raises his hand for a fist pump and yells) RICHARDSONIAN ROMANESQUE!!” I about died laughing.

#1 They have incredible enthusiasm and energy. Just when I may get bogged down in budget worries or personnel concerns or any of the many other things there are to worry about, I’m reminded: History is fun. Working here is fun.

For more information about this amazing program, click here.

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