Local history, with a twist

Published 11:04 pm Thursday, May 9, 2013

It’s been said the best way to learn a subject is to be required to teach it to someone else. In order to stay ahead of their students, teachers must know the material they plan to share during a particular session, along with enough background and ancillary information to answer whatever questions might arise. And, of course, the more advanced the subject, the more extensive the base of knowledge that is required.

It is also commonly understood that young students appreciate the opportunity to learn from people who are closer to their own age. Little brothers who emulate big brothers are the perfect example of this dynamic in action.

A program this week at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy has been taking advantage of both these bits of common wisdom. Juniors taking honors history under the tutelage of Sandra Babb have been teaching third graders from the school about Suffolk’s history, delivering four lessons to the youngsters before taking them on a walking tour of some of the city’s historic features in an effort to give a tangible quality to the lectures they’d delivered.

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While the younger students learned all about Suffolk’s history, who their councilmen are, and how peanuts made Suffolk famous, their tour guides also came away with important lessons, according to Babb. “They are learning leadership and accountability,” she said. “You can see how engaged they are, and there is a very strong connection” between the older and younger students, one that will endure on the small campus until the older students have graduated and moved on from NSA.

Another benefit is the connection students in both grades get to local history, which is often overlooked in primary and secondary schools in favor of time spent on the state, national and world history that is featured in textbooks and on standardized tests. But all history, to coin a phrase, is local — at least on some level — and citizens of any community, whether young or old, would benefit from knowing how that community came to be the way it is.

Juniors have taken over the teaching duties for this short program during each of the past four years, and teachers and administrators there call it a big success. They are justifiably proud of the young mentors who have taken their even-younger protégés under their wings. All of those who have been part of the program can be proud of their involvement.