Those fascinated by the history of Palo Alto are fortunate to have a historical society with an archive of 13,000-plus photographs depicting life in Palo Alto and historians who can talk about the backstory of local neighborhoods and streets.
The Palo Alto Historical Association, a nonprofit organization established in 1948 as a successor to an earlier group founded in 1913, is dedicated to recognizing and preserving the city's history.
In its efforts to collect and make available the history of Palo Alto, the organization financed with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund the "Out of the File Cabinet, Into the Classroom" project to provide third-grade students and teachers primary sources to study local history. One goal was the creation of lessons that align with the Common Core Standards' emphasis on a strong knowledge base, incorporation of evidence and critical thinking, according to a Palo Alto Historical Association (PAHA) newsletter.
Four students Julian Moran and Maya Miklos from Gunn High School and Zofia Ahmad and Kenton Kwok from Palo Alto High School spent the summer working on the project under the direction of Gunn teacher Brian Tuomy and PAHA historian Steve Staiger.
Moran, Miklos, Ahmad and Kwok collected old maps, photographs, newspaper articles and other documents to develop a curriculum surrounding four themes: early Palo Alto, the Stanford family, childhood and schools.
The idea was to use primary sources, such as documents and physical objects that were written or created during the time under study, including photographs, official records and interviews, Staiger said.
Moran got involved with the project after Tuomy recommended it to him.
"I was thrilled not only by the possibility of gaining further understanding of local history but also the work experience I would gain by participating," he said.
The history interns explored a PAHA collection known as the Guy Miller Archives and were tasked with choosing interesting primary sources or "artifacts" as the students called them that would entice third-grade students to learn and care about Palo Alto history.
"Both Mr. Tuomy and Mr. Staiger were invaluable resources throughout the entire process," Moran said. "Mr. Tuomy was there whenever I needed to bounce an idea off but also whenever I needed confirmation that I was working toward the right direction. Mr. Staiger's seemingly limitless knowledge of Palo Alto history often helped expedite research."
Moran, whose focus was local schools, concentrated on the history and evolution of institutions.
"While we each worked independently on a theme, almost all of our themes overlapped at least a little," Moran said. "When one of us felt that we had information that would benefit another we were more than willing to share it with each other. Some of the artifacts that I used were maps of early Palo Alto school districts, a series of report cards from 1917, photos of early schools and photos of graduating classes from long ago."
The interns spent the majority of the time working at the archives, "sifting through the dozens of cabinets looking for something (they) felt would interest third-grade students," but a lot of the writing took place at their homes, Moran said.
Moran said he is proud of what the team accomplished and believes the crafted lessons will "help teachers ground many aspects of local history for the students.
"While many students have difficulty understanding an abstract theme such as history, the artifacts and accompanying writing should help make these concepts more approachable," he said. "The most important outcome, however, would be that the artifacts will ignite the same passion for history that I have developed."
Tuomy reflected on his work with the four students in a PAHA newsletter, saying, "I am proud as an educator, Palo Alto native, and community member to be a part of this effort, and to see that kids can be passionate about this community."
"Because of the work of these high school students, the third graders in this town are able to have some knowledge of what was literally beneath their feet many generations ago," he added.
Staiger said the next step is getting the sources into a format for teachers to access, including putting it on the PAHA website and/or the Palo Alto school district's website.
"It's something we are working toward," he said.
Donations to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund can be made at the Holiday Fund website.