With English ll students at SHS preparing to read the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, teachers, Jean Fischer and Rochelle Achenbach, thought a trip to see the Great Depression Exhibit at Clay County Heritage Center would be the perfect way to launch the unit. The novel is a fictional story about growing up in the Southern United States during the Great Depression, and in visiting the Heritage Center, students were exposed to what happened during the Great Depression nationwide and right here at home, throughout Clay County.
Ryan Odor, Director of Clay County Heritage, the umbrella under which Clay County Heritage Center and Parker Museum exist, welcomed the students. After a brief explanation of the exhibit by Braden Falline, Director of Collections for Clay County Heritage, students were free to wonder through the center via self-discovery. With lots of text cards at each display within the exhibit, students could read and learn at their own pace. In addition to learning about the Great Depression, students had the opportunity to view the Spencer Fire Exhibit from the Great Spencer Fire of 1931.
Upon asking Achenbach how the visit to the Heritage Center would benefit the students, she replied, “We are starting, To Kill a Mockingbird, and in the past, we have watched videos and given the students a few packets for background information about the depression, but we thought it was so timely that they have this exhibit right now. The students can come in and see how the Great Depression affected not only the nation, but how it affected Clay County and our own community. It gives them a real-world connection to better understand.”
SHS English ll student, Juan Perez, said he enjoyed the experience to learn something new and about the past. Perez said that he looks forward to reading the book and even let it slip that he started reading it and likes it so far. Another student, Haley Schwenneker, remarked, “We are learning a lot about the Great Depression and how it affected not only the national level, but also the little towns and how it made people really work for what they had and see that you don’t get things handed to you. You have to actually work for them.
Odor was excited when Fischer reached out about the students coming to visit. Having recently taken his position, one of Odor’s goals for Clay County Heritage is to do more community education and outreach. He hopes to partner with area school districts to bring students to the Heritage Center and have staff and volunteers going to the schools as well. Odor believes it will create a greater appreciation for the area among the younger generation which might encourage them to come back to start their jobs and raise families. Odor and Falline also believe that working more with students will help attract sponsorships and increase their volunteer base. “A big thing in Spencer with a lot of groups is kids. When kids are involved, the organizations want to be involved,” said Falline.
After a question and answer session, it was time to head back to the school. It was clear that the students left with a greater appreciation for the impact of the Great Depression, thanks to the tremendous displays and the knowledge that Falline and Odor were able to share.