NEW ALBANY — Normally, fourth-graders in New Albany-Floyd County Schools spend a day during the school year learning at the Division Street School for an immersive history lesson.
The historic all-Black school in New Albany is now a place for the students to learn about local history. Although students cannot attend in person this school year, they will still be able to learn about the former segregated school in a virtual format.
The COVID-19 pandemic has halted field trips for local students at sites such as the Division Street School, but the Carnegie Center for Art & History has collaborated with several local museums and historical sites to continue to educate students about New Albany’s history.
“A Reason To Remember: A Virtual New Albany Field Trip” is a 45-minute film with short “tours” of the Town Clock Church, Culbertson Mansion, Scribner House and Division Street School, and it begins and ends at the Carnegie Center.
Julie Leidner, educator at the Carnegie Center, said the museum is actively engaged in providing programming for NAFC schools, and has been able to continue in a virtual format.
When the museum staff realized school field trips were cancelled, they reached out to sites NAFC elementary students typically visit for field trips.
“We are well aware that a video is not at all the same thing as having an in-person, immersive experience, but we thought, well, maybe we could at least give a little taste of those locations,’ she said. “We worked with each of those locations to create a seven-minute long kind of version of the types of tours students would have when they go in-person.”
The video was filmed by Uproar Films, a production company run by Ben Newkirk, who is the son of former Carnegie director Sally Newkirk.
In February, NAFC schools will be the first to access to the film for students to watch from home or in the classroom. The film also will be played inside the Carnegie at the opening of its new exhibit on New Albany artist George Morrison.
Victor Megenity, director of Division Street School, said about 34 fourth-grade classes would have had a full-day of instruction at the museum in previous years, but the pandemic has “turned everything upside down,” and it has been closed for the school year.
The classroom at Division Street School looks much like it would have 100 years ago with old-style desks and chalkboards, Megenity said.
Megenity worked with the late Kathryn Hickerson, who attended Division Street School as a child, to lead restoration efforts at the site.
Oneita Phillips, a board member with Friends of Division Street School, is one of the teachers who leads lessons for students, which are modeled after curriculum students would have learned in the 1940s or earlier.
Phillips said she attended Griffin Street School — also a segregated school in New Albany — when she was young before moving to an integrated school in the seventh grade.
“The teachers were very well-trained, and we had everything — it was just separate and unequal,” she said.
Phillips is one of the participants in the Carnegie’s video, and she hopes the video piques peoples’ interest so they visit the historic school in person.
Leidner said the segment about Town Clock Church, or Second Baptist Church, in New Albany, includes an interview with LeRoy Marshall, the pastor at the historic church that played a role in the Underground Railroad.
The film also features a scene with a character based on Jacob Cummings, a man who escaped from slavery and crossed the river into New Albany.
The video also features stories about the featured historic homes from the early days of New Albany and those who lived there.
The Culbertson Mansion section includes an actress playing Cornelia Culbertson, as well as an interview with Devin Payne, the director of the historic site. The section at the Scribner House features a portrayal of Hattie Scribner, the final owner of the home.
Leidner said she wants to encourage kids to become interested in history to “see the world around them in a new light.”
“We want to encourage young people to want to preserve history — we are preserving these locations for people like them. All those pictured in film are passionate about preserving their sites especially for these kids watching.”