Junior and senior history students at Williamston High School are going outside the classroom to piece together the history of the city of Williamston from its farms, businesses, buildings and homes.
“History is most student’s least favorite subject and I want to change that,” said Mitch Lutzke, a history teacher at Williamston High School.
Lutzke has taught the Michigan History Research and Development class at the high school for the past three years. It focuses on Michigan history and local history with the idea that students will gather the information themselves. His students have worked on over 100 projects about the local history of Williamston.
“I do research and teach about conspiracies and debates, most of the information you can’t find in a textbook,” said Lutzke.
Lutzke said he has discussed the Great Railroad Conspiracy, Detroit Riots, 1763 Pontiac Conspiracy, big business and farming, and the Burning Bed in Dansville, among others. He said he wants to connect the class to the history rather than having them read something in a book, and wants students who are not originally from Williamston to get an idea of what the town used to be.
“Mr. Lutzke continues to provide a challenging and educational course where students make personal connections to the past,” said Anne Wade, history department head at Williamston High School.
The local history part of the class allows students to work independently to research, interview community members and write reports on many topics including girls sports, churches, Boy Scouts and buildings. The students submit their stories to The Enterprise, the Williamston weekly newspaper, and over 50 stories have been printed.
“The city learns things and I like the feeling of the community looking at our work and appreciating it,” said Jacob Maran, a junior in Lutzke’s class.
“The students learn a lot about where they come from and the history behind the community. The students have gained a greater appreciation for the community and the community has learned from the students due to their articles and research,” said Wade.
Kathryn Kufahl, a senior in the class, has taken the class three semesters in a row. She said that the class has connected her to the community more. “Williamston is more than a small Podunk town with antique shops, there is a lot of history here and I have more respect for the town with everything I have learned,” she said.
The class is currently researching and putting together information about historical buildings in the downtown area. The students are working with the Williamston Area Chamber of Commerce to find out at much information about the buildings and what businesses have been located there over the years. The projects will be presented May 2 as part of the chambers First Fridays program.
First Fridays is a program sponsored by the chamber of commerce where downtown businesses are encouraged to stay open later on the first Friday of every month to attract business and so the community can spend more time downtown. The students are putting together boards with photos of the buildings and the information they know and the store owners will then display the boards and hope that customers will contribute to the ‘What You Know’ about the building in order to provide as much information.
“The class is just great. The kids get really into it and helps them connect to the community,” said Barbara Burke, executive director of the chamber of commerce.
The high school class continues to assemble the history of a small community that some may only see at face value while becoming connect to the people there.
“I used to hate history and now I love it,” said Kufahl. “We are making history and learning it at the same time. It is becoming part of everyday life.”