Emily Tojaga and Erin McSweeney had never met face to face, but they chatted by phone and communicated through email and letters. They even exchanged pictures of their children – all thirty-five plus in their respective classrooms.
Tojaga is a second-grade teacher at Perry Elementary School in Erie, Pennsylvania. McSweeney teaches the same grade in Scituate, Massachusetts, nearly a day’s drive from Erie. They became friends and their students became pen pals, thanks to a newspaper serial story about the Scituate Lighthouse and the efforts of lighthouse enthusiast Jackie Tammaro. Tojaga said; “I got involved in the pen pal program because I felt the students would comprehend the story better by corresponding with students who actually lived in the city and saw the lighthouse.”
Tammaro, vice president of the board of the Erie Times-News in Education (NIE) program, contacted the assistant superintendent of the Scituate school district to find teachers willing to correspond with Erie classrooms about the lighthouse in Scituate and in turn to learn about the three lighthouses in Erie, Pennsylvania. Working with Anna McCartney, NIE and Literacy Projects Coordinator, Tammaro found more than one teacher eager to partner with a classroom nearly 600 miles away. Students were connected by the story of the Scituate Lighthouse.
NIE purchased the rights to publish the serial story, “An Army of Two,” written by Betty Miles. It is a true story about two girls who, during the War of 1812, saved the town and the lighthouse of Scituate, Massachusetts, from British attack through a very clever scheme. For six weeks, students eagerly awaited the delivery of the Wednesday newspaper to read what happened next. One teacher even had her students write out predictions for the next episode based on what they read each week, which really peaked the students’ interest in the story. The story provided the perfect opportunity to teach students about the important role of lighthouses in our history and the need to preserve them.
Students got more than history lessons as they incorporated math, geography, and art into their lighthouse activities. They also participated in the campaign to raise money for education to preserve the three Erie lighthouses. The campaign, “Pennies for Lighthouse Education and Preservation,” was launched in the newspaper along with the story “An Army of Two.” The school that raised the most money received framed pictures of the three Erie lighthouses and the students got to visit with Lorretta Brandon, who lived in the Presque Isle Lighthouse when she was a very young girl. Loretta shared stories from her book “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Legacy,” which is a true story about her family’s life in the lighthouse. In addition, two reenactors dressed in clothing from the 1812 period visited with the students to show them the style of dress from that time in our history. One highlight for the students was to see their principal and one of their teachers dressed in the period clothing, too.
The penny campaign raised $737.25 - or 73,725 pennies - which went directly to the Erie Maritime Museum and the Flagship Niagara League for lighthouse education. One very interesting coincidence is that the Erie Maritime Museum is home to the Flagship Niagara, which is the ship that won the War of 1812 by defeating the British in the battle on Lake Erie. So the Scituate Lighthouse, spared in the War of 1812 by the clever deception of the Army of Two, has direct ties to the history on the shores of Lake Erie.
Authentic learning experiences like the lighthouse program are a daily objective of NIE, a non-profit organization operated through the local newspaper. NIE produces full page classroom activity sheets that span all parts of the curriculum for students to do in school and at home with their families. According to the Newspaper Association of America Foundation Web site, “Newspaper in Education is a cooperative effort between schools and newspapers to promote the use of newspapers as an education resource.” For Erie Times-News in Education, that effort doesn’t simply involve the schools with the newspaper but it involves the entire community including teachers, students, administrators, parents, area businesses, and the sponsors.
The connection between classrooms will continue through NIE, according to Anna McCartney, because it gets students involved with the history in their own community and provides the tools to connect them to the history in other communities.
Tammaro would like to challenge all lighthouse enthusiasts from seashore to seashore to make contact with their local newspaper and local school district to run a campaign for lighthouse education and preservation in their community. “The history and the mystery of lighthouses intrigues people of all ages, so we must mount a campaign to save them all,” Tammaro said as she continues to collect pennies for the three Erie lighthouses.
To get more information about the campaign, the Erie lighthouses, the Scituate Lighthouse and the story “An Army of Two,” contact Jackie Tammaro at News In Education, (814) 838-3652, or log on to the following websites:
This story appeared in the
May 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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