By John F. Mann
The recent article, “Books and Magazines Were Like Gold,” in January/February 2012 edition Lighthouse Digest recalled the United States Lighthouse Establishment’s efforts in the latter part of nineteenth century to bring books and magazines to isolated lighthouses for the “edification and entertainment of keepers and families.” As cited in the article, this commendable endeavor debuted in 1876, and lasted some thirty years. The box itself was a sturdy, handsomely crafted wood chest, with brass fittings, decorative hinges and lockable doors. When delivered, it was packed to the brim with new fiction, classics, non-fiction, contemporary magazines, and the occasional how-to book. The boxes were transported by the Lighthouse Establishment tenders to and from lighthouses about once a quarter, along with necessities like food, fuel, and mail.
Those remote keepers, wives, and children had hardships-a-plenty; brick and mortar libraries were few and far between, or often a long and dangerous boat ride away. In the case of the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse, after 1925 called the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, and geographically located at the end of an inaccessible peninsula, it was a long journey by both boat and carriage to the nearest town.
With a little ingenuity, and some help from the Library of Congress, the Lighthouse Establishment helped nourish, not just the body, but also the minds and souls of the keepers and their families.
MODERN DAY NUTURING AND NEEDS
Ingenuity was again called for when today’s Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association and Museum faced another form of “isolation.” The early years of our current recession caused local county public school budget cutbacks in discretionary bus transportation, resulting in the loss of easily a thousand or more student visits a year on organized field or class trips to the lighthouse.
While the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse has offered free admission for decades to all public and private Volusia County, Florida school students on field trips, the loss was not financial, but still keenly felt. Education is a driving, fundamental part of the lighthouse core mission, along with Florida History, maritime and navigation studies, and the culture and chronicle of American lighthouses.
Traditionally, a school visit was arranged, and trained lighthouse docents guided the tours of the light station and museum. Pre and post visit information and follow-up academic activities were provided to the classroom teacher. Once mailed to teachers in advance of the visit, and now available for download on the Ponce Inlet website, these activities and written lesson plans are comprehensive, with follow-up, grade-level-appropriate student essay writing, worksheets, and activities consistent with Sunshine State Standards and the variety of learning styles.
When schedules did not permit such on-site visits, a costumed volunteer or a staff member would occasionally go to the classroom armed with visuals and do presentations. This limited outreach program, never formalized, often used elements of workshops developed for use during actual field trips, in addition to the tours.
Planning and formalization of “The Keeper in the Classroom” program and a new idea, “The Travelling Lighthouse Library Box,” began in earnest in anticipation of the actual restricted transportation funding which occurred in school years 2008-2009. In prior years, the PILH averaged two to three classroom visits a week between October and May. In fact, in 2007 alone, thirteen hundred and ninety-nine (1399) Volusia county and other county public and private school students visited the lighthouse for tours during those months. In 2009, only 623 students visited. Obviously, this limitation on funding would have a serious impact on the lighthouse’s education objective.
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse staff and volunteers began to brainstorm avenues to mitigate the loss. Our motivation became reaching children who could no longer reach us. Initially, two programs were created to serve as substitutions for students who could no longer travel by school bus to the lighthouse. One called “Keeper in the Classroom,” sent to each classroom trained, volunteer tour guides wearing replica United States Light House Service 1930s uniforms. Some of these docents had extensive classroom teaching experience. The “lesson plan” for the volunteers usually adhered to the outline and follow-up activities of one of three power point programs specially designed by a University of Central Florida History intern at the lighthouse, who assisted a PILH volunteer with an extensive background in curriculum and instruction in developing the power points and materials. The power points were entitled: What is a Lighthouse, Lighthouse Shapes and Construction, and Living at a Lighthouse. Each power point was created to be used independently of the others as a single classroom discussion activity, together with a written assignment, lasting approximately forty minutes. Flexibility was and is dictated by the needs of the teacher and time allotted. Both What is a Lighthouse? And Lighthouse Shapes and Sizes employ photographic examples using Florida lighthouses. Living at a Lighthouse discusses the similarities and differences between life and life styles on an isolated rural farm house of the 1890s, and isolated light stations like the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. The historic and sociological characteristics allow students to relate to early Florida farm life and the parallel to life at a lighthouse.
BUILDING THE BOXES
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse “Traveling Lighthouse Library Box” is an exact reproduction of the United States Lighthouse Establishment Library Box #133, which is on exhibit at the lighthouse. The museum maintenance staff constructed two full-scale replicas to be circulated to Volusia County elementary schools on a loan basis. Our present day traveling library boxes contain a wealth of grade-level fiction and non-fiction books about lighthouses, lighthouse families, famous lighthouse keepers, and lighthouse living. It also contains an abundance of teacher and student primary and supplemental materials in Language Arts, History, Social Studies, Science, and Mathematics - all with lighthouse, navigational, nautical, or maritime interests and themes. All Ponce Inlet Library Box teacher and student materials, like the pre and post visit resources, coordinate with Florida’s Sunshine State Standards and are cross referenced so that teachers may use them to supplement regular classroom instruction.
County teachers across the area quickly learned of the quality of the programs from the best of teacher sources; other educators. The programs’ popularity grew to become another pleasant problem for the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse outreach staff to work out. It was solved by joining the two programs into one offering. Thus, for school year 2008-2009, the outreach effort became the bridge to students unable to physically tour the station. The “Keeper in the Classroom with The Traveling Library Box” would go out to 1517 schoolchildren in countless public school classrooms and help to lessen the gap. While nothing serves better than actually experiencing the light station to understand its purpose, a “keeper” classroom visit and leaving “The Traveling Library Box” brought a conceptual understanding, since that experiential appreciation was unavailable.
A MUCH SOUGHT-AFTER ALTERNATIVE
As the program progressed and grew, and even after the transportation budget crunch lessened, “Keeper in the Classroom with The Travelling Library Box,” continues to serve as an excellent pre-visit tool to introduce the station to the students before their excursion. Usually scheduled a few days before the on-site experience, the “Keeper” is able to ready the students for what they are about to actually encounter. Productive “Keeper” pre visits have truly become more about grooming students to be aware and appreciate the differences between past and present technologies, lifestyles, aids to navigation, science, and the broad spectrum of Florida history.
If pre-visits are not possible to schedule, “Keeper” post or follow-up visits to a classroom reinforce a station visit, while the PILH Travelling Library Box then truly becomes the same instrument of edification it was a hundred-twenty years ago.
What started as two unique offerings, especially designed for one mitigating purpose, has now grown to one accommodating program with a variety of permutations which can be individually designed to fit the needs of students and teachers. Independent activities developed for other on-site PILH adult and student workshops have become part of PILH “Keeper in the Classroom and the Traveling Library Box” classroom offerings. To wit, nineteenth and early twentieth century era artifacts, common-place in-the-home or workplace objects passed around to students in an effort to have them guess the object’s use adds to a tactile reinforcement of “manual labor without technology” of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Subsequent refinements like bringing wash tubs, washboards, early laundry tubs, a simulated well pump, old fashioned “irons,” and clothes lines to hang laundry replicate a variety of household chores performed by children assisting their parents. Playing the self-inventive, simple childhood games of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as marbles, jump rope, and tidally-winks, adds much to the understanding of the comparison and contrast in lifestyles.
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association was recently awarded the 2012 Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Outstanding Achievement Award for Preservation Education for the “Keeper in the Classroom and the Traveling Library Box” program.
John F. Mann is a retired educator who is a volunteer and docent at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. Mann does extensive outreach for the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse education programs and has done many ‘Keeper in the Classroom” visits. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2012 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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