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On Saturday, July 18, 2015, 18 incoming Delaware State University freshmen presented a series of interactive, history-related activities at four historic sites located in Dover, Del. The programs were developed as a partnership between the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ Volunteer Program, the First State Heritage Park and Delaware State University’s Jumpstart Program, an academic-enrichment and leadership-development initiative that provides opportunities for academically advanced, incoming freshmen to get a “jumpstart” on their college careers.
As part of the partnership, the 18 participating students were divided into teams with a separate team assigned to each of the four sites. During the activity-development process, which took place from late-June to mid-July 2015, team members were given free rein to discuss any topic related to their respective site’s history or exhibits and to develop enjoyable and educational activities that provide visitors with fresh perspectives on Delaware history. The partnership gave students a unique opportunity to experience how museums develop public programming through efficient time-management, teamwork, critical thinking and creativity—valuable skills that the students will need as they move forward in their lives.
In their program at the John Dickinson Plantation, the students used primary-source documents to highlight the lives of Nathan and Abigail Phillips and their children. Originally enslaved, the family was freed in 1786 when Dickinson unconditionally manumitted all of his slaves. In 1793, two of the children—13-year-old Curtis and 12-year-old Reuben—were indentured to Dickinson for eight and nine years respectively and trained as servants. In addition to the Phillips presentation, the students, dressed in period clothing, presented hands-on demonstrations in which visitors participated in paper-quilling, potpourri-making and quill-pen-writing.
At the Johnson Victrola Museum, the students created a program that focused on Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson, two African-American vocalists who recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company; while at The Old State House, the students presented a program that explored espionage during the American Revolution.
Finally, the program at the John Bell House featured students, dressed in period clothing, exploring the story of the “Dover Eight,” a group of escaped slaves from Maryland who were captured and imprisoned in the Dover, Del. jail, and who subsequently broke out and ultimately made their way to freedom in Canada.
In addition to their work at the sites, the students were required to create a poster for each of the four programs that incorporated the subjects of English, math and history. These posters were displayed at the program’s closing ceremony that took place at Delaware State University on July 24, 2015.