"Slavery to Freedom" - Preserving Slotterley Mansion

Sherry Unger Winner November & December 2004

"Slavery to Freedom" – Preserving the Sotterley Plantation

Adam Cropper, 8th grade class, Esperanza Middle School, St. Mary’s County

For more information, contact: 
Adam Cropper, Social Studies Department Chair 301-863-4016

The Sotterley Plantation is a national historic landsite. Our eigth grade class, as part of the curriculum, completed a "Slavery to Freedom" course in partnership with the plantation. Students learned the importance of maintaining this local and national treasure for future generations to learn from and enjoy. As part of the project, students raised $2,290.00, toward the renovation of one the rooms at the plantation. Our school name will be posted as a contributor for that room. Letters were also sent to local, state, and federal officials to get support for preserving this site. This project used an Understanding by Design Unit plan, created by Adam Cropper (available upon request).

Best Practice 1: What recognized community need was met by your project?
The Sotterley Foundation offers the students and people of this community a rich opportunity to understand plantation life during the Antebellum period of Southern Maryland. Sotterley offers programs such as Colonial Plantation Life, River Ways, Slavery to Freedom, and Archaeological digs for youth from grades fourth to twelth. Sotterley has continually struggled to keep the program running, due to funding shortfalls, so they need to rely on private funds and volunteers. Students are required to visit Sotterley as part of the curriculum, but we were concerned that Sotterley may not be able to continue to offer the fabulous programs our school receives each year. Students in our program were made aware, through the student service-learning program, of the importance of preserving our history for generations to come. Students also took an active role in preserving our history through the students service-learning program during their 8th grade year and raised money and advocated for the preservation of Sotterley.

Because the student service-learning project was such a great success this year, two of our students were asked to speak to Maryland’s Lt. Governor, Michael Steele, on Friday, May 21, 2004 at the plantation concerning our role in preserving our history.

Practice 2: How was the project connected to the school curriculum and curricular objectives? 
Our approach focused on the use of cross-curricular instruction to bring about meaning and highlight the importance of maintaining historic sites. The subject areas involved were social studies, science, reading/language arts, and physical education.

Social Studies – Students were responsible for completing the required curriculum "Slavery to Freedom." During this time, students visited the Sotterley Plantation in order to gain a better understanding of the Antebellum period in Southern Maryland. Students were introduced to the student service-learning program and the importance of community involvement with regard to the preservation of historic landmarks.

Science – Students studied the effects of archaeological digs and the importance archaeology plays in determining cultural differences in our society. They explored the use of technology in determining age and importance of objects found. They learned how archaeologists determine where to dig, and how written artifacts aid in determining a dig site. At Sotterley, students actually put their knowledge to the test by using a grid in excavation, sifting, washing, and recording artifacts found.

Reading/Language Arts – Students explored ways people make a difference in society by writing their representatives. Students wrote to express their points of view regarding the importance of maintaining historic sites. This activity lent itself to being a proactive and reflective part of the student service-learning process. Students also learned the appropriate format for writing a letter to public officials in order to express their opinions.

Physical Education – Students conducted a walk-a-thon to raise money in order to support the Sotterley Foundation.

Best Practice 3: How did participants reflect on their experiences throughout the project? 
Students began with an anticipatory reflective statement in social studies, followed by a mid-reflective experience at the Sotterley site, and finally they wrote a post-reflective letter in language arts. Students reflected by writing letters to local and state representatives. The goal was to inform our officials about the importance of maintaining our historic sites, and how these sites are important to education in our community. Copies of the letters were also displayed in the school to make our school community aware of our project and goals.

Best Practice 4: How did students take leadership roles and take responsibility for the success of the project? 
Students took responsibility for getting people to sponsor them in the walk-a-thon. It was their responsibility to have parents, friends, and relatives sponsor them in the effort to raise money for Sotterley. Students were required to tell people why they were holding the walk-a-thon and engage in a discussion on the importance of maintaining historic sites. These discussions also provided an additional reflection opportunity for students and an opportunity for them to advocate with the general public about the importance of historic preservation. Finally, the theme of preservation has run throughout students’ middle school service-learning experiences – from the broad to the defined. As sixth grade students, they explore ways to preserve the rainforest. In seventh grade, students investigated the importance of waterway preservation with a hands-on experience of oyster cultivation and bay preservation. Finally, in the eigth grade, students actually worked with a historical site to preserve the past for future.

Best Practice 5: What community partners were worked with on this project?
The student service-learning coordinator worked closely with the historical director at the
Sotterley Foundation in order to build an effective partnership. By students raising money through the walk-a-thon, students also generated local awareness of funding issues at Sotterley and built a partnership between Sotterley, students, parents and the community. Writing letters to local, state and federal representatives helped increase community awareness of the financial needs of Sotterley as well. We have also started to form partnerships with local businesses that are interested in preserving the plantation home.

Best Practice 6: How did you prepare and plan ahead for the project? 
Department representatives and the students service-learning coordinator periodically met to decide what actions and responsibilities would be most important to create an effective students service-learning experience. Our goal was to eventually have representation from the students on our committee assist with the planning. Staff and student collaboration aided in the creation of a successful program. Teachers, students, and parents received a calendar of events prior to the service-learning project so everyone could be prepared.

Best Practice 7: What knowledge and skills did students develop through this project? 
Students completed the "Slavery to Freedom" unit and gained an understanding of the importance of archaeological digs before visiting Sotterley Plantation. Students also learned about the financial realities of maintaining a historic site and understood that funds were running low for Sotterley. Students looked at ways that individuals and groups could bring about positive change to help the Sotterley Foundation. Students were also given instruction on writing formal letters before they wrote to their representatives.