The Next Step
Getting Students Involved in Local History
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a two-part column. The first installment can be found here.
In my first two years at Leyden High School, I delved into our school community’s history. From creating an archive of the school’s memorabilia to launching a local tour for teacher orientation, most of this work had focused on the adults—teachers, staff, and alumni—with an investment in Leyden. But now it was time to get the students involved.
I met Brandon Salguero and Marko Sanchez in my third year of teaching high school, which coincided with their junior year. Members of the Youth and Government Club that I advised, Brandon and Marko pushed me to think about how to bring students directly into my local history project. In fall 2022, they were starting their college applications. Other students were talking about summer programs or jobs related to the fields they were hoping to enter. Brandon turned to me and asked, “Why don’t we have an internship for history at Leyden?” Brandon had already decided to major in history and secondary education, and he made a strong argument for accessible internship opportunities. It clicked in my head: Why not finally bring the archives and history initiatives to the students?
Using what I learned in my public history graduate program at Loyola University Chicago, I created two options for the Leyden Archival Internship: archival and project-based work. Early in my teaching career, I recognized that most of the history education that students receive in high school revolved around the role of the historian as a researcher and writer. With the internship, I wanted to introduce hands-on methods rooted in public history to expand their idea of what a historian does. The archival intern would assist with tending to the items in our growing archive, including cataloging, organizing, and processing newly acquired materials; updating the finding aid; answering questions; and filling requests from people to view items. The role of the project-based intern was a bit less restrictive, as it consisted of a project of the intern’s choosing. The realm of public history offers a multitude of possible project ideas ranging from exhibits and presentations to historical tours and creating digital resources, which allowed flexibility for the intern to design a project in consultation with me. Marko took on the archival internship, while Brandon created a project using our archival resources.
Marko immediately jumped into the role of archivist, becoming familiar with the finding aid, as well as the intake process and organizational system I had established. It didn’t take long for them to become an expert in the archives. Processing new donations became valuable practice for Marko in their development as an archivist. A few months in, we were met with an exciting opportunity to show off what we had. The chair of the Loyola Chicago history department, Bradford Hunt, asked if he could come and see what I was doing with local history at Leyden.
I wanted to introduce hands-on methods rooted in public history to expand students’ ideas of what a historian does.
Marko got to work curating a selection of items for his visit, ranging from photos of the school’s construction to an Iraqi dinar brought back by an alumnus and veteran of the Iraq War. When Hunt arrived for the tour, Marko came to life, describing each piece they had worked hard to preserve. But there was no slowing down after this presentation. Marko decided to create social media pages to boost the community’s interaction with the archives. They launched an Instagram account, created an archives logo, and designed a graphic template we could use to showcase the items in our collection. This project gave our humble archive the legitimacy it needed, as well as the publicity we wanted.
Brandon’s internship looked different from Marko’s, as his project was more ad hoc that, with guidance, he refined along the way. The previous year in my graduate program, I wrote a paper outlining demographic changes in the Leyden area from about 1959 to the present. When I shared my findings with my interns, Brandon’s interest was sparked. He began researching how this history of demographic and social change played out across the yearbooks and documents in our collection, leading to an exhibit and presentation. We claimed some coveted space in a glass display case in the school lobby and got to work curating the exhibit. While Marko and I began to promote the upcoming event, Brandon worked diligently to write exhibit labels. The exhibit, How We Look: The Look of Leyden’s Student Body, brought attention to how the community’s changing ethnic makeup has impacted the school. Brandon used his research to explain current issues and growing pains surrounding equity among students at the school and provided valuable historical context for understanding the current environment of Leyden High School.
Until the exhibit’s opening on April 4, 2023, much of the interns’ work, save for our growing social media pages, was done quietly in the social studies department office. But this would be a star-studded event, with several district administrators in attendance. As the opening approached, it was all hands on deck to illustrate the value of the internship. But our worries were for naught. Brandon gave a flawless presentation of his research and unveiled the physical exhibit. A standing ovation from the audience, as well as commendation from my superiors, made it clear that the archives had met a milestone.
The exhibit, How We Look, brought attention to how the community’s changing ethnic makeup has impacted the school.
The success of the Leyden Archival Internship was due in part to a few factors. The internship got its start as an authentic and natural progression of local history initiatives at Leyden High School. This project would not have been possible without a cooperative and gracious administration that allowed local history to flourish. But what really makes this initiative special is that it came from the students themselves. Brandon and Marko have left their lasting touch on the archives and have found success as a result. Both graduated in 2023, Brandon planning to become a history teacher and Marko a lawyer. Their experiences in the archives bolstered their college applications. Brandon has gone on to a summer internship at the Chicago History Museum, while Marko received a summer internship at the office of Illinois State Representative Norma Hernandez.
These experiences have proven to me that local history has a place in the high school classroom. The stories of the students I teach, for me, are as or more important than what they’ll find in their textbooks. It is my hope that other high school teachers may be emboldened to use the stories of their school communities to bolster and enrich their classrooms. Our successes have engaged students and the broader community with the past, and I look forward to learning more stories and further building the story of Leyden.
Dariel Chaidez Rivota is a teacher and school historian at West Leyden High School in Northlake, Illinois, and an MA student in public history at Loyola University Chicago. He tweets @Chaidez212.
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