Students from Yuma High School became “mini-historians” Thursday while learning about their hometown's heritage at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.
As part of the Cambridge curriculum through the Ready Now Yuma initiative, all YHS sophomores visited the historic park to get a first-person look at local history.
Groups of students took copious notes as they participated in park tours led by Tina Clark, who curates the park and its exhibits for the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, and by Quartermaster Depot park ranger Tammy Snook.
“The sophomore American history classes, as part of the Cambridge coursework, are required to research an aspect of local history and write about the effect it has had on the city of Yuma,” said Michele Garlit, Yuma High's Ready Now Yuma coach. She said other campuses across the Yuma Union High School District are taking other approaches to the assignment by doing projects on how agriculture or the border shaped Yuma's history, for example.
Sophomore U.S. history teacher Kristie Kilkelly said that with this being the students' second year in the Ready Now Yuma program, she's finding that they are becoming more independent in their learning. This will help them succeed in college and in their future careers, she said.
“Whereas before, we spoon-fed them the information and when they got to college it was a big shock on how different it was, the transition is going to be much smoother because they already have the needed skill sets to do their own research and do their own work at home and things like that.”
There was a steep learning curve for her in the beginning, Kilkelly said, because she began teaching in Yuma five years before the start of the Cambridge curriculum. Participating in the program has helped her become more creative with her teaching so that it is even more engaging for students.
Cambridge, she said, encouraged teachers to take students to an actual historical site to assist them in completing their 1,400- to 1,600-word essay about authentic local topics.
“The field trip today is something that was unprecedented before,” Kilkelly said. “Usually the elementary students are the ones that get to go on the field trips because in high school, you want the seat time. But going to the actual site is something that Cambridge stressed and it's not mandatory ... but Yuma High thought that it was needed to actually be able to see what they're researching and have a stake in the project.”
Fellow history teacher Roxy Harte said that through this more rigorous curriculum, she has seen students develop stronger analytical skills than she's observed in the past.
Harte developed the U.S. history curriculum by researching and gathering original letters and primary sources for students to use. Currently, she said, students have 18 sources to help them through the essay assignment as well as what information they discovered on their field trip and online sources.
Sophomore Jackie Valadez, 15, said that she enjoyed visiting the park to get a glimpse back in time to see how things used to be.
She added that the Cambridge curriculum is a nice shift from the traditional style of teaching because there's more opportunities for her to learn visually instead of just reading out of a book.
“I plan to go to college and later on in life I can reflect back to what I learned and use that to help prepare me.”
Fellow classmate Janis Gonzalez, 16, said she also liked the tour of the Quartermaster Depot because it was her first time visiting despite being from the area.
“I never thought Yuma was this special. It has so much history,” Gonzalez marveled.
She also agreed with Valadez that Cambridge, although it took awhile to get used to, is better than the traditional curriculum because students are able to do individual learning with hands-on activities.
“Ready Now Yuma is different, but I like it because it teaches us other things that the traditional curriculum didn't.”
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.