Cortland 5th grade history project students with Principal Hilliard and Mr. Tito

Eight fifth graders at Cortland Elementary School teamed up with the DeKalb History Center and the Museum on Main Street project from the Smithsonian’s Coming Home Program for a unique enrichment project to chronicle the history of Cortland, Illinois. Students spent the first semester of the year deciding on what topics they wanted to highlight and then, with support from the Smithsonian, learned how to create documentaries that would be shared for all of America to see. 

Mr. Tito with 5th grade history project students from Cortland

Mr. Tito with the fifth-grade students who participated in the Museum on Main Street history project.

The mission of the Museum on Main Street project is to provide access to the Smithsonian for small-town America through museum exhibitions, research, educational resources, and programming, including student-led projects. According to their website, approximately 1,200 youth from small communities have researched topics important to their towns’ histories, conducted interviews, collected photos and footage, and assembled their work into a final digital project. 

Taking part in the Museum on Main Street project was an opportunity to provide students with interviewing, interpersonal, and research skills, something they wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to explore at this level. Students worked closely with the Smithsonian, WNIJ Radio, Cortland Elementary’s instructional coach Mrs. Denise Flemming, and their teacher Mr. Mikey Tito to complete their projects. 

One of the participating students, Zoë, shared that interviewing people became her favorite part of the project. “I learned what a leading question is and how not to ask those kinds of questions that can end up with just a yes or no answer,” she said. As an interviewee, Principal Jennifer Hilliard confirmed that Zoë learned quickly how to conduct an excellent interview that supported the story they wished to tell. “I’m very proud of what they accomplished,” added Hilliard. Fellow fifth-grader Jaxen agreed that interviewing was fun but also enjoyed other challenges. “I thought the whole experience was good, and I learned a lot about video production and editing.”

Earlier this month, The entire fifth-grade class got to watch their peers’ projects. Mr. Tito reports that they all were excellent audience members. “I encourage everyone to take a moment to watch and learn more about the Cortland community through the eyes of these exceptional young people,” said Tito. “The projects turned out incredible!”

Changes in School Safety: https://museumonmainstreet.org/content/history-cortland-elementary-school-safety-dekalb-county-illinois

Cortland Parade: https://museumonmainstreet.org/content/cortland-parade-history-dekalb-county-illinois

Cortland Railroad: https://museumonmainstreet.org/content/cortland-railroad-dekalb-county-illinois


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