Local News

February 8, 2014

Caring more about a Walmart

Students working to encourage study of history

CHATSWORTH — There’s too much apathy in the community when it comes to the past, according to a group of students at North Murray High School.

“People care more about building a Walmart here than the history,” Rachel Kepley said.

“Some communities are built around the history of the town,” Madison Johnston said. “No one here cares about history.”

Johnston, Kepley and three others in an advanced marketing class at the school are volunteering their time hoping to increase the interest in four historic sites in Murray County, as well as giving the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society’s website an update. Other students involved in the project are Hunter Cox, Jacob Hickman and Timothy Southerland.

Michelle Koneman, who teaches the class, was approached by Murray County Historian Tim Howard, who teaches eighth-grade history at Bagley Middle School, about giving students the project.

Howard was at a school board meeting in the spring when other students in the class were recognized for their work on a project.

“The executive and trustee boards of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society have been discussing plans for the future for the last couple of years, and we knew we needed to update our promotional pieces, ways of letting people know about our buildings and what we can offer groups and individuals,” Howard said. “I thought that would be a good way to get a plan and also get some young people involved in history.”

Koneman said she is always looking for partnerships in the community for her students to have real experience marketing. Being involved in real projects gives students experience and helps them build a portfolio.

They’re also capable of the work, Koneman said.

“They’re giving you teenage perspective,” she said. “It’s appealing to a totally different audience. They’re willing to do things in a way that’s never been done. They think outside the box.”

Her students agree.

The project includes updating brochures and informational materials on the Wright Hotel, the Chatsworth Depot, the Chief Vann House and the Old Spring Place Methodist Church. The students have created a flier to send to teachers to tell them what each of those sites has to offer educationally in hopes of increasing field trip traffic. They also plan to utilize social media to increase the sites’ presence in the community.

“We’re going to make it better,” Johnston said. “They’re outdated.”

Students said they don’t even know how to contact the sites. One said the telephone number couldn’t easily be found for the sites to call and ask for more information.

“They need to be more available,” Southerland said.

The students also think the website needs social media widgets.

“We’re closer to new generations,” Hickman said. “We can keep it relevant for them.”

Howard said the group, made up of his former students, has a good start on the project.

“We will be discussing their suggestions for improving our website this Saturday at a board meeting,” he said. “One of the first things we asked them to do was design some promotional pieces for teachers regarding field trips for students to our Murray County properties. Both the Wright Hotel committee and the depot committee have reviewed the first draft in the last week or so and we love it.”

Students researched standards for each grade level and include information about which standards a trip to each site would meet.

For example, during a lesson on the Trail of Tears — the forced removal of the Cherokee Indians in the 1830s — students could visit the Vann House to learn more about the Trail of Tears locally.

“We gave them a reason to go to these places for education,” Johnston said. “I loved (the Vann House.) It was amazing when we went.”

Students want to create banners, signs and ads to let the public know when the properties, specifically the Wright Hotel and depot, are open to the public, such as during the annual Black Bear Festival.

“Nobody knows they’re even open,” Johnston said.

The students have ideas for putting information at stops off the interstate and a campaign for a bus tour.

Southerland said working on the project has taught him a lot of new things about each of the historic sites.

“I learned there’s more history here than people realize,” he said.

Kepley joined the project because she believes Murray County has a lot to offer.

“It has an interesting background, and people should be aware of it,” she said.

Hickman said he was glad to be asked to help Howard.

“History is immensely important,” he said. “We learn how things are culturally or architecturally significant. Everyone should have the ability to learn about their hometown.”

The students are glad to be given the opportunity to help one of their former teachers as well as gain the marketing experience.

“We learn real world stuff,” Cox said.

Howard’s passion for history is the resounding reason this group agreed to the project.

“We know Mr. Howard is really passionate and cares,” Johnston said. “So we want to help him.”

“It’s a part of him, this county,” Hickman said.

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