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May 10, 2014

River Valley Charter School students explore city's past

NEWBURYPORT — Students of the River Valley Charter School will showcase the results of a year-long exploration of Newburyport at the Custom House Museum during a special presentation this weekend.

The exhibit at the museum, which opened last night with a special showing for students and families, is free for the public to attend today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and tomorrow from noon to 4 p.m.

Led by humanities teacher Colin Gibney and science teacher Rebecca Schwer, the seventh- and eighth-graders created pictures, sculptures and presentations with ties to the River Valley’s history and science.

The exhibition is part school project and part celebration of the 250th anniversary of Newburyport’s incorporation as a town, according to Custom House Maritime Museum executive director Michael Mroz.

Beginning in September, students did a walking tour of the city. They were asked to choose a topic that they would study for the entire year in order to gain a deeper understanding of Newburyport’s rich history.

More than 40 topics were represented between the 63 students, ranging from classic subjects like William Lloyd Garrison and pre-colonization Native American settlements to scientific investigations into striper fishing and Plum Island’s erosion.

“The kids ran with it,” Gibney said. “It was one of the things we were really pleased with how they gravitated towards this… As they got into these topics, I think they started to realize the depth of the history in this area and the connection to the river.”

Students consulted the Newburyport Public Library’s Archival Center and attended lectures by guest speakers at the school to build sources for an essay. While the internet wasn’t specifically banned as a source, students quickly discovered that such local history was best recorded in books and expert testimony. The resulting two-page reports authored by students will be on display at the Custom House during the exhibit.

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