April 4, 2009 - Basking Ridge, New Jersey
One room schoolhouses are the essence of early American education. The teacher’s bell was ringing once again as over forty participants took part in the inaugural statewide New Jersey Historic Schoolhouse Summit and Symposium. Historic one-room schoolhouse operators and curators from across New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania gathered Saturday, April 4, 2009 for the inaugural event at the Brick Academy in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Twp, New Jersey. The group met to network and share ideas on the challenges facing programming, exhibits, and financial stability to the New Jersey historic schoolhouse community.
“It looked like the seventeen schoolhouses and organizations representing nine New Jersey counties and Philadelphia walked away inspired and energized with new ideas to take back to their respective schoolhouses.” stated Brooks Betz, coordinator for the historic schoolhouse summit & symposium and trustee of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills. The idea of gathering other historic school leaders came about after the Historical Society of Somerset Hills completed a restoration of its circa 1905 school room, when the Brick Academy was a District 12 schoolhouse. “There are so many other curators of successful exhibit and educational programs, and we wanted to invite them here to see and learn about what we’ve done, and to also get some new ideas as well,” stated Betz.
The half day event covered topics including; museums and exhibits, programming, fundraising, and financial analysis. While everyone seemed to enjoy the networking and program sessions, the consensus was that there was almost too much information to cover in such a short period of time. “I would have loved to see this be a whole day program,” stated Susan Young, President of the 1869 Washington Valley Schoolhouse in Morris County.
The attendees were fully engaged in networking and sharing ideas throughout the event. “There are so many ideas that we’ve picked up. “But we don’t steal ideas, we take a derivative of a good idea”, said one attendee. “I feel energized and motivated to enhance our museum and offer more programs,” said Shelley Heretyk from the 1809 German Valley School in Long Valley, New Jersey.
J. Silvia Muller from Rutgers University, who’s studying early American education, said “It was a great introduction to a group of individuals with a valuable base of knowledge."
Many historic schoolhouses are not limited to grade school visits and child education programs. “These historic schoolhouses are not limited to schooling only,” noted one operator. "Some of the schoolhouses are now youth centers, woman’s clubs, farmsteads, cultural arts centers, and yes historic schoolhouses."
Programming ideas quickly shifted from traditional schoolhouse visits and period educational programs, to programs ranging from antique road shows, to holiday house tours, and pig roasts; events not typically associated with historic schoolhouses. Maureen O’Connor Leach from the 1759 schoolhouse in Mt. Holly, presented a valuable “Fundraising Nine Basic Truths” program along with financial tips for success on how to create programs that speak to the importance of tying financial goals and mission statements.
Operators are learning that in order to survive, programming, exhibits, and fundraising efforts will need change with the times as well. “The target audience will need to broaden themselves and the ideas will need to be more creative to better compete for attendance and shrinking free time, “added Betz. “Boards will need to revisit their mission statements and make sure their boards have the creative talent with the ability to carry out the mission,” stated Bob Craig, form the New Jersey Preservation Office, part of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which provides grants for historic preservation efforts.
At the conclusion of the summit, it was noted that additional information will continue to be shared and networked on the internet using a newsgroup that will be solely dedicated to the topics relevant to New Jersey Historic Schoolhouses. “I created the New Jersey Historic Schoolhouse Network newsgroup to allow the dialogue to continue long after the summit concludes”, stated Brooks Betz. “I hope everyone who came to the event, continues to bring their inspiration and passion to the online community as well.”
The new online historic schoolhouse group will cover events, messages, polls, idea sharing, and a host of other features that registrants can post or make use of. The information can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/historicschoolhouses/ or just go to www. brickacademy.org and click on the red schoolhouse icon. You can also go to Yahoo Groups and search for “New Jersey schoolhouses”.
The Summit was held at the Brick Academy schoolhouse in Basking Ridge section of Bernards Twp, New Jersey, an 1809 federal style three story schoolhouse that is celebrating its bicentennial anniversary this year. The academy is also home to the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, a non-profit organization that operates the programs and restoration efforts at the academy and serves the historical communities of Bernards Twp, Bernardsville, Bedminster, Far Hills, Peapack & Gladstone in the Somerset Hills area of Somerset County, New Jersey.
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Marcella Miccolis, chair of The Historical Society of Somerset Hills, and Mary Ann Kordys from the 1830 German School in Long Valley open the first session of the New Jersey Historic Schoolhouse Summit & Symposium.