Saving education history for the future

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – One of the oldest schools left standing in the state could soon be a time machine of sorts, taking students into the future with technology, and 200 years in the past with the building’s history.

In the Randall-Winsor Farm schoolhouse on Eaton Street, windows are glass, not software and pads do not begin with ‘I’. It’s been standing in a Providence College neighborhood since about 1804, and now is in David Ahlborn’s backyard.

The local teacher gave us a one room tour, showing us what a 19th century kid would have in their desk.

“Artifacts like an old chalkboard,” Ahlborn says, picking up a pad sized wooden frame with only a corner of chalkboard left.

He also shows us Mr. Whitman’s Spelling Journal from 1882, and a book from the same era.

“God gives every thing,” he says, reading from the yellow pages.

Separation of church and state was not an issue in Providence back then. Now, the goal is to bring the building back to life.

“But at the same time equipping it for the next century of use,” Ahlborn says.

His design team is made up of three students who couldn’t read Mr. Whitman’s Spelling Journal, without help. They’re dyslexic.

“Instead of reading what I see,” Jessica D’Agostino says. “I will read something that I come up with in my mind.”

“Missing words. Taking out punctuation,” James Williams explains. “Run on sentences.”

But as studies now show, when one part of the brain does not work well, other parts can work even better.

“Whole other areas of the brain are lighting up and that can create for a very powerful and creative sort of outside the box thinking,” Ahlborn says.

There’s no more outside the box thinking than the peddle-powered ice cream maker created by a team that included D’Agostino. She likes the idea of putting high tech equipment in this no-tech building, to help students and teachers learn.

“We’re not just looking at our cell phones or tweeting. We’re actually invested in the past, yet also in the future,” D’Agostino says. “So, we can take what’s in the past and bring it into the future and we can learn from that.”

Ahlborn points out that the 256 square foot building’s size limitation is definitely part of the challenge, and Williams like the idea.

Sounds fun,” he says. “I like a challenge. Applying what you’re good at to different real world situations.”

“They have suffered a lot of setbacks, but they are tremendously resilient,” Ahlborn tells us. “So, I love that spirit. They problem solve really well. They think outside the box.”

Renovating and filling this schoolhouse box with technology will take brains, sweat and cash. Ahlborn is fundraising on the internet, and hoping to draw enough attention to the idea, to re-open the piece of history for the future, by August.

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