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LBS gives students insight

LBS gives students insight
LBS gives students insight
Maxine Brown talks to more than two dozen students from Purdue University Calumet on Thursday at the Leora Brown School in Corydon. The students are taking part in a service-learning class that centers on the Underground Railroad and African-American history in Indiana. Photo by Alan Stewart (click for larger version)

Focused on education about the Underground Railroad, but with an eye toward service, a group of 27 college students from Purdue University-Calumet in Hammond visited Maxine Brown and the Leora Brown School on Thursday.
As part of a three-day trip that started last Tuesday, the students also made stops at the Carnegie Library in New Albany, Conner Prairie and the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City.
The Leora Brown School, built in 1891 and the oldest standing segregated school for African-American children in Indiana, was the final stop of the tour that was started by Wendy St. Jean, assistant professor of history at Purdue.
Students taking part in the service-learning class, St. Jean said, begin a service project at one of the sites but then take the projects back to PUC so they can be completed. When completed, both sides benefit, she said.
St. Jean learned about the LBS through the National Parks Service’s Network to Freedom project, which is a national Underground Railroad program to coordinate preservation and education efforts nationwide and to integrate local historical places into a mosaic of community, regional and national stories.
‘I asked them who needs volunteers and who would welcome college history majors and they gave me Maxine Brown’s name, as well as Sally Newkirk at the Carnegie Library in New Albany,’ St. Jean said. ‘Maxine and Sally were very eager to help out, and the kids themselves really want to help, as well. The students really like this kind of experience more than just touring the building. I’m very pleased with how this class has gone so far and the experience we’ve had.’
St. Jean said students will help develop gallery guides for some of the exhibits at the Carnegie Library. After Brown’s presentation about the school and local history, one student offered to help compile a stack of information that Brown hasn’t had time to go through.
‘They are also planning on helping develop more materials on Maxine’s African Heritage Trail and get more information for pamphlets and volunteer guides,’ St. Jean said. ‘(Brown) has this incredible personal history and how it relates to Corydon and the Meecham family, and some students have already approached me and expressed interest in working with Maxine and making an article about it.
‘We also want to help the Corydon Historical Site about their website. I think they could really beef that up with more material.’
Senior Troy Yeager, a secondary history major with roots to Harrison County, described the visit to Corydon as ‘unique.’
‘We know the history of desegregating schools, but it was really neat to come to this area to a school that was prominent in this area and region,’ said Yeager, a descendent of Dennis Pennington, speaker of the first Indiana State Senate and a legislator who opposed slavery.
Jacob Edwards, a junior, came to Corydon last year and visited the First State Capitol Building (which Pennington was responsible for having built).
‘To come here with the concentration on the Underground Railroad is extremely eye-opening. There’s a lot of history here with this being the first African-American education center, teaching young blacks to read,’ Edwards said. ‘When you look at this room, if you picture the desks, you can almost imagine what it was like to go here as a student. It’s very interesting.’
Edwards said that he’s also been to the Little Red School House in Hammond, which is the oldest schoolhouse in Indiana, and other one-room schoolhouses in the state. He said the Leora Brown School was the biggest he’s seen.
‘We’re trying to get at the ground level and see history from a very hands-on experience,’ Charlie Gasbadarek, senior and philosophy major, said.
Doug Robbins, a sophomore secondary education major, said the entire trip was amazing.
‘We’ve seen so many instances where ordinary people have had extraordinary impact, either through their whole lives or a single event,’ he said. ‘They either took a stand because they were forced to or circumstances put them in that situation.’
St. Jean has a similar class in May that focuses on the Civil War and she said she’d like to continue to return to Corydon.