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A walk through history

Sparta  – Sixth-graders from Sparta Middle School had the chance to travel back in time by touring historical buildings and listening to stories of the town’s past from docents in full period dress.

The recent Sparta History Walk featured stops at the library, theater, cemetery, several historical houses and many other sites, and compiled historical stories to pair with them. The local ice cream shop, Sundaes at the Park, donated ice cream for the students, who got a taste of the village of yore.

“I was excited that we got to walk around our town, learning about the town where we live,” said sixth-grader Isaac Griffes.

Before the pandemic, the tours were a tradition for fifth-graders at Sparta’s Appleview Elementary. Larry Carter, a teacher at Appleview who originally started the event, recently retired. The two-year interruption of the event  led Appleview to not relaunch it this year. 

Instead, the Historical Society approached sixth-grade teacher Keith Tidey about partnering to bring the tours back to life. Tidey wrote a grant to the Sparta Education Foundation to cover the costs of printing booklets to accompany the tours. “Our grant was accepted and we were off to the races in planning the event,” Tidey said.

Student learned about a Civil War monument from a guide and a living statue

Tidey and Historical Society volunteers recruited parent chaperones and more than 80 community volunteers, as well as creating schedules and testing out tour paths.

 “There were many community partners in this event,” Tidey said. “The kids felt the love of their community.”

Volunteer Caelin Murdock, a seventh-generation Sparta resident and Sparta Middle School alumna, presented on a historical block of Sparta Village with her grandfather, Doug Pinckney. 

When Murdock took the tour in fifth grade, she didn’t really care about the history. But she said she’s now come to appreciate it and enjoys hearing family stories from Pinckney. “You sit down with him for a day and he could tell you our whole family history.” 

Across town, volunteer tour guides, some in historical garb and many, like Murdock, with personal connections to the history of Sparta, shared stories of the town’s past with the students, giving them a new understanding of a familiar town.

“This tour got them talking and wondering. As a teacher, I can’t ask for anything more than that,” Tidey said.

Long-time Sparta resident Adele Jones told students stories about a now-removed monument and her father’s childhood in Sparta
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Abigail Ham, SNN intern
Abigail Ham is an intern reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She is a junior at Calvin University. She is the managing editor of Calvin’s student newspaper Chimes and editorial assistant for the academic journal Pedagogy. She also enjoys creative writing of all sorts.

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