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Hands-On Learning

Historic Madison Inc. taps
Southwestern High students for project

High schoolers create materials
on Madison's Underground Railroad

The creative spirit is alive and well at Southwestern Middle School, where more than 100 eighth-graders in Katie Moderau’s Social Studies class are engaged in a unique project with Historic Madison Inc. Since November 2014, they have been mining the rich history of Madison, Ind.’s Georgetown neighborhood in order to tell the story of the Underground Railroad. 
They have created exhibits and programs that show how Georgetown’s African American community helped fugitives escape northward to freedom in the years preceding the Civil War. On Feb. 15, the students will present their projects at “An Underground Railroad Showcase,” to be held at St. Michael the Archangel, 519 E. Third St. This event will be open at no charge. Refreshments will be served.

Moderau, Deeg

Photo by Alice Jane Smith

From left, Southwestern High School teacher Katie Moderau and Rhonda Deeg of Historic Madison Inc. review materials to be use used in Deeg’s weekly presentations at the high school in Hanover, Ind.


The event will be part of “Black History Month Celebration” in Madison. It will be presented by HMI, the Madison Human Relations Commission and the Madison Art Club. Afterward, all of the projects can be seen at “Art on Main,” the Madison Art Club Gallery at 319 W. Main St., for the rest of February.
Every Friday since last November, HMI Director of Programs Rhonda L. Deeg has gone to Moderau’s class to help pupils with the project. The idea for the project grew out of the statewide high school summit that met in Madison two years ago, Deeg said. During the youth summit, participants came up with ideas for how to market the Underground Railroad. In later dialogue, it was suggested that youth do different projects to present during Black History Month, according to Deeg. 
“It’s really good to have students do as much as possible so that they become stewards of history,” she said. In a news release from HMI, she said, “It was a joy for me to work with Ms. Moderau and her students to help them study this important part of our history and help them bring it to life for the public.”
Moreau said Southwestern is the only school involved in the project; in fact, this is the first year she has done this kind of project with her Social Studies class and the first she has heard of organizations like HMI and the art club “partnering” with eighth-graders. HMI paid for all art and other supplies her students have used in the project.
Moderau wanted her students to “really experience” the Underground Railroad, not just read about it. Students chose their own projects and their teammates. Their projects include hand-painted murals, posters, including one of noted Underground Railroad conductors, trivia games, architectural building models, board games, interactive skits, original music and lyrics, oral interview documentaries, exhibit boards, PowerPoint presentations and movie clips.
Avery Wilson, 14, has written and filmed “The Runaway,” a multi-dimensional play about power and abuse in personal life and in slavery. Avery and her teammates, Zach Smith, Robert Stark, Lisa Tripp and Chase Kuppler, act in the 30- to 35-minute presentation.
“I like working on my stories,” Avery said. “I want to do something creative when I’m older.” Currently, she is in show choir and has written a play for school. She enjoys poetry and mysteries, and she also sings, dances, writes and paints.
Nicholas Coles, 14, has used a “Go-Pro Camera” in a unique way. “I did a first person simulation view of what it would be like to be a runaway slave,” he said. Working with Jonathan Stockdale as his helper, Nicholas had attached the camera to his head and run through woods in the backyard of his home by Hanover College. He noted when and where he hid for the night. Although his film does not yet have a title, he thinks the final product will last 10-15 minutes.
Paul Unsworth, 13, has spent the last month meticulously working on a scale model of the African Methodist Episcopal Church at 309 E. Fifth St., the center of the African American community. “I got the blueprints from the actual church,” he said. They were found when the church was remodeled.
Holly Rogers, 14, made a poster with quotations she likes from Frederick Douglass and Harriett Tubman. Her favorite is the Tubman quote, “Every dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have the strength, the passion and the patient to reach for the stars.”
Caleb Trosper, 13, said he wrote a song for the Underground Railroad from the perspective of being a slave. This is the second or third song he has written. Previously, he wrote a few song fragments. He plays trumpet, is learning piano and guitar and percussion, and is “studying up on music theory.”  
Grace Marshall and Lakyn Wilson, both 14, are two of the artists who painted a four-part depiction of a flight, “One Big World,” from Africa through a cotton field to freedom in Canada.
Logan Deeton, 14, Logan Swafford, 13, and Erik McKay, 14, sat on the floor of the Social Studies’ class to work on their architectural model of one of the houses in the Georgetown neighborhood. 
The Walnut Street Banner Competition is another idea that emerged from the high school summit two years ago, Deeg said. This new public artwork will celebrate the city’s nationally significant African-American abolitionist community. Deeg expects the banners to be completed by Feb. 9 and displayed at the Feb. 15 event. The plan is to hang them from light poles in the Georgetown neighborhood by late April or early May, she said. The project was funded by a $1,000 grant from Indiana Landmarks and donations from the Walnut Street Initiative, City of Madison Bridge Mitigation Fund, Boonie’s Water Co., The Madison Kiwanis Club, Adventure Cycling Association and private individuals. Banners will be installed on five light poles on each corner of Walnut from Main to Jefferson streets.
Winners of the banner competition were Danny Callis, Samara Sims, Darrell Amburgey, Southwestern Junior High School; Caitlin Reece, Madison Junior High School, and Emma Staicer, Madison Senior High School. Steve Bickis, local artist, has had two workshops to teach the artists to enlarge the banner design. Banners are to be exhibited for a short time in downtown Madison before they officially are hung on the light poles on Walnut Street later this spring.
Underground Railroad leaders in Madison either lived in the Georgetown neighborhood or were associated with people in that area. It had become home to free African Americans as early as the 1830s and eventually developed into a network of Underground Railroad conductors and stations. Ferguson M. Bordewich, author of “Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement,” considers the Georgetown network to be one of the most effective networks of all the key crossing points on the Ohio River.

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