AAPS Local History Education Group is working with the AADL to help make history come alive for students

The project is in preparation for Ann Arbor’s bicentennial next year

In preparation for Ann Arbor’s 200th anniversary in 2024, a group of Ann Arbor Public Schools teachers is curating historical photos to enhance local social studies lessons.

The Local History Education Group is sorting through decades of digitized Ann Arbor News images of AAPS schools provided by the Ann Arbor District Library. They will distribute relevant photos to elementary and middle school teachers across the district for use in their 2024 history units.

“We’re compiling these photos so all our teachers have engaging local history materials to commemorate Ann Arbor’s bicentennial with their students,” said Jared Aumen, the district’s department chair for social studies, grades 6-12.

The photo project aims to give the district’s 17,000 students a vivid, visual understanding of Ann Arbor’s heritage leading up to the 200th anniversary of its 1824 founding. By integrating these historical images into the 2024 curriculum, Ann Arbor Public Schools hopes to deepen the students’ community pride and connection to the district.

Lawton third grade teacher Brendan Hatt said this photo project will help students recognize that while Ann Arbor’s past may seem different at first glance, a closer look reveals meaningful connections to the present. By seeing familiar buildings, locations, and activities in historical images, students can better understand how today’s community emerged from those earlier eras, he said, noting that immersing themselves in local history will help young learners feel more connected to the place and people who came before them, rather than viewing the past abstractly.

He said sometimes the information conveyed to elementary students is abstract. He looks forward to using the photos to give students a richer sense of their town’s heritage and their own role within it.

“And to see real people living and doing the things that you do every day, you know, helps create a little bit more of a sense of history, and a little bit more of a connection with your local place. So I’m really excited for them to learn about this.”

Slauson Middle School social studies teacher Corey Williams hopes teachers will use the local history materials to help their students explore the evolution of their current school and classrooms over decades past. By seeing historical images of the building and former students participating in activities such as playing football at Slauson, he said, today’s learners can make meaningful connections to their surroundings, noting that visualizing their school’s transformations firsthand will ignite excitement and deepen the students’ engagement with Ann Arbor’s history.

Austin Bryan, who teaches social studies at Clague Middle School, is a fourth-generation AAPS graduate. “Learning the history of Ann Arbor is so great because we’re such a cool city,” he said. “We have so many positive things that go on—and negative things which is honestly another fun part of it. The puzzle is discovering what has gone wrong, and how have we corrected it.”

“I got into the group because making history accessible and localized is easily the best way to get any kid to be entertained by it … There are so many different ways to get history engaging because it’s not just about dates. None of this is about dates. It’s about seeing the change over time, seeing the representation, seeing what is Ann Arbor as a whole. And I think that’s how the kids are going to feel engaged.” Austin Bryan, Clague Middle School teacher

Bryan says he’s an accessible person, and history is an accessible tool.

“You need to know what happened previously to understand what’s happening now,” says the 2014 Skyline High School graduate. “You can do that locally, nationally, or internationally, but to do it locally is how you get somebody entertained.”

The group will distribute photos and materials to all elementary and secondary social studies teachers during winter 2024 to share with their students in time for Ann Arbor’s bicentennial year.

Kids' Bubble Gum Bubble-Blowing Contest At Lawton School, July 1969
Kids’ Bubble Gum Bubble-Blowing Contest At Lawton School, July 1969

Photos donated by the Ann Arbor News.

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