There’s an effort underway to build a teaching curriculum around Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail. Organizers hope much of the money to create the curriculum will come from individual donors.
Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail includes sites as well-preserved and well-known as the Lincoln home at Hildene and as little known as an old stone foundation where Daisy Turner lived. Turner was a story teller and poet born in Grafton to freed slaves.
This year marks the third year since the trail was established. One of the people who helped create it wants to take it a step further.
Curtiss Reed, Jr., the executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, says establishing the trail was part of an effort to add more diversity to what Vermont offers visitors. The next step is to create tools to teach those who live here.
“It’s really about Vermont children understanding the full expanse of the history of Vermont as it relates to the role that ethnic minorities played,” he says.
Reed is hoping to raise $35,000 by the end of May through a crowdfunding site called GoFundMe.
Much of the money would go to pay a consultant to create school lesson plans that meet core curriculum standards.
Reed says additional money would be raised through grants, with no state funds involved. He says currently, educational materials used by schools contain little about Vermont’s minority history.
“You learn [that] the state constitution prohibits slavery, but beyond that there’s not much more that’s in the curriculum that really focuses on the role that black Americans played: the fact that the Ethan Allen Boys were multi-racial, or that the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed here, or the work of Alexander Twilight in terms of much more progressive education for girls,” says Reed.
He says "geocaches" installed at each site by the end of this year will also help attract young people. Geocaching is like a scavenger hunt where participants make discoveries using a smart phone or GPS.
Vermont Commissioner of Tourism and Marketing Megan Smith says there’s been an initial burst of interest in the trail in travel publications.
If it’s successful, the crowdfunding project to create curriculum will also help the state promote the sites.
“We’ve had travel writers come explore the trail, we’ve had writers just pick up our press releases. That’s been our big push so far, but we need something new to talk about and I think the educational component will be terrific as well as the geocaching,” says Smith.
She says it’s still too early to know if visitors are being drawn to the African American Heritage Trail.
The state has little money to spend on advertising, Smith says, but she notes there’s been interest at trade shows from tour guides and companies that have a strong minority clientele.
It's hoped that interest will eventually translate into a more diverse group of visitors coming to Vermont.