Dear Teachers and Students

(This is the greeting from Carol Buswell, her curriculum unit is “Exploring Your Community.”)

Hello. I am so happy to meet you! In my work with the National Archives I have met thousands of teachers and students. You are a very impressive group of people. Your dedication and willingness to learn give me hope for the generations to come. You are inventive and curious and tenacious. The thing I love the most is how original you are, how unique. Your lives have contributed tremendous richness and color to my own and to the world!

This curriculum is all about you. It is my gift back to you for many years of extremely satisfying work. You are always able to think of new questions and problems to solve. Most importantly, no matter what your situation, status, color, or orientation, you are willing to share your story. How brave. How thoughtful. How human. How sacred! You are truly a gift and a treasure to the world, every one of you.

As you put together your stories, it is important to have examples to follow. This curriculum points you to many exciting and informative stories of our fellow human travelers. Some are ancient. Because of their age, these are the most delicate and must be guarded with utmost care. Some are modern and may, in some ways, resemble your own. Some are very different and reflect cultures you may barely understand. Some are written. Others are spoken or sung or danced. Some are painted, drawn, woven, or photographed. Some reflect direct experience of the person telling them. Others required long research in documents and often told memories in order to collect, assimilate, and share through the filter of the teller’s own personal experience. These stories are the most precious gifts we as humans have to give to each other.

When preparing precious stories for delivery to others, all of us need tools in order to do a better, faster, more efficient job of finding the information we need to make the telling more complete. This little group of lessons is designed to give you and your students a few of these tools and methods, many of which have been readily available for a very long time, yet seem to be hidden in plain sight.

Although presented for intermediate grade students, these principles and methods are often lacking in everyone’s educational background. How many of us learned what a primary source was in fourth grade? I certainly wish I had learned to find them before I went to graduate school. I would have saved many thousands of hours of searching the footnotes of other writers and story tellers.

But the search for documents is not all there is to this curriculum. Infused within the lessons are the stories and history of the Lewis and Clark journey across the northern lands of the Louisiana Purchase as well as an intimate look at the lives of many of those unique Native American tribes they met along the way. How strange they must have seemed to each other. How wonderful and terrifying at the same time for them both.

This journey is not unlike what you may find when taking a close look at your own community. If you take the time and summon up enough courage to investigate, the cultures and lives of your neighbors will seem equally wonderful and terrifying. It will require courage and as open a mind as possible. The open and primarily hospitable way in which Native Americans treated the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery can be a model for ways in which to approach the neighbors we do not know. They provided for immediate needs, taught them the lay of the land, and helped them continue on their journey. You can do the same for your newly discovered neighbors. At the same time, you will have the opportunity to learn about other cultures, travels, challenges and triumphs.

Most of all, I hope with all my heart that you will enjoy exploring the many facets of your own life and the collective lives of others within your own community. I hope you will grow to find excitement in learning stories and traditions and experiences that can contribute to your sense of wellbeing and trust. I hope you will discover new cultures and make new friends. Last of all, I hope you will find joy in the writing, photographing, painting, weaving, dancing, and telling the story of your very own, colorful community.