“Young Curators” at P.S. 276 Dig Into Canarsie’s History

This spring, students from P.S. 276 are working with Educator Emily Gallagher to uncover the history of their neighborhood, Canarsie, through BHS’s after-school program “Young Curators.” This program is made possible by a Cultural After-School Adventures (CASA) grant from City Council Member Lewis Fidler.  I’m very pleased to introduce our guest blogger, Emily, and her experience working with her great team of “young curators.” 

BHS Educator and today's guest blogger, Emily Gallagher

As a Brooklyn Historical Society educator, I’m honored to work with third and fifth graders at P.S. 276 in Canarsie as part of the “Young Curators” after-school program. Each week, we delve into a new aspect of Canarsie’s history and, eventually, we’ll tell the story of Canarsie’s past in our own voice as part of a museum quality installation at P.S. 276.  As a museum educator, I’ve often felt exhilarated after exposing young people to the multiple perspectives of history but, through ”Young Curators,” I’m getting an extra thrill — the thrill of watching very smart, capable children become even more emboldened and impassioned about where they live, who they are, and how they fit into the narrative of our community.

I applied for this position because I was especially inspired by on the program’s focus on local history.  So few of us, as children or adults, have a real connection to the amazing events and experiences that happened in our own buildings and on our own blocks.  I really feel that a more tangible connection to that specific past helps build a better neighbor and a better citizen.  Caring about our neighborhoods’ histories and how they fit into Brooklyn and even broader communities beyond Brooklyn is a direct pipeline to caring about our neighborhoods in the present and in the future.

P.S. 276 "Young Curators" check out a historic atlas of their neighborhood.

During our first “Young Curators” class, I asked the students what came to mind when they thought about their neighborhood of Canarsie in the past.  We quickly realized that even though they spend every day immersed in their community, they were much more familiar with New York City and United States history as a whole.  We had a difficult time pin-pointing the important spots in their neighborhood, or important people in their neighborhood’s past.  Using resources from  Brooklyn Historical Society’s library, we were able to dig in directly.  The students have already examined maps, photographs, and documents in order to uncover their neighborhood’s past.

Flash forward a month into our investigation, and my students are asking very pointed questions.  Instead of referring to “the Native Americans,” they speak with authority about the Canarsee Indians for whom the neighborhood is named. Instead of guessing that the Dutch lived here, they can tell you exactly what the Wyckoff family would be eating in Nieuw Amersfoort, and one student even tears up when thinking about what happened to the oyster beds that used to pepper Jamaica Bay along the waterfront of Canarsie.

The "Young Curators" team during their visit to BHS.

Walking down Flatlands Avenue no longer means dodging cars and looking for the bus stop, but it instead means imagining a different time and a different kind of Brooklyn– and hopefully helps these children, who no doubt have an important role to play in Brooklyn’s future, feel more excited about the role they’ll make for themselves in it.

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