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Teen historians dig deep - BPL offers students a treasure trove of resources

Anybody who walks through the doors of Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch from now until the end of August is in for an unexpected treat.

Just beyond the building’s main entrance is the impressive work of some Brooklyn eighth-graders who used primary source documents to research aspects of the borough’s history.

Their projects were chosen from those of approximately 470 students in the borough who participated in Brooklyn Connections, a two-year pilot program with a goal to make Brooklyn history come alive through primary source documents.

The students – who came from 12 schools across the borough – used the library’s extensive Brooklyn collection to inform their Exit Projects, independent research projects all students must complete in order to graduate from middle school.

The collection itself includes 500 maps, 12,000 digitized historic photos, city directories from the borough’s earliest days, and every single edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“[Primary sources] are the real documents that really show what was happening in Brooklyn. They’re what historians use to create ‘history’, quote unquote,” said Program Coordinator Leslie Shope. “For the kids, it makes them more interested in history because they realize it’s not just about a textbook. It gives them a chance to create the history as opposed to regurgitating what somebody else has said. They themselves become the historians.”

The program was made possible by a $310,000 grant from the New York Life Foundation, the philanthropic arm of New York Life Insurance Company. In addition to funding the educational element of the project, money from the grant also was used to help augment the Brooklyn collection.

All 470 students who participated in the program passed their Exit Projects. Those whose work is currently displayed were nominated by their teachers.

Michelle Boulbol, a student at Bay Ridge’s I.S. 30 (410 Ovington Avenue), examined the positive and negative impacts of the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which opened in 1964.

While the bridge provided a critical transportation link in the regional highway system, it also displaced thousands of Brooklyn families and plopped down a highway in the middle of residential Bay Ridge.

Alberto Merizalde, from Sunset Park’s M.S. 136 (4004 Fourth Avenue), made extensive use of old photos as part of his study of the past, present, and future of the Coney Island Parachute Jump.

Kales Michel and Krystin Quamina, students at I.S. 109 in Flatbush (1001 East 45th Street), used photos to examine the civil rights movement in Brooklyn.

Fakhar Nisa, Saraya Montout, Whitney Elinor, and Krystal Anthony, students at Andries Hudde J.H.S. 240 in Midwood (2500 Nostrand Avenue), used old photos and newspaper articles to make an impressive six-and-a-half minute film on Brooklyn during the 1910s.

Olguine Alcide, another student at Hudde, studied Floyd Bennett, the American aviator who was chosen as the first man to attempt to fly across the Atlantic. Bennett was injured during a practice flight, and Charles Lindbergh was selected to replace him.

Wynne Vanderveen of the School of International Studies (284 Baltic Street) in Carroll Gardens studied the history of Fort Greene Park, including the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument that honors the 11,500 prisoners of war who died in captivity during the Revolutionary War.

Tulani Sinclair, another student at the School of International Studies, did a project on the history and traditions of the West Indian Day Parade. Sinclair, who is West Indian, participates in the parade every year with her parents.

Anthonique Longhorne of Teachers Prep School in Brownsville (226 Bristol Street) studied how Coney Island first became an amusement park and boardwalk long before it took its current shape.

Shuntone Pricher, another Teachers Prep student, examined public housing in East New York. Poring through many newspaper articles, Pricher – an East New York resident – examined public housing in East New York, weighing its benefits and drawbacks.

Praising the nine students whose work will be showcased, along with many of the 470 students who participated in Brooklyn Connections, Shope said: “I’m absolutely thrilled at what they’ve achieved. All of the kids used the material in the collections. These kids were coming in on a regular basis, some of them on their own, to do their research.”

Because of the program’s success, Shope said, organizers hope to expand the program to more than 12 schools next year.

“With the funding we have, we’ve been talking about ways to keep the program going because it’s been such a success.”

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The Brooklyn Connections projects will b on display at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch (Grand Army Plaza) through August 30. For more information, go to www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org or call 718-230-2100.

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