| Why should we research
this local area? Previously, two Meadowview Intermediate classes have done
research on historic buildings and important people in Sparta’s history.
As a Sparta resident, I have always enjoyed walking through the former
Wisconsin Child Center area. I remember seeing the beautiful buildings
and being amazed about the area that made up the Child Center property.
While visiting with Sparta resident June Laxton, I became more aware of the history surrounding the area and what impact this center had on the city of Sparta and the state of Wisconsin. Mrs. Laxton has dedicated many hours toward keeping the history of the Wisconsin Child Center alive. She has shared many stories about her time at the Child Center. She worked to make a remembrance for the “forgotten children” as well as all the other students who were residents of the center. She has been instrumental in creating a cemetery to commemorate the children who many times were forgotten, abandoned, orphaned, or whose family lacked money to raise them. I began to think it was time to take a more in depth look at this Center. My interest increased after reading articles about Child Center reunions and the dedication of the Child Center Cemetery.
I proposed this idea to Mrs. Reid and Ms. Koll who felt this project would be a great history project for students to learn about some of the property which the city and the School District now occupy and use. We started this project by reading a story called Pinballs and doing research about the Child Care Center. The students were divided into small groups to research different topics. Students could begin to realize that they have many benefits in their lives that many people have not had. The students found many facts but were shocked to find that some of the records were not available due to the privacy issues. The students learned that the Child Center went by many names including State Public School for Dependent Children, the Sparta Boys Home, and the Wisconsin Child Center.
We invited Mrs. Laxton to come in and share some of the stories with us. We also asked Mr. Jerrod Roll, the Monroe County Historian, to come in and share information that he had about the Child Center. He answered many questions, and was surprised to find how much the students had already known. Mr. Roll shared many photos with us in a Power Point presentation. We planned a trip to the History Room to do more research.
In discussing this project with another teacher, Mrs. Young, she shared with me that her husband’s fa ther was a student at the Child Center. Her husband is Mr. Young, the Middle School Band Teacher. She asked her father-in-law if he would be willing to come in and share his story and he did. The students enjoyed hearing his story and being able to ask questions about his life as a student at the Center.
We continued our research and began writing the information in our own words to put on the website. Mrs. Reid and Ms. Koll worked with the students to develop the website, to add information to it and to find pictures about our research. Mrs. Kemp, Mrs. Cox, Mrs. Guldenaar, and Ms. Hagen all worked to assist us on our writing skills. Throughout the year, we have gathered more information which has been added to this project.
Our culminating activity was a walking tour of the area that was known as the Wisconsin Child Center. Our class walked around the area where the grounds were and looked carefully at the remaining buildings and visited the Cemetery that is located by the Sparta Golf Course.
Why should we care about the State School for Dependent Children? I feel that the students need to realize the history of the area. Also, if we fail to document this history, we will lose many valuable resources.
The story of the Child Center is long and detailed. Many of the stories are already lost, but thanks to many community members and former residents and staff we are able to save a few. This project taught the students that life at the State School was not always easy and that they have many advantages that other children did not have. I found that the students gained a great deal of empathy for others during their research. As they continue to use the area, they may remember that this is a special area of the city.
|Special Thanks to June Laxton, Bruce Young, and Jerrod Roll for sharing their expertise with us.|