Dartmouth High students get to work on local history documentary

Aug 12, 2022

Dartmouth High students spanning multiple classes, subjects, and grade levels will work together this school year to create a documentary about the early history of Dartmouth.

The project will provide a wide range of learning experiences while also supporting one of the most commonly cited goals discussed during last year’s debate over the school’s Indian logo — increasing education about Dartmouth’s native inhabitants.

Though the majority of the project will have to wait for students to return to classes at the end of August, the media department got a head start this month with a week-long summer session focused on collecting background footage — or B-roll — at some of Dartmouth’s historical locations.

The media students, led by their teacher Robert Perrotti, conducted their own research, decided which sites they would visit, and spent the rest of the week touring from place to place to get their footage.

“We had a hard time picking [locations],” said sophomore Ella Friedman, explaining that most of the historical sites they researched were located outside of modern-day Dartmouth. “So it was actually pretty tricky.”

In the end, though, the students assembled a list of several locations, including Davoll’s General Store, the Dartmouth Grange Hall, Allen’s Mill, the Lloyd Center for the Environment, and Russell Garrison.

While some of the locations had connections with native peoples — like Russell Garrison, which acted as a shelter from hostile tribes for settlers during King Philip’s War — the students said they had difficulty finding sites in Dartmouth with significance to pre-colonial native history.

For example, the students learned that the Aquinnah, a tribe that today has many members in Dartmouth, was originally based on Martha’s Vineyard, only moving to the mainland much later when high prices forced them out.

However, their research was mostly preliminary and intended to give them an idea of where to go to get video content. Later, the project will be integrated into other classes where they will do deeper research.

“It’s going to be truly a collaborative experience,” said Ross Thibault, the director of teaching and learning for the secondary level of Dartmouth Public Schools.

Much of the research, he said, will be done by history classes which will look to create an overview of the town’s history and assemble a collection of archival photos and documents for use in the documentary.
“We want the students to have the experience of learning how to conduct research,” Thibault said.

The findings of the history classes will then be used by students in English classes to create an outline for the story and a narration script for the documentary.

Thibault explained that by blending multiple subjects into one cohesive product, the students will learn in a “more natural way.” That approach aligns directly with the school’s goal of creating more “project-based” learning opportunities for students.

He added that the project will have the added benefit of creating an educational resource as its final product, one that can be used in the future to teach students and community members about Dartmouth’s history.

“So not only will the students be learning, but the community will learn from the product,” he said. “So, it’s a win-win.”

Thibault said that the project has been discussed by school administrators over the last year but was shaped in part by the enthusiasm of students like sophomore media student Ben Smith.

“Ben wants to be involved at all levels, so he really wanted a summer program,” said Perrotti.

Smith said he came to the idea of doing a documentary while watching true crime videos on YouTube last year.

“I thought: what if we did our own documentary for our YouTube channel,” he said.

Smith brought the idea to Perrotti, and together, the two came up with the idea for a short summer program to keep students involved and get a head start on the project.

“It’s always great to provide summer opportunities for students,” said Thibault.

And despite the short duration of the program, the students said they learned a lot about the town they didn’t know before, despite growing up there.

“I’ve lived in Dartmouth for nine years and I didn’t know any of this,” said senior Hollie Raposo.