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Collaboration Brings Anthropology Knowledge to Gordon Parks High

December 6, 2017

With the help of undergraduate and graduate students in the anthropology department, Associate Professor Kat Hayes has been working with Gordon Parks High School (GPHS) in Saint Paul to incorporate archaeology into the science and social studies curriculum community engagement process for the five-acre green space adjacent to the high school.

Getting Started

The project started a few years ago when teachers proposed archaeological analysis on the land of the future park, says Paul Creager, curriculum & media arts coordinator at GPHS. When Catherine Squires, a Department of Communication Studies professor at the University, heard about the project, she suggested they contact Kat Hayes, an archaeologist and professor at the U. Inquiry into the property’s history indicates that some of the soil has been undisturbed, so the archaeological potential is of great interest, Creager explains.
“Once Professor Kat Hayes got involved, the idea took shape even further and she brought in additional resources and people power to begin analysis of the land. Support from her grad students really helps keep our students involved,” says Creager.

Bringing Archaeology to the Classroom (and Beyond)

The archaeology curriculum includes components such as biology modules using bone casts and teaching bones from the anthropology department’s labs. They also include a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) demonstration, which is a noninvasive way to record and assess the site, as well as a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) module, which gives students a chance to see how this technology is used in the field. Caithryn Garcia, an undergraduate in the department who is studying historical archaeology, has been helping with the biology module. “This project entails many connections between the university, Gordon Parks, and the community,” she says.
Annie Melton, a second-year PhD student in the department studying stone tool technologies, also helps Hayes with the project. She created a video outlining GPR processes with Emily Briggs, another anthropology graduate student, to show students at Gordon Parks before they participated in a GPR module. “This included clips of us actually using GPR at Fort Snelling and also had animations explaining the physics behind the equipment,” says Melton. They then did a module in the spring where students were able to see GPR in action.
Garcia and Melton also helped with a module geared towards demonstrating how archaeologists set up sites and document everything in 3D space, says Melton. “I know anthropology can be off the radar for a lot of people, so exposing younger generations to it is really important,” she says. “I hope the students become inspired by real-world applications of the themes they are learning in their classes and also recognize that they can do all of the things we are showing them.”
The modules are spread throughout social studies and science class periods at GPHS, so students can not only learn about archaeological processes, but understand them before they are used in the green space adjoining their school that they hope will become a community park. Gordon Park’s vision is to have students involved from start to finish in developing the vacant space into a park, from soil sampling—which is underway—to the archaeological evaluation, all the way to planning and community outreach, Garcia says.

An Investment in the Students and the Community

The space is currently fenced in and managed by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), says Garcia, but with the help of community events co-sponsored by TPL, Skyline Towers, and GPHS and the involvement of the University of Minnesota, Gordon Parks and the surrounding community are making progress towards their goal. “They’ve even started coming up with names and desired amenities for the park,” says Garcia.
This project and the future park space has “helped begin years of science and social studies curricular inquiry,” says Creager. “These projects also create a shareable class experience that will help inspire more taxpayer support to leverage policymaker involvement with thoughtful school change, and inspire students and staff to keep pushing for the educational reform our schools need,” Creager says. “Kat is also an incredible fit for us because she brings a deep background of exploring sensitive racial and economic histories into archaeological inquiry.”
Both Garcia and Melton believe the project is positively influencing GPHS students and will continue helping with modules and the archaeological evaluation of the future park. “I really like this project because there are so many topics to connect with their students on—doing historical research, contemporary social relevance of urban planning, questions of environmental justice, applications of science and math to real-world problems, and thinking about how we commemorate the past,” says Hayes.
 This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.