Docents: Live His(tour)ians

by Catherine Gonzalez ’22 and Melanie Zhang ’22

Source: Catherine Gonzalez ’22 and Melanie Zhang ’22

Published May 10th, 2021

The MHS Docents club brings New Jersey’s over two-hundred year old history to life, transforming it from a textbook chapter into something relevant for members and strangers alike. 

As a club, Docents provides MHS students with a unique opportunity to volunteer in a local region rich with American history: Rockingham. Originally the home of John Berrien, Rockingham became George Washington’s headquarters in 1783. The docents usually assist with two different events at Rockingham. 

The first is Candlelight in December, where the docents lead visitors through the house decked out in holiday decor. “Each room in the house would have a docent there explaining a particular historic story from the Revolution,” explains Mr. Porcelli, the club’s teacher advisor. Different years also emphasize different themes: “[One theme] was ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,’ which was about different animals that the army would use.”

The second event, Children’s Day, which happens in the spring, engages children in activities from Washington’s time, ranging from games to laundry. “The kids who come really like that there are younger folks [that] are engaging with them and it gives [the high school students] the experience to work with younger students and the responsibility involved with that,” says Rockingham’s site curator, Lisa Flick.

The pandemic has made these in-person activities much more difficult, but the Docents club has shown their adaptability and resilience through pivoting to a virtual format. 

Earlier this year, they put together videos as part of their newly-created “Hidden History” project. As club member Shriya Das ‘22 describes it, everybody “researched [and made videos about] someone who is really important in African American history [which was] interesting because [they] got to learn about things that [students] don’t really learn in history class”. 

Children’s Day has also been transformed. “This year, we’re really trying to turn all of [the activities] into an online webinar program” says Nikki Achanta ’21, the club’s Communication Executive. Activities such as paper marbling, which would have normally been demonstrated live, are now done in a video. “Learning the actual techniques over a virtual format [is a little difficult], but it’s fun”, says Shriya. 

Whether virtually or in-person, the experience of attending an event at Rockingham is especially impactful for the children. “We have had students join this club because, in elementary school, they showed up to Children’s Day and thought it was really cool,” says Mr. Porcelli. 

Beyond sparking interest in history in students, Docents is also a tool for the preservation of the Rockingham site itself. Having been moved three times in order to escape damage and demolition due to the expansion of a quarry, the site knows all too well the importance of community interest. Reaching out to children, whether in-person or online, is the first step. 

“In 20 years, if this house needs to be moved again, [people will hopefully] fight for it to be saved,” says former club member Rose Bremner ‘19. 

Keep up with the Docents club on Instagram and YouTube!

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