By Steve Novotney

Weelunk.com

They get interested, and then they get angry. The best part is that they learn without even realizing it.

Ryan Stanton, a history teacher at Wheeling Park High School, instructs a class titled, “The History of Wheeling, W.Va.” every semester. It is an elective available to the entire student body.

Near the completion of each term, Stanton assigns his students a project he refers to as “Why Wheeling Matters”. The homework requires students to select one historical location within the borders of the Friendly City, take a photograph of it, and explain why it is important to them.

The hardest thing is to tell a teenager that their hometown is actually a pretty cool place to live in. I tell them that I am not trying to convince them to stay here once they are finished with their education, but I do tell them that they will come back,” Stanton explained. “They may not come back to live, but they will come back to visit Mom and Dad, and when they do come back to visit, they will want something to be here.”

A lot of the photos that my students took as a part of this project were many of the locations that I showed them in the very beginning of the class,” he said. “On the second day of this class I talk for 50 minutes nonstop, and I display a lot of different places. When I do that, I ask them where it is, and usually no one knows.”

Stanton insists that this does not mean his students are always oblivious to the city in which they live. In fact, he says that with each class, his pupils become more engaged. By the time the “Wheeling Matters” project is assigned, they draw upon lessons learned within the classroom, and then they seek out their own historically significant location.

I started to realize that every student had their own little interest about an area in Wheeling, and something that they learned about it,” he said. “So I started thinking, ‘What would be pretty easy for them to do that wouldn’t take a lot of time, but would allow then to show the rest of the class what they think is important and what matters in Wheeling?’

It started with their own interests about why Wheeling is significant in the past,” Stanton said. “They went out and they picked their own locations, and then they chose why it was important to them, and I found out that a lot of the places I showed them in the very beginning were the places they went back to, and that proved to me that they wanted to learn more about their hometown,” Stanton said.

It seems to be working. This year for example, Stanton has noticed an increase of students enrolled in his History of Wheeling classes.

I think the kids are now starting to find the history of Wheeling interesting and fun to study,” he said. “And they get to learn about where they live, and that it is gradually starting to become sort of cool, and that it’s not that bad a place. All of a sudden, they started to refer to Wheeling as ‘kind of cool’.

And the other thing about this assignment is making it more than schoolwork. They do have assignments, and they have work they have to do, but they don’t even realize that they are working and learning at the same time.”

During the course of the class, Stanton also introduces his students to historical buildings that no longer stand, like Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy. After he explains the history, he informs them that the structures were razed and explains why.

The first thing they ask is why it was torn down, and they get mad, too,” he explained. “There are always a few of the students that really get into it, and then they want to know more about what’s going on and how those demolition decisions are made.



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And then I show them Centre Market and how that’s changed, and at that point they usually ask why the same thing isn’t happening yet in our downtown. They get pretty upset, and they get pretty vocal about what’s going on,” Stanton said. “I don’t know what to tell them sometimes, but I always encourage them to pay as much attention to these things as they can.”

Every teacher struggles at times when taking into consideration the level of success that happens in the classroom. For Stanton, his students reveal the lessons they have learned by offering the information to their friends, family members, and teammates.

My students surprise me every day because there are times when you are not really sure if you are getting through to them, but when they tell me about going on a trip somewhere on a school bus and they tell their friends on the team or in the band the history of something they see, that tells me they are engaged,” Stanton said. “And a lot of the students like to bring in their family stories. They tell us where their grandfather worked or that they have family members buried here and why.”

Like I said, there are times when, as a teacher, you have no idea if you are getting through, but when they start bringing stories back to class, that tells me something,” he said. “Many of my students, even after they have graduated, have brought something to me that they found in their grandmother’s attic, and they tell me the stories behind it.”

I had one student who lives in North Wheeling, and one day she told me that when she walks up and down Main Street she now pays attention to all of the markers and plaques on the houses,” Stanton explained. “That’s a success right there, especially since she was someone who just had a hole in her schedule and took the class to fill it. I can remember in the beginning she thought the class was dumb and she didn’t want to be there, but then she told me that’s she’s reading those historical plaques. It’s little things like that, although it may not seem like a lot, that makes it rewarding.”

Stanton’s interest in Wheeling history began when he was inspired by an instructor of his own, Dr. David Javersak, now a retired history professor at West Liberty University. Dr. Javersak revealed to Stanton a piece of history that now serves as one of his passions.

I took Dr. Javersak’s history class my senior year, and he’s the one who told me the history of Henry Schmulbach, his brewery, and his property,” Stanton recalled. “From that point, I wanted to know even more about it, and that’s when I got involved with more research and then collecting artifacts from his businesses and his life.

I am also very interested in the Zane family and the impact they had on Wheeling and the surrounding area,” he said. “I know the Zane family traveled this area a good bit and that Zanesville is named after them, but their impact on Wheeling is something not many people realize.”

Will the historical lessons about Wheeling Stanton offers his students convince them to remain or return to their hometown when they encounter the decision for themselves?

Is it assisting the overall effort to retain the best and brightest minds for the future of the Friendly City?

I think the class will help get them involved, and may even convince some of them to stay here after school,” he said. “I think as the city changes, they will want to be a part of it. And if they do come back, I think they will get more involved because that’s when they will start to notice all of the small businesses that are here doing very unique things.

I know they are thinking about it, but I really don’t know the real impact yet,” Stanton said. “But I have been surprised about how, when some of the kids who have graduated  come back, they tell me how they told their friends that Wheeling is a pretty cool place.”

 

I chose Mt. Wood Cemetery because of its gorgeous view of the river. During the sunset you can watch the sun as it gradually falls behind the hillside and cast a faint light over the homes and bridges. – Brendan Grubler

I chose Mt. Wood Cemetery because of its gorgeous view of the river. During the sunset you can watch the sun as it gradually falls behind the hillside and casts a faint light over the homes and bridges. – Brendan Grubler

I chose this deer statue because not a lot of people know about it. My mother used to talk about it a lot so I decided to check it out and discovered that it was placed there it memory of Mr. Oglebay – Caleb Nolte

I chose this deer statue because not a lot of people know about it. My mother used to talk about it a lot, so I decided to check it out and discovered that it was placed there in memory of Mr. Oglebay – Caleb Nolte

I chose the old roller rink on Wheeling Island because everyday at football practice I see it in the background and I figured it must have had some type of historical significance. – Isaac Turner

I chose the old roller rink on Wheeling Island because every day at football practice I see it in the background, and I figured it must have had some type of historical significance. – Isaac Turner

I chose Centre Market and Coleman’s Fish because I love their sandwiches. I also like all of the cool shops, and I’m pretty sure it shows a little of how Wheeling used to be. – Savion Johnson

I chose Centre Market and Coleman’s Fish because I love their sandwiches. I also like all of the cool shops, and I’m pretty sure it shows a little of how Wheeling used to be. – Savion Johnson

I chose table rock because it’s cool that such an interesting landmark in the history of Wheeling is right next to my house. – Nick Nardone

I chose the  table rock because it’s cool that such an interesting landmark in the history of Wheeling is right next to my house. – Nick Nardone

I chose the Stifel Mansion because I’ve had a lot of experiences there. I’ve danced at Stifel since I was ten, so it holds a lot of memories. – Adelaide Estep

I chose the Stifel Mansion because I’ve had a lot of experiences there. I’ve danced at Stifel since I was 10, so it holds a lot of memories. – Adelaide Estep

I chose DiCarlos because it’s a place that I grew up with. I have always loved the pizza. I also think it’s an important part of Wheeling history. - Brooke Bliefus-Hennen

I chose DiCarlo’s because it’s a place that I grew up with. I have always loved the pizza. I also think it’s an important part of Wheeling history. – Brooke Bliefus-Hennen

I chose the Stratford Road street sign because I live in Woodsdale. There used to be a fancy hotel near here in Woodsdale and it’s hard to believe that something like this existed in my neighborhood. – Emma Romanek

I chose the Stratford Road street sign because I live in Woodsdale. There used to be a fancy hotel near here in Woodsdale, and it’s hard to believe that something like this existed in my neighborhood. – Emma Romanek

I chose the old Schmulbach brewing buildings because I think the vacant one should be opened as a museum to show off Wheeling’s history. I think it’s neat that some of the buildings have been repurposed by other Wheeling businesses like Kennedy's Hardware and Tri-State Machine. – Kaitlyn Paree

I chose the old Schmulbach brewing buildings because I think the vacant one should be opened as a museum to show off Wheeling’s history. I think it’s neat that some of the buildings have been repurposed by other Wheeling businesses like Kennedy’s Hardware and Tri-State Machine. – Kaitlyn Paree

I chose the Osiris Shrine because I live in Elm Gove and it was formerly Mrs. Shepherds home and she is part of Elm Grove history. – Monica Black

I chose the Osiris Shrine because I live in Elm Gove and it was formerly Mrs. Shepherd’s home, and she is part of Elm Grove history. – Monica Black

I chose the Schmulbach house on Chapline Street because I had always noticed these homes, but never knew of their significance until I took the History of Wheeling. If I could go back in time, I would love to observe the activity on this street. – Savannah Austen

I chose the Schmulbach house on Chapline Street because I had always noticed these homes but never knew of their significance until I took the History of Wheeling. If I could go back in time, I would love to observe the activity on this street. – Savannah Austen

I’ve always admired the Shepherd Mansion, but once I learned that Moses and Lydia Shepherd were buried at Stone Church Cemetery I wanted to visit their monument. If you know where to look, you can see their house from the monument. – Zach Runyon

I’ve always admired the Shepherd Mansion, but once I learned that Moses and Lydia Shepherd were buried at Stone Church Cemetery, I wanted to visit their monument. If you know where to look, you can see their house from the monument. – Zach Runyon

I chose to take a picture of the WWI soldier in Wheeling Park because it’s close to my house. I also chose it because I don’t think many people know that it’s there, and because of this class people will pay more attention to it. – David Graebe

I chose to take a picture of the WWI soldier in Wheeling Park because it’s close to my house. I also chose it because I don’t think many people know that it’s there, and because of this class people will pay more attention to it. – David Graebe

I chose Triadelphia Middle School because I’m an alumni and I think it’s important to remember where you came from. – Briella Taylor

I chose Triadelphia Middle School because I’m an alumni, and I think it’s important to remember where you came from. – Briella Taylor

The Warwood Fire Station is a great example of how old buildings can be re-purposed for other uses. – Morgan Karnell

The Warwood Fire Station is a great example of how old buildings can be re-purposed for other uses. – Morgan Karnell

I chose Schmulbach’s monument as an example for the students to follow because so many of his accomplishments can still be seen in Wheeling today. – Mr. Stanton

I chose Schmulbach’s monument as an example for the students to follow because so many of his accomplishments can still be seen in Wheeling today. – Mr. Stanton



12 Responses

  1. Anne F. Taylor

    It’s a crime that a wonderfully historic building (pre-Civil War) like Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy had to be demolished. It could have been “repurposed” and serve for all time as a reminder to the citizens of Wheeling the importance of educating women, not to mention it was built by local materials. It is also a shame that the diocese (who bought the property) has not done anything to “repurpose” the historic land but uses it to house Doctors for Wheeling Hospital and build sports fields.

    Reply
  2. Cari

    In 1986, there was a contest open to the public for essays entitled “What’s Good About Wheeling” and thought placing in that contest, I got to meet Mayor Koerner. It’s wonderful to see an appreciation program such as this still running.

    Reply
  3. Sue Miller

    We as parents are blessed to have such a compassionate, caring, hands on, professional teacher at WPHS. Keep up the good work and never lose your talent of capturing the youths mind.

    Reply
  4. kseibert

    LOVE this! How can we get all schools involved in promoting the history and positive aspects of Wheeling?

    Reply
  5. griffitg

    Brilliant! I wish this had been a course when I was at Triadelphia High School.

    Reply
  6. Debby Koegler

    WPHS makes us proud in many different ways…this class is amazing! It should be made available to adult education. Good job Ryan Stanton. Knowing Wheeling’s history shall help us dream of Wheeling’s future!

    Reply

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