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| 3 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

Mill Creek students recently explored the spookier side of Dexter through writing and history.

Over 100 seventh-graders went to the Dexter Area Museum to research and uncover artifacts for a “spooky story” assignment that had students using historically significant locations and landmarks in Dexter as scary story settings.

Students were also required to incorporate authentic details from the time period of their locations. The project culminates in a digital “haunted trail” using Google Maps and GPS pins of the locations. At each pinned location on the Google Map, the students’ stories will be linked.

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The students created a whole range of stories. From UFO visits, scary butcher shops to a haunted train depot, the students were inspired to create some spooky tales.

“My story is about the old grist mill, an old haunted flour mill,” said seventh-grader Abby Fillion.

Her classmate Delaney Bachman said, “My story is about something that happened on the Dexter train depot someone got hit by the train and now their spirit haunts the train depot.”

While Gracie Koch said, “My story is about the old Dexter hotel and about it getting burned down.”

These are just a few of the creative ideas the students conjured up while roaming the rooms at the museum.

In looking to inspire some creativity, Mill Creek teacher Chris Hoelscher, seventh-grade English Language Arts, said student engagement was the number one goal of the project.

“If students are truly invested in a writing project, they are more willing to work hard through all of the parts of the writing process and create something that shows their true potential as writers,” he said.

Another goal, he said, was to reach out to the Dexter community, “and by establishing a relationship between our students and the museum and its volunteers, the kids are able to find an authentic use for an invaluable but somewhat overlooked resource.”

“Yet another goal is to create a product for the greater community, and the digital maps with the GPS locations and story links that we plan to create will provide a ‘haunted trail” through Dexter that anyone could follow virtually or in real life,” Hoelscher said. “Our hope is to honor Dexter’s past while creating a fun and engaging way to celebrate student voices and the Halloween season.”

Over at the museum, Nancy Van Blaricum, a volunteer Genealogist with the Dexter Area Historical Society, said at first they were unsure how this would work and also how to prepare, but after meeting with the classes, they felt it was a great idea.  

She said there were five volunteers trying to answer the questions of some very curious seventh-graders.

“Many remembered their trip to the museum in second grade, however, they were much more interested as they sought to fill out their forms provided by their teacher,” Van Blaricum said.

Each class was divided into two groups – one went right into the display rooms at both levels, and the other sat in the meeting room where they shared a book from 1974 with pictures of the Dexter area. Nina Rackham and Sue Behnke helped in the display areas and Jan Weaver, Carol Jones, and Van Blaricum helped in the meeting room. 

Whether it was checking out artifacts in the display areas or simply checking out the pictures of historic places, Van Blaricum said they all had questions which they attempted to answer using the many references at the museum. 

“We look forward to doing this again as we always learn as we share the history of the Dexter area,” she said.

The project was something new, but it might become a tradition.  

“For years we started the year with personal narrative units, and there wasn’t much excitement or engagement. Students didn’t see the purpose in it,” he said.  “In an effort to bring more authentic project-based learning into the classroom, I decided this idea would be a great way to start the year, and set the tone for what I think is a year of re-imagining what ‘English class” can be to a middle school student.”

So what did the students like about the project?

“The thing that I like about this project is how we get the freedom to write about what we want,” said Addy Robke.

Lion Morse said, “Instead of boring old historical fiction, it’s a spooky story.”

“What I like about this project is that we got to learn about the history of Dexter while creating a story,” said Jillian Lamarand.

The project was a success in the eyes of their teacher.

“The students were more excited for this project than any other project I’ve done,” Hoelscher said. “At first, I think they were just intrigued by the opportunity to write scary stories, but after we visited the Dexter Area Museum, they really got excited about Dexter’s history and how they could put a spooky twist on Dexter’s historically significant locations and landmarks.”

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