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Science in the Park In Partnership with Times2 STEM Academy, Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, and the University of Rhode Island's Harrington School of Communication and Media

On March 19, 2019, we kicked off our Science in the Park programming with a field trip to Slatersville, Rhode Island and Uxbridge, Massachusetts. The purpose of the trip was get fifth graders, along with their teachers and parents, to Blackstone River Valley to learn about the social, economic, natural, and historical value of this local landscape. We are excited to share our experiences from the day with you in this newsletter, and we hope you enjoy the photos, videos, writing, and reflections from our trip.

The American Industrial Revolution was born in the Blackstone River Valley, powered by the fast-moving and far-falling waters of the Blackstone and Branch rivers. Set on the banks of these waterways, the story of farm-to-factory life was interpreted for students by National Park Service Rangers who led the group in several interactive lessons throughout the day. First, students hiked down to survey the Branch River in Slatersville, a village in North Smithfield, RI. Ranger Kevin explained how mill owners like the Browns and Slaters bought land at key points along the Branch and Blackstone rivers to build their mills. They harnessed the river's raw energy by building dams to regulate flow and digging millraces to channel water to and from the water wheels that powered their textile machines.

Next, students explored America's first planned mill village in Slatersville. They mapped the historical buildings, many of which have been renovated and/or repurposed, such as the mill itself, the weave shed, the town church, housing for mill workers and owners, and the village commons. Students noticed the relationships between natural and man-made structures and imagined what life must have been like living and working in a mill village producing textiles in the early 1800's.

Students exploring and Mapping features of the Slater Mill Complex

At River Bend farm in Uxbridge, MA students split up into smaller groups to continue learning about farm-and-factory life in the Blackstone River Valley. Here, students used their maps from Slatersville to design and build their own mill villages out of cardboard boxes. They made choices about where to dam the river and where to create ponds and races for their water wheels. They decided how and where working families would live in their villages, how residents would would travel and communicate with other villages, and which community services were necessary for workers living in their villages.

In a separate activity, students role-played as mill workers in the Slater Stencil Company. In this activity, students worked in a simulated assembly-line making tiles for a profit-driven shift manager, played by Ranger Mark. During the activity, students were bombarded by demands to work faster, work harder, and work better, even while members of their lines were laid off or were working without pay due to company's financial troubles. The simulation was designed to replicate the harsh working conditions people--including children their age--endured in the mills and to help students understand the need for labor organizing and unions that would stand up for workers' rights.

Doing Piece-work On An Assembly Line

Finally, students walked the tow path of the Blackstone canal to get a better sense of the slow and uncomfortable pace of travel in the 1800's. Traveling by boat from Worcester to Providence was a two-day trip as canal boats navigated the canals through a series of locks along the river. For a short time, the canal system was necessary to move raw materials and goods to and from the mills along the Blackstone; however, these waterways soon became obsolete as the railroad opened in the 1840's. This transportation innovation greatly improved traveling speed, efficiency, and comfort in the Blackstone Valley.

Walking the tow path between the Blackstone River and the Blackstone Canal at River Bend Farm, Uxbridge, MA

We were happy that the the Ortiz and Robinson families could join us for this trip. They, too, enjoyed learning about the Blackstone River Valley.

What was our favorite part of the trip? It depends on who you ask!

However, one thing's for sure. Ranger Mark got an earful from student workers in the letters they wrote to him arguing for the changes they wanted to see happen at the Slater Mill Stencil Company. These students might be young, but they are becoming strong advocates for themselves and each other already!

Student Letters to Ranger Mark arguing for Better Working Conditions at the Slater Stencil Company

And through Science in the Park, we are working to develop the next generation of advocates for the Blackstone River Valley and the developing Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park. This important landscape belongs to all of us, and we hope you'll join us in the park to connect with nature, history, culture, yourself, and others in our community.

Questions about Science in the Park? Contact Stephanie West-Puckett, Department of Writing and Rhetoric in the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island.

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