Though the standardized testing season has concluded, students at West Middle School haven’t stopped learning, thanks to Clint Epley’s historical tours of Tullahoma.
Epley, who teaches eighth-grade social studies, said the tours of the town are his way to give his students a real-life lesson on history – history of the town, its Civil War ties and beyond.
Driven around town by WMS Principal Mick Shuran, who was previously a history teacher himself, Epley’s students have been treated to a number of historical lessons about their hometown, which Epley said is an important facet of their education.
“We’re really just trying to bring some light into areas in our town that may not be recognizable or obvious to people today – especially our young 13- to 14-year-old students,” Epley said.
The morning kicks off with a stop at Maplewood Cemetery, which hosts a small section designated for the Tullahoma Confederate Cemetery.
Following a lesson on Confederate soldiers and a brief introduction to the Civil War history rooted in the town, students travel past C.D. Stamps Community Center, the site of the former Davidson Academy, a school for black children in the town. The academy graduated its last class of 10 students in 1964.
West Middle School students then stopped at East Lincoln Elementary School, where Principal Scott Hargrove came out to talk about Wallace Wade and the Fitzgerald-Clarke Military Academy and Prep School.
After that came a stop at Daddy Billy’s, where longtime resident and local photographer Candy Couch regaled students with stories and photographs from Tullahoma’s history before students headed to Tullahoma High School’s Wilkins Stadium to talk about the history behind the name of the stadium.
Finally, the students rode down West Blackwell Street to pass by the Smotherman House – once home to the famous “hanging tree” – before heading to their final stop: South Jackson Civic Center. There, students came full circle with lessons on the significance of Tullahoma during the Civil War’s Tullahoma Campaign.
Shuran said he was impressed with the questions students asked at each of the stops they made, as the questions helped make the history of each stop more relatable to them.
“They’re getting out and getting to talk to people and see things that really happened,” he said. “It makes [the history] relevant.”
After staying in the classroom and reading books for the majority of their school year, getting out in the town and physically connecting with the historical places in town makes learning a little more interactive to students, Shuran said.
One example is the former King Hotel, about which Couch would tell stories and share photographs, according to Shuran.
While the hotel is long gone, Couch, Shuran and Epley could point across the railroad tracks bisecting Atlantic Street to where the building once stood. By pointing out the former location, Shuran said, students could visualize precisely where the building stood, further connecting themselves to the history of the town.
“We would point to them and say, ‘That’s where it was – right there’,” Shuran said. “It just blows their minds that those things existed.”
The learning continues
The tours also prove to students and parents that education doesn’t stop just because the standardized tests have come and gone, Shuran and Epley said.
“We wanted to do this so that everybody knew that we’re still teaching,” Shuran said. “Things are still happening.”
Epley echoed his principal’s description, saying that things don’t stop just because the tests do – in fact, they get better.
As part of the eighth-grade curriculum, Epley is compelled to teach students about the Civil War, and given Tullahoma’s significance to the war effort, Epley thought the “T-Town Tour” was the perfect supplement to his lesson plan.
“The real goal of the whole tour is to allow them to see Tullahoma’s exact role in the Civil War,” he said.
Talking about the significance of the railroad in town to the war effort – to both sides; the establishment of Fort Raines; Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans; and the role the town played in the war “fit perfectly” into his curriculum.
“The theme is Tullahoma’s role during the Tullahoma Campaign of 1863,” Epley said.
Through the tour, Epley said, students would be able to understand the importance of Tullahoma, both as a railroad town and as a major Civil War battlefield.
“It’s not some foreign world,” he said of the Civil War. “It’s right here.”
Following the tours, Epley said, students will use their experiences and any notes they took during the tour to make a video about their favorite aspects of the lesson, which will be used in class as further discussion points.
“We’re going to keep talking about it over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
Photos from Shuran and Epley during the tours can be found on Twitter through the hashtag #WMStoursTTown.
Erin McCullough may be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.