HELENA — The Montana Historical Society recently made a change to keep a more than two-decades old program that brings history alive for thousands of students across the state accessible.
The MHS History Footlocker program covers about 20 different topics, from the pre-contact period to the present. The trunks are full of historic photos, artifacts and lesson guides for teachers.
“You’re studying World War II and pulling out a uniform, ration cards—it rally makes it real,” MHS outreach and interpretation program manager Martha Kohl said.
Every year, the trunks are shipped to hundreds of schools across the state. In the past, teachers paid to ship the container to its next destination, but with the rise in shipping costs, Kohl said that model has become untenable for some teachers. Now, MHS charges a flat $25 rental fee for each trunk and covers the cost of shipping.
Kohl said this change is meant to help keep the footlockers accessibly priced for all classrooms across the state—and that’s important because about 12,000 Montana students learn from the footlockers each year.
“I hope (the footlockers) make them realize that history is really interesting and exciting,” Kohl said. “It’s not just dates and facts, but it’s real people’s lives.”
In Helena, Jim Darcy fourth grade teacher Luke Furshong uses the footlockers to teach Montana history, and he has been using them for the past 8 years.
“They are so wonderful to have in the classroom because students get to have their hands on the history, which just brings it alive,” Furshong said. “It’s really, really fun.”
At Prickly Pear Elementary School in East Helena, teacher Kara Petersen uses the footlockers in her second grade class.
“The custodian will roll it in, and the kids are like, ‘What is this?’” Petersen said. “They get super excited about something new and different.”
Petersen said she uses the footlockers to create a class museum. Small groups of students are each assigned an object, they learn about it, and then teach their classmates.
“Kids are still developing that sense of what is real, what is not real,” Petersen said. “Actually seeing the artifacts and touching them helps them understand how it is real.”
At Jim Darcy Elementary, Furshong said the footlockers help his students see history from the Native American perspective, which is in line with Montana’s constitutional requirement of Indian education for all.
“People have been living on this place now called Montana for over 12,000 years,” Furshong said. “I think for us to learn from that foundation is really really important.”