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Va students learn history through passport program

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Patrick Sublette is only 9 years old, but he's already learning a lesson that will forever serve him well.

To summarize a famous quote: Study history so you don't repeat it.

The wiry, blond-headed fourth-grader from Leesville Elementary School came away with that impression after a recent Saturday visit to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

He saw the statues of soldiers memorialized as if on the beaches of Normandy, learned about the Bedford Boys and admired the Purple Heart Memorial stone that looks as if it's bleeding in rainy weather.

"It was pretty amazing," Patrick said. "Things like that help me learn about what happens in previous parts of history and how we should never do that again." He waves his hand and widens his eyes for emphasis. "Like if it's slavery — never do it again."

Patrick decided to visit the D-Day Memorial through a program started this year by the Appomattox 1865 Foundation, a nonprofit supporting the efforts of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

Here's how it works: Fourth-grade students are allowed to visit nearly two dozen area museums, parks and historical sites free of charge and then they report back to school with a small booklet stamped as proof of their visits.

It's called the Passport Program, and while the students aren't going beyond the borders of this country, they are taking a step out of their comfort zones by entering a world of local and national history steeped in knowledge and nostalgia.

Sue Cochrane, founder and board member of the Foundation, said the program helps bring regional history to life.

The program "augments classroom instruction by introducing students, hands-on, to life in the 1700's, 1800's and 1900's here in Central Virginia," Cochrane said. "Students can experience how past eras lived: what they ate, how they played, what they wore and what were the issues of the past times."

So far, about 1,300 students in six counties, including Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell, have signed up to participate.

Students can choose from more well-known sites like the D-Day Memorial, Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery or Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Then there are the ones that may not immediately come to mind: the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Hardy and the Roberta Russa Moton Museum in Farmville.

"Virginia has a very rich history," said Karen Cyrus, principal at Appomattox Elementary School, where all eight fourth-grade classes are taking part in the program. "How many of our children really know some of these places exist? Just because it's small doesn't mean it isn't powerful as far as an historic resource is concerned."

Abigail Swanburg, a 9-year-old student at Appomattox Elementary, has already visited two nearby sites: The Museum of the Confederacy and Appomattox County Historical Museum, where she learned about life in the 19th-Century.

"I liked how they showed us about the medicine and how they used it back then," she said.

Her classmate, Brianna Prue, was impressed by Lula McLean's rag doll at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

"This gets the kids out in our region," Cochrane said. "They get to experience history first-hand. It can bring history to life a lot better than just reading about it."

She added that nearly 50 percent of fourth-grade students throughout the six counties are participating in the program. She'd like to get "110 percent." Lynchburg City Schools are also mulling over the idea, she said.

Several students in Cassie King's class at Leesville Elementary said they were excited about the program after learning that Sublette had already used his passport. Perhaps they were also wooed by another factor: the class that returns the most passports earns a free pizza party. Passports are due May 1, 2013.

Standing in front of her class earlier this month, King said the program serves as a launching pad for historical knowledge.

"I always tell them you have so much history in your own backyard," she said. "It's all right here."

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Information from: The News & Advance, http://www.newsadvance.com/

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