Submitted photo##Duniway Middle School teacher Jeremy Hurl poses on a rock overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.
Submitted photo##Duniway Middle School teacher Jeremy Hurl poses on a rock overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Living history for his students

“The real-life experience is so much better than a book or a picture or a video game,” Hurl said, and he plans to share what he learned with his middle schoolers.

When he visited Gettysburg this summer, along with other Civil War sites, “I felt the same heat, and swatted the same bugs as the soldiers 150 years ago,” he said. He said it made him wonder, “How did they deal with that in their uniforms, carrying all their equipment?”

He plans to bring his experiences to life for his students. He said, “I can tell them what Little Round Top looks like, how the Union soldiers who defended it were shooting down as the Confederate men trying to take it were shooting up through a peach orchard ... about how when they ran out of ammunition, they were throwing rocks at each other .... how far people had to run to get to safety, and how that had to take unbelievable courage. I can tell them about the size of the cornfield where 4,000 men lost their lives in just an hour.”

Seeing Gettysburg and other battlefields also reinforced the idea that, “Wars are about people, about human dynamics, about political imbalance and infighting,” he said. He wants to help his students understand that, as well, as they examine President Abraham Lincoln’s quest to preserve the union.

Hurl spent a week intensively studying the Civil War through a summer program offered by the Freedoms Foundation.

After submitting essays about his Civil War knowledge, and how he would use what he learned on the trip, he won a Murdock Trust scholarship that covered tuition. He paid for the airfare and meals himself.

He extended the experience by spending a week in Washington, D.C., visiting government buildings and the Smithsonian museums, and taking a hiking side trip in Shenandoah National Park.

Every place he visited and everything he observed will be useful to him when he returns to the classroom next month, Hurl said.

“As an educator, I’m always trying to find something new for my classroom,” he said. “As an educator and as a person, I believe you can never stop learning.”

Hurl is a 1994 graduate of McMinnville High School.

He returned to his hometown in 2006 to take a job at Patton Middle School. He is currently teaching history, geography, civics and government at Duniway.

He recalled enjoying social studies in grade school and reading historical novels by fifth grade. Naturally good at remembering dates and names, he enjoyed questioning and researching historical topics.

In high school, he combined history studies with an after-school commitment to wrestling.

That kept him from one Mac High experience that seemed tailored to the future history teacher, Chuck and Lorraine Biederman’s semi-annual East Coast trip. He did, however, visit some of the historical sites when he went East to tour the Naval Academy and to see his grandfather, who lived in Virginia.

As an adult, he toured sites in the Boston area while in town twice to run the marathon.

Before leaving for this summer’s trip, he said, he made a list of all the places he still wanted to go. He checked them off one by one, noting how they relate to his work.

His government classes, for instance, will be enhanced by what he learned on a visit to the Capitol, he said. Oregon Rep. Peter Defazio gave a private tour to Hurl and David Dreher, another 1994 Mac High grad, now working in D.C.

The visitors spent time on the floor of the House chambers, rather than being relegated to the observation balcony.

“It’s different than you see on C-SPAN,” Hurl said. “It’s not as big as you’d imagine. And when you see the old chambers where the House and the Supreme Court used to meet, you’d be shocked at how small the spaces are where all those important decisions happened.”

Another day, Hurl gave himself a tour of the Capitol Mall when he went on his morning run. He ran past the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, Vietnam and Korean War monuments and the monument to World War II, then on past the Smithsonians and other government buildings.

The streets were full when he approached the White House, so he figured he’s avoid the crowds by taking a nearly empty side road. He ran until “a very nice gentleman,” possibly a Secret Service agent or other suited law enforcement official, told him he needed to turn around and leave the area. He realized later the White House had been on a heightened security alert that morning.

Later, Hurl returned to the Smithsonian complex, touring one museum after another.

The highlight for him was the newest, the Native American exhibit, which features displays about trials Natives went through as the European settlers moved in. He’ll use knowledge from that visit in his eighth-grade U.S. history class this fall.

In fact, he said, on the two week trip, “I covered most of my curriculum.”

In addition to seeing Washington monuments and Civil War sites, Hurl visited Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America; Colonial Williamsburg, where re-enactments portray life in the 18th century; Mount Vernon, home to George Washington; Montpelier, home to first James Madison, then the DuPont family; and other historic places.

The week of Civil War studies took him to Sayler’s Creek and the Appomattox Courthouse, the Museum of the Confederacy, Fredericksberg and Spotsylvania, Manassas and Antietam, Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg.

“History doesn’t change, but there are always different interpretations, different theories, someone writing a different book,” he said. “I want to make my students as aware of history as possible, and ask them, how does it impact you in 2015?”

 

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