Preserving a Piece of History
At the ripe old age of 6, Sara Dunkerton was already a teacher. “I played school with anyone who was willing to participate,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve always known what I wanted to be.”
To fulfill that dream, Dunkerton pursued a BS in childhood studies and an MEd in math education, earning both degrees at Plymouth State. “I chose Plymouth State for my undergraduate work because it was close to home, had small classes, and had the best reputation for its education program,” she says. “I went back to Plymouth State for my graduate degree because Professor Buteau was wonderful and Professors Mosedale and Fralick were so supportive, and also because my whole experience as an undergrad was so wonderful. I met my closest friends at Plymouth. It had a homey feel and sense of community, and it was small enough that you knew everyone.”
After receiving her BS, Dunkerton set out to find creative ways to help people fulfill their potential. In addition to teaching day classes, she experimented with an after-school program to help students who were struggling with their schoolwork. “I taught everything from chemistry to health to art to math to language,” she says. “My goal was to help [the students] believe in themselves and graduate, and most of them did. One of my students had dropped out of school, but I convinced her to return, and not only did she receive her diploma, she went on to pursue a degree as a respiratory therapist.”
Like many teachers, Dunkerton is a perpetual and passionate student. In addition to studying Reiki, she plans to get her certification as a life coach. “I’m at the beginning stages of my career with other vehicles to reach a wider audience,” she says. “I feel like I’m just getting warmed up!”
Some of her best teachers so far have been her own students—especially this year, during a unit on civil rights. “One of my ancestors, Nathaniel Currier, was a conductor on the Underground Railroad,” notes Dunkerton. “My students always want to see the Underground Railroad—see it, feel it, hear it, touch it—so I showed them photos of Currier and how Canaan looked in the 1800s. His house is still there, and so is Kimball House, which was the home of George Kimball, a close friend of Currier’s. Kimball House was used as a boarding house for male students at Noyes Academy.
“Noyes was the nation’s first cross-gendered, mixed-race school. It was destroyed by a mob a year after it opened, but Kimball House is still standing—for now. It belongs to Cardigan Mountain School, and since it’s located right where the school wants to expand its sport field, it’s scheduled for demolition.
“Because of this, when I gave my civil rights lecture this year, it was very emotional for me—and one of my students jumped up, put her hands on her hips, and said, ‘Ms. Dunkerton, this house is part of our town’s history, and if you’re not going to save it, then we’re going to do something about it!’”
The class set to work, writing letters to Cardigan Mountain School, Oprah, and Michelle Obama; raising community awareness with a mural; giving media interviews; even lunching with New Hampshire’s governor and lobbying him with an informational packet. Their efforts helped the Kimball House earn a spot on the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s “Seven to Save” list in 2008. They also forged an agreement with Cardigan Mountain School that if they can raise $200,000, the school will match that amount and renovate Kimball House for use as a housing facility for staff or students.
With their deadline looming, Dunkerton and her class continue their efforts to save the historic Canaan landmark—a shared experience that’s teaching some invaluable life lessons. “The Kimball House story shows that big things can come from small communities,” she explains. “My students are learning about local history and why it’s important to preserve it, but they are also learning about perseverance. In our literature curriculum, there are units on taking a stand and perseverance. That’s one of my beliefs—that one person can make a difference.”
Rhiannon Hutchinson is a freelance writer based in Windsor, VT.
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