NORFOLK — About 30 homeschoolers recently took their first ever educational tour of Elmwood Cemetery to be part of a pilot cemetery educational program.
“This is the first time a program like this has been done,” said Shannon Stafford, volunteer tour guide for the cemetery tours.
The idea originated with Susan Platt, Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries spokeswoman.
She saw a need for school children to learn about cemeteries, not just about the people who were buried there but the conservation efforts, how to calculate population density from the headstones and even what tombstones are made of, she said.
“We thought starting with homeschool students would be good,” she said.
Platt has brought the program ideas up with the school district but since the program is still in its early stages, they are only hosting tours for homeschool groups, she said.
The program is split up into two segments, about two hours at the cemetery and then some time at the Sargeant Memorial Collection.
It’s completely free and is run by volunteers and staff members at the Sargeant Memorial Collection and the Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries.
Stafford led the tour in Elmwood Cemetery, showing the kids how to read a cemetery map, how to read internment cards, what to look for on headstones and then a lesson on Victorian headstone symbols.
Cindy Meier from the Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation’s board of directors donated her time to cover preservation and restoration of headstones for the kids.
The kids were eager to learn and asked a lot of questions, said Stafford.
He even showed them the spot where only a leg was buried and nothing else, he said.
Once they’d gotten the run-through of the cemetery, the kids were assigned to different headstones to research later based on their own interests, Stafford said.
They all then went over to the Sargeant Memorial Collection at Slover Library to learn all about the researching tools the collection had to offer.
“There’s a story [on these headstones] and here’s how they look for the story,” said Pauline Niedholdt, Sargeant Memorial librarian.
Niedholdt specializes in genealogy at the collection and led discussion and an information session on how to use the collections resources to find answers.
“It’s history right here,” she said.
One of the big concepts surrounding the program is that this is living history, said Brittany Gutierrez, homeschool group coordinator.
She had been working with her kids on topics such as cemeteries and wanted them to see there is history all around them.
Future steps for the program, other than working out logistics of the educational portion of the tours, would be to bring it to the private and public schools in Hampton Roads.
Gutierrez would like to see more students being able to participate in similar programs and even could see the content being manipulated for SOL’s, she said.
Platt will be passing along more information about the program as it progresses to the school district, she said, but for now the program is open to only homeschool students.
Homeschoolers interested in participating in the program should contact Gutierrez at firstname.lastname@example.org.