The Moving Houses Quest in Thetford, VT has a new name, Shifting Structures, and a new book that tells its story.
Here’s how it happened: A couple of years ago, Beth Taylor, a resident of the Upper Valley, decided to volunteer as a box monitor for the Valley Quest program. Box monitors are essential to the program, supporting staff capacity to put boxes out in the spring at the start of the Valley Quest season and bringing them back in at the end of the season in late fall.
Beth had done quite a few Quests in the past. “It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I thought it would be fun to be on the other side as a box monitor, and I was looking to volunteer. This has been great!”
Beth took on monitoring the boxes for two of the many quests in Thetford, VT: “Moving Houses” and “Peabody Library.” She walked both of them, following the clues.
The clues for Moving Houses were puzzling. “Initially the clues didn’t make sense to me the way the steps were written,” said Beth. “I talked to the librarian at the Peabody Library, where the Quest starts. She only knew that school kids had written the clues years ago. She suggested I talk to Martha Howard at the Thetford Historical Society. The librarian also referred me to Jen Manwell at Open Fields School. [Je] was very excited to be involved and said that the kids would love to work on it as part of their curriculum. They wrote a poem and a book – I was blown away by all they did. They came up with the name, ‘Shifting Structures,’ which I like because it was alliteration.”
As Jen shared her part of the story, she noted only four students – Eli, Griffin, Oliver, and Soren – worked on the story. This small group could function together, taking on different roles needed to complete the project. These students “wanted the primary sources to be the focus.” This led to the idea of using real-life stories to write the story. Said Jen, “This gave the students a reason to care about these old photos, adding context, connection, and relevance. I enjoy working with Valley Quest as curricular content because it provides a concrete project and product that engages them in learning.”
The story the students created centers on a few fictionalized days – in February 1900 – in the life of Charles Vaughan, a real person. The story follows the 12-year-old Charles as he leaves the chilly, wood-heated schoolhouse, breaks the ice on a public trough on the green so a horse can drink, barters for items at the general store, and chats with an acquaintance employed at a nearby copper mine.
“One of my favorite parts is that we had a student who was very interested in metals, in copper in particular,” Jen said. “This is why we added the information about copper mine. This made a huge difference for that student, knowing that we supported him enough to do a lot of research. Feeling engaged, honored, and respected, this student got to be the expert. Socially reserved, this allowed him to open up and make connections socially with his peers.”
Recalls Beth, “It was like a Quest to rewrite this Quest – I just kept following the clues! I started with the old Quest, which began at the library. The librarian, Emily, gave me some information and sent me to Martha at the local historical society. She also referred me to the Open Fields School, which is how I got connected to Jennifer and her students. Jennifer and the students collaborated with Martha, who had wonderful photos, and used some of the information I had gathered with a friend. Following those steps led to the ‘treasure’ – this wonderful new Quest and story booklet.”
An 18-page booklet, to be precise, containing the students’ story as well as maps and period and contemporary photos of the locations in the story. A laminated copy has been placed in the treasure box that Quest participants can find by following the clues!