Some students who graduated yesterday from Princeton middle school walked away with more than just a diploma -- they gained more knowledge about their own town.
David Gray has been teaching history at Logan Junior High School for six years. But Gray says this is the first time he assigned a project requiring his eighth-grade students to research historical landmarks in Princeton. The idea hit him when he was looking at travel brochures for the town.
"I also wanted a way for them to use technology, specifically their phones,” Gray said. “I know their phones have cameras, so I was kind of thinking of a way to show them they can use them for academic pursuits."
Not that the students would use their phones during the school day -- it's against school policy. But the students were required to take and edit photos of their assigned buildings, conduct their own field research, write a paper and create a presentation over the course of about a month.
One of those buildings was the Apollo Theater -- a town staple for about 150 years. It has worn many hats over the years, from opera house to its current movie theater state.
Apollo Theater owner Jay Schneider took two students around the theater and gave them the information they needed for their project.
"Just having students find that out and look for that, I think it's awesome,” Schneider said. “It's a great idea."
Connor Colmone's project was on the White House, which belonged to a Swedish immigrant named N.W. Isaacson -- and, as it turns out, he also ran a gentleman's club in the building. The White House is now vacant after it was a pharmacy for many years, but Colmone says he was still able to learn from his experience.
"It was nice to be able to learn more about the history of the city, because it means a lot to me to know that our city's not some boring place in the middle of Illinois," Colmone said.
Schneider says he thinks the student research project could make the history more available to Princeton residents -- particularly to those with businesses in historic buildings.
Gray says he plans to continue the project for years to come. He says he hopes the history of Princeton will live on as a result.
"I think, through this project over the next few years, I'm gonna become pretty knowledgeable about the history of the town through the work of the students,” Gray said. “Which is good, because they're gonna teach me."