RIC Prof. Redesigns Independence Trail for Teachers

Cranston teachers and 120 of their students at Hugh B. Bain Middle School received the first pilot tour of the new Independence Trail Providence for teachers on Monday, June 9. Designed by Rhode Island College Secondary Education Professor Whitney Blankenship, in collaboration with tour founder Robert Burke, this customized version of the trail is targeted for educators as a teaching tool.

The trail is marked by a green line painted on the sidewalks of downtown Providence that begins at the State House, continues across the river to Benefit Street and South Main, crosses the Crawford Street Bridge and zigzags throughout the Financial District, allowing tourists to explore historic Rhode Island on foot. More than four centuries of state history, culture, architecture and folklore are highlighted. (Find a complete map here.) 

Since last year, Blankenship has worked to tailor the trail to the needs of school teachers.

“With her expertise in both secondary education and history, Professor Blankenship proved to be the perfect person, with the ideal skill set, to tackle the job,” said Chair of History Bob Cvornyek.

First Blankenship designed the tour to focus on specific historical topics or periods. The June 9 tour focused on Rhode Island’s founding and early colonial period.

Blankenship also shortened the original three-mile trek from 50 stops to 10 in order to fit the tour within the limited time teachers have for field trips.

To keep students engaged, Blankenship modified the self-guided tour to include a real-life guide dressed in period costume. She also made the tour interactive with experiential activities. For instance, the guide on June 9 was dressed as the hangman of John Gordon, the last person executed in Rhode Island. When the students arrived at the State House, the hangman wrapped his rope around the clapper of Liberty Bell and allowed the students to ring it. And at Market Square students re-enacted the Rhode Island Tea Party and its protest against taxation without representation.

For further study, Blankenship created an educational resource site on the Independent Trail website that includes an educator’s guide to the trail; an interactive map of stops along the trail; videos about each stop; links to additional resources, including the North Burial Ground Project, Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, the Providence Preservation Society and Hearthside House Museum; and a Wiki where teachers can find and/or contribute lesson plans created around trail stops and where student projects related to the trail can be posted.

“By presenting this pilot, we hope to gain valuable feedback that will help us further shape the tour to the needs of participating teachers,” said Blankenship.

Burke expressed gratitude for the work done by Rhode Island College in helping to tie this historical information to a curriculum. He said, “The team from Rhode Island College, led by President Nancy Carriuolo and team leader Whitney Blankenship, has made an unimaginable contribution to creating this lasting educational resource. We look forward to many generations of Rhode Island students and those from beyond our borders learning about our great heritage and history. Other heritage sites around the nation will be racing to catch up with the lead Rhode Island College has established."

For photos, maps and more information, visit independencetrails.com.