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Friday, May 3, 2013

Young students share thoughts on the Old Man they never had a chance to see

Laurie Vance still can remember childhood camping trips to the White Mountains, when she and her family would visit the Old Man of the Mountain.

She can remember the day he fell 10 years ago and the sadness she and her husband, who frequents the mountains for skiing every winter, felt at his demise. ...

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Laurie Vance still can remember childhood camping trips to the White Mountains, when she and her family would visit the Old Man of the Mountain.

She can remember the day he fell 10 years ago and the sadness she and her husband, who frequents the mountains for skiing every winter, felt at his demise.

But it’s still a challenge to explain the emotional connection she and so many other people who visit and live in New Hampshire felt with the rock formation, especially when talking to a group of people who weren’t even alive when it was around.

“It’s about making it real for them,” said Vance, a fourth-grade teacher at Ledge Street Elementary School in Nashua. “It’s our heritage; it’s our home.”

As the years have gone by since the collapse, Vance has seen fewer and fewer of her students coming into class with first-hand knowledge of the Old Man of the Mountain.

What was once a class of children who could tell stories about seeing the Old Man on summer vacation, has become a group who knows the landmark by its prominent position on license plates and the state quarter.

This year, the 10th anniversary of the Old Man’s fall, nearly most of Vance’s class of 9- and 10-year-olds were not even alive when the old man crumbled off the cliff above Franconia Notch.

And so, as students’ experience with the Old Man have changed, so has the way Vance and other local teachers use him in their lessons. At Ledge Street, the Old Man has become an important part of not only history lessons, but science lessons, too.

On Wednesday, the students in Vance’s class gathered on a rug at one side of the
classroom, eager to review a lesson on erosion they had started the day before.

On a table next to their teacher stood a diagram explaining the process of erosion. Next to the diagram was a book, the Old Man featured prominently on its cover.

“The students are really interested in learning about why it fell,” Vance said. “They want to know the science behind it.”

In Vance’s class, and Teresa Ferullo’s fourth-grade class next door, the students were near-experts on the efforts to keep the Old Man in place and the elements that eventually led to his fall.

“It was the rain,” said 10-year-old Sahiris Flores. “The water got into the cracks in the rock and froze. It made it expand and made cracks.”

Flores and three classmates were busy at work Wednesday, drawing a large scale model of the Old Man, one way that Vance said she’s been able to integrate math lessons into their talks of the landmark.

In Ferullo’s class, fourth-grader Lorena Lorraine described the efforts the state made to save the Old Man.

“Each day, they would measure it to see if it moved,” she said. “They used special tools to keep it up there.”

The students shared stories passed down to them from their parents and teachers – of driving by the Old Man and waving or seeing it on camping trips up north – and they shared some memories of their own, collecting the state quarter with the Old Man’s picture or recognizing his profile on their parents’ license plates.

But many still had a hard time grasping why older residents were so sad when the rocks came tumbling down.

“My teacher told us about the day it fell, and how she looked at her husband’s newspaper and saw what happened,” said Laysha Roberts, 10, a student in Vance’s class. “She looked really sad, like she might cry. And I thought, this is just for a mountain?”

Vance said the challenge for today’s elementary school teachers is to help students understand why the Old Man is still important and significant in the years since the fall.

She said she approaches it like she would a lesson on a fictional story, emphasizing the importance of characters and settings in a story line.

In New Hampshire’s story, Vance said, the Old Man is one of the most important characters.

“This is part of our home,” she said.

And while it may take time for the students to fully grasp why the Old Man is the state symbol, and why so many Granite Staters still feel an emotional connection to the stone face, most said they wish they could see it for themselves.

“I know it was a big piece of history, and I’m never going to get to see it in my life,” said fourth-grader Alicia Tanguay. “To actually be able to be there and to be with a piece of history, that would be awesome.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).