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Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Garners Statewide Outreach Education Award
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association received a coveted 2012 Education Program Award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Association at its 34th Annual Conference in Gainesville, Florida on May 18.  The Florida Trust nine-member panel of judges from around the state, all personally active in historic preservation efforts, were effusive in citing Ponce Inlet Lighthouse's extraordinary efforts to bring educational programs to classrooms in Volusia County public and private schools, especially during the last three years.

"The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse programs, The Keeper in the Classroom and The Traveling Library Box, were the perfect and creative answer to a crisis brought about because of school budgetary restrictions on field trips to the lighthouse.  When the students who would normally have come to the lighthouse on field trips couldn't, the lighthouse came to their classroom with worthwhile presentations that actually fit into the lighthouse core mission of education about the past in order to preserve it.  And at the same time, the material developed was useful to reinforce skills being taught at the grade level the students were in," stated the judges' assessment of the program.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse staff and volunteers were keenly aware of the on-going budget problems early in 2009 as numerous Volusia County public and private elementary and secondary teachers told them that future field trips to the National Historic Landmark would fall to the fiscal axe. For years, many teachers regularly used their precious out-of-class field trip time to go to the lighthouse for docent conducted tours and special students workshops developed to bolster Florida history, culture and heritage.   For decades, these tours were free to classrooms in Volusia public and private schools.  All of a sudden, those field trips, a tradition for many teachers and students, seemed out of reach.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Director of Operations Mike Bennett, Executive Director Ed Gunn, Programs Manager Bob Callister, and a number of docent volunteers developed two programs to be used in the schools as a substitute for regular field trips and workshops. "Keeper in the Classroom" and "The Traveling Library Box," which eventually became a united outreach program, brought a docent or a staff member to classrooms across Volusia County, in a replica 1930 United States Lighthouse Service uniform to reinforce Florida navigational history, the science of light, life in the Florida of 100 years ago, the history and the engineering of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, and the great American Lighthouse Chronicle.  "Keeper in the Classroom" relied on Powerpoints and hands-on activities to ensure that students would appreciate and understand what has arguably become the symbol of Volusia County: the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.  At the same time, "The Traveling Library Box" actually evolved from American lighthouse history.  The US Lighthouse Service, the organization which built and managed America's lighthouses, began in 1876 to send out traveling library boxes full of reading materials to keepers and families at isolated lighthouse stations.

Operations Director Mike Bennett, a former educator, researched dozens of fiction and non-fiction books about lighthouses, lighthouse families, and lighthouse heroics.  He developed and created appropriate age and grade level and appealing classroom supplemental materials which were aligned with Florida State Standards in Language Arts, History, Science, and Geography.  The lighthouse maintenance staff duplicated two replica 1876 US Lighthouse Establishment wood boxes, down to the polished brass hinges, and Bennett stuffed them to the brim with student and teacher materials, books and videos.  For the past three years, volunteer docent keepers and the library boxes have traveled around the county, leaving the boxes on loan in classrooms or a media center for a few weeks after a Keeper in the Classroom presentation.  "The programs provided a bridge to the kids when the kids couldn't come to us.  Nothing can surpass the experience of visiting the lighthouse, but Keeper and the Library Box visits did bridge the gap.  Now, while student visits have returned to normal, The Keeper and The Traveling Library Box visits carry on, providing excellent pre tour and post recapitulation of what was experienced," said Bennett.

"We are honored to accept this award from The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, but delighted when we hear from teachers who document how eager their students are to read and write and use our books and our classroom activities," said Ed Gunn, Executive Director of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.  "That praise from teachers and students is just as important as recognition from a jury of our peers, Florida preservation experts, who recognize that preservation and communication go hand in hand,"concluded Gunn.