Scarborough students, historians launch website about town's past

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SCARBOROUGH — Thanks to the technology he helped make available to Maine school children, a launch party for the town’s new historical website was visited by a special guest Tuesday evening.

Former Gov. Angus King attended the Maine Memory Network’s “They Called it Owascoag” website launch via the video chat program Skype, on a laptop computer provided by the Maine Laptop Initiative.

King congratulated the Scarborough Historical Society, Public Library and 20 middle school students for their year-long collaborative effort to put the exhibits together and design the website.

“I’m thrilled to see groups like you all working together to make all this history come alive,” King said.

The interactive website hosted by the Maine Memory Network features exhibits of photographs and historical items with descriptions of Scarborough’s history. The name of the website, “They Called it Owascoag,” comes from the Sokokis Indians, who named the town Owascoag, or “land of much grass,” for its extensive marsh grass.

The website is part of an effort by the Maine Community Heritage Project to preserve historical information online. The project organizers chose eight communities to participate in the program, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“The Scarborough team has been ahead of the curve on this,” said Steve Bromage, the assistant director of the Maine Historical Society. “This is a national model for how this can work.”

Scarborough Public Library Program Manager Celeste Shinay said the process has been a collaborative effort between the students, library and historical society members.

“This time has been so incredibly fantastic,” she said, adding that much of the communication has been done via e-mail and Skype, rather than telephone conversations.

“We’ve exchanged over 942 e-mails,” Shinay said.

During the launch party on June 8, the 20 middle school students, under the direction of GATES teacher Jessica Kelly, taught the approximately 40 adults in attendance how to use the website.

Barbara and Bill Tolman, who have lived in Scarborough for nearly 40 years and both volunteer at the Scarborough Historical Society, said they were very impressed by the students the the work that was done to catalog and upload all of the historical items.

“It was exciting when the young people came to the museum,” Bill Tolman said.

The students also regularly communicated with the Scarborough Historical Society from their classrooms using Skype.

“That was one of the biggest advantages, that interaction,” Tolman said.

Seventh-grader Jessica Steinort, who showed the Tolmans around the website, said she also enjoyed the interactions with the Historical Society members. Although she and other students were focused on counting down the days until summer vacation, they all said the project was a fun way to learn about Scarborough’s history.

“Did you know the speed limit was only 8 miles per hour in 1910?” Steinort asked. “But people were mostly riding horses or walking back then. It was faster that way anyway.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Scarborough Middle School seventh-grader Jessica Steinort shows Historical Society volunteer Barbara Tolman some of the historical information on “They called it Owascoag,” an interactive website the students helped design. The website launch party was attended via video chat by former Gov. Angus King, and the students showed the approximately 40 adults around the exhibits now available on the website, which is hosted by the Maine Memory Network.

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