Ranger brings history to life at Antietam

December 09, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Park Ranger Christie Stanczak opens a box and brings history to life at the new Mumma House Education Center at Antietam National Battlefield.

The wooden structures and colored ropes Stanczak pulls from one box become battlefield buildings, bridges, roads and streams when spread among the groups of students who play Civil War soldiers under Stanczak's tutelage.

The wool uniform she pulls from another box transforms schoolchildren into Union troops. With the large flags and encryption wheels Stanczak plucks from another box, students can send battlefield messages just as signalmen did from the high ridges surrounding Antietam more than 140 years ago.


The "Flags That Talk," "Civil War Soldier" and "Battlefield in a Box" programs are among many hands-on history lessons that Stanczak leads as education coordinator at Antietam.

Stanczak hopes the lessons will instill in her students a love of history and a sense of battlefield stewardship.

"I want the students to know that this battlefield is theirs, and that they are helping to preserve it just by coming here and learning," said Stanczak, 29, of Frederick, Md.

Stanczak said she and several other rangers led PARTNERS - Potomac Area Rural Teachers Using National Education Resources for Students - programs at Antietam for more than 8,000 students from October 2001 through September 2002.

In addition, Tri-State area teachers using battlefield resources led programs for more than 6,700 students at Antietam from October 2001 through September 2002.

These teachers are trained at Antietam, Monocacy National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Stanczak said.

The number of students visiting the battlefield has tripled in the last two years, Stanczak said, and she hopes to attract more of other types of groups - including senior citizens, church groups and Scout troops - to the battlefield's new Mumma House Education Center.

The historic Mumma Farmhouse and all of its outbuildings were burned during the Battle of Antietam and then rebuilt by the Mumma family. The National Park Service spent the past few years restoring the farmhouse and outbuildings for use as an educational center.

The historic house now holds a conference room, offices and a large classroom in which groups can watch battlefield videos, participate in educational programs and retreat during bad weather, Stanczak said.

Students can learn about the Mummas and other Antietam personalities and places through the "People and Places of Antietam" program, and trek from the Mumma House to the family's nearby cemetery to complete a worksheet using the old tombstones.

She relishes her work with students at least as much as they enjoy their visits to Antietam, she said. "I love this job," she said. "The park is a great place to work, and I really enjoy getting out with the kids."

Stanczak said she had little affinity for Civil War history before starting work as a seasonal ranger at Antietam.

"I didn't know anything about the Civil War. I remember getting dragged to Gettysburg (Pa.) as a kid and hating it," she said.

The Loudoun County, Va., native started leading battlefield tours and helping with the educational program at Antietam in the summer of 1994 while still pursuing her bachelor's degree in anthropology and historic preservation at Mary Washington College. Stanczak continued to work as a seasonal ranger at Antietam for three more summers after graduating from college in 1995.

She worked briefly as a guide at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia before being hired as a park ranger at The National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1998. She spent the next four years doing high-volume interpretive work at the memorials in the heart of the nation's capital - but Antietam continued to hold a special place in her heart, she said.

Stanczak "jumped at the chance" to transfer to Antietam this past summer, she said.

Stanczak is a perfect fit for the park's educational program, said Ranger Stephanie Eisenbarth-Gray, chief of visitor services at Antietam.

"Christie really appreciates the value of the program, and she's got a really nice way of communicating with youngsters," Eisenbarth-Gray said.

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