By Cheryl Caskey
The Kentucky Junior Historical Society (KJHS), as a program of the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS), has been serving Kentucky’s students and teachers since the 1960s. Then and now, one of the main goals of KJHS is to creatively engage students with Kentucky history and their communities to help them better understand that history and use that knowledge to confront the issues of the future.
KJHS clubs have been involved in a variety of history activities in their own communities, such as Pendleton County’s own “Night at the Museum” or the Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School (Fayette County) club that researched and developed an informational exhibit for Lexington’s historic Lyric Theater. Other clubs have collected oral histories for their communities, taken field trips to cultural institutions, visited Washington, D.C., and more.
In the fall, KJHS clubs are invited to the annual conference held at the Kentucky Historical Society. This year’s conference is scheduled for Nov. 10. Students can participate in a number of activities, including an exhibit competition and art competition.
Each competition activity models document-based questioning and requires students to use provided primary and secondary sources about Kentucky history to answer questions or complete the activity. Additionally, students can take a special Behind the Scenes tours of the KHS collections, take part in an arts-infused history lesson, do a scavenger hunt and visit the Old State Capitol.
As the state coordinator for KJHS, the Kentucky Historical Society provides support to clubs around the state. All registered club sponsors receive a teacher guidebook with suggested hands-on history activities. KHS also provides access to experts who can assist Kentucky Junior Historical Society clubs with a variety of community engagement activities, like conducting oral histories, researching and advocating for a historical marker and connecting with their local history organizations.
And as the state coordinator for National History Day in Kentucky (NHDKy), the Kentucky Historical Society supports and provides additional resources for clubs that choose NHDKy as their club activity.
All KJHS clubs are eligible for a free field trip the Kentucky Historical Society. Their field trip can include a guided tour of the Old State Capitol building – where students participate in a mock vote of a real piece of historic legislation and a hands-on primary source activity – as well as have an opportunity to see the permanent exhibits. Other membership benefits include a t-shirt, free admission to the museum throughout the year and discounts to the KHS 1792 Store.
The ways in which students and teachers engage with Kentucky history through KJHS membership are varied, but all can provide a way for students to develop a more thorough understanding of their local history and its place within the larger national story.
As a K-12 club-based program in schools, KJHS is entirely adaptable to the needs of the teacher and his or her students. Whether you meet once a week, once a month, during school or after school, KJHS offers opportunities for teachers and students to do more with history beyond their classroom and contribute to their community. There is no minimum number of students required to start a club and individual members are welcome.
Cheryl Caskey is the state coordinator for National History Day in Kentucky and oversees the Kentucky Junior Historical Society. She has worked at the Kentucky Historical Society since 2011.