Girl Scout Gold Award: Something new for an old schoolhouse

wilton-hollyer-gold-scout

(Jeannette Ross photo)

Olivia Hollyer knew she wanted her Girl Scout Gold Award project to focus on Wilton’s Hurlbutt Street Schoolhouse, but it wasn’t until she was searching for facts on the venerable institution that she discovered the shape her project would take.

When an online search turned up scant information she saw her opportunity and seized on the idea of creating a website. The site, www.hurlbuttstreetschoolhouse.org, recently went live.

Olivia, a senior at Weston High School, has belonged to Troop 50488 since first grade and she will be the first in her troop to receive the Gold Award, the highest attainable in Girl Scouts.

“Only a few girls in Weston have earned it,” she said, adding her appetite was whetted after earning the Bronze Award in middle school. “It’s always been a goal for me. It’s such a high honor.”

Each year, second graders in Wilton visit the Hurlbutt Street Schoolhouse to discover how children received an education more than a century ago. Because of the historic Hurlbutt family connection, second graders attending the Hurlbutt Elementary School in Weston also visit. That was how Olivia was introduced to the one-room school.

“I instantly fell in love with it,” she said, adding she has always enjoyed studying history. And for her Gold Award, she said, “I wanted to do something I love.”

To earn the award, Olivia had to complete two Girl Scout journeys of a more modest degree. She also had to research her subject and build a support team.

Finally, she had to create her project.

Olivia Hollyer

Olivia Hollyer (Jeannette Ross photo)

“It has to be a take-action project,” she said, “not a community service project.”

That is because a Girl Scout Gold Award project is something ongoing, that can be carried on into the future.

Olivia reached out for assistance to members of the Hurlbutt Street Schoolhouse Association and her team consisted of Linda Schmidt, Ann McDonald and Anne McCann, all of Wilton. Ms. McCann has agreed to carry on maintenance of the website.

The website, built on the GoDaddy platform, includes historical information on the schoolhouse, photos and contact information.

Aside from a fourth-grade project, Olivia had never done any Web design before. Construction took “a couple of months,” she said.

Along with the Wilton women, Olivia received help from her Girl Scout mentor Paula Fromm, who suggested she make a durable sign for events at the schoolhouse.

Olivia came up with a handsome white sandwich board with a reusable writing surface. The schoolhouse has an open house each year on the same weekend as Ambler Farm Day, Sept. 28 this year. They will use the new sign to advertise it.

“We are thrilled now to have a website and to have moved into the 21st Century in our 1834 building,” Ms. Schmidt said, adding “thanks to our wonderful Olivia for all her caring, interest and expertise.”

According to Olivia’s website, the schoolhouse was built in one day in 1834, and operated through 1935. Methods of learning progressed from slates and hornbooks to notebooks and lead pencils. In later years, the school had a radio, weekly art classes, a playground, dental clinic, hot lunch program, and visiting foreign students.

Although its life as a school ended when students moved to the Center School, the building entered its second career as a community center.

In the 1970s it was restored to its schoolhouse days with period desks, a wood-burning stove, water jug, blackboard, teaching chart, school bell and the pièce de résistance, at least as far as second-graders are concerned, the two-room outhouse, a double-holer on each side.

Beginning Oct. 27, Wilton students will arrive on a school bus, and as they pass through the door, they will step back in time to spend an hour or so in their predecessors’ seats.

“People learned here,” Olivia said during a visit to the schoolhouse last week. “Schools today look nothing like this. It’s so interesting.”

All that is left for her is one more interview about her project, and then she will receive her Gold Award.

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