SHARPSVILLE – When Tri-Central Middle/High School social studies teacher Jake Wilson was growing up, all the information he remembered reading about World War II was confined to a paragraph in a history textbook.
And that just wasn’t acceptable to him.
So Wilson said he made a promise to himself back then that if he ever became a teacher, he’d form a club that taught students all about the war and the members of the Greatest Generation that fought it.
Since being hired at Tri-Central in November 2018, Wilson has been doing just that.
It’s called the World War II Scholars Club, and it meets during homeroom period every Thursday in Wilson’s classroom to discuss topics related to the war, with most of the activities being interactive.
The club has already grown to roughly 40 students since its formation, and Wilson said the students have completely “bought in” to what he’s trying to teach them.
Wilson has conducted video interviews with veterans, guest speakers, brought in physical artifacts, done talks about women during wartime and weapons and machinery and has even shown students a WWII-era Jeep that the family of a club member brought in to show the students.
But education doesn’t just take place in the classroom either, Wilson said.
“This is a pretty unique club, and we’re doing some pretty unique things,” Wilson said. “A couple weekends ago, we went to the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes and saw a reenactment there. … We also planted a Rosie the Riveter memorial garden while there, and we’re trying to get one here too at Tri-Central.”
Wilson said the club is also planning on even larger field trips down the road, such as a visit in June 2020 to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“We’ll be there from June 3-7, so we’ll be there on the 76th anniversary of D-Day,” Wilson noted. “It’s going to be pretty special and a phenomenal learning experience for the kids. For a lot of them, it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The WWII Scholars Club really is all about bringing history to life and trying to relate an event that happened over seven decades ago to students living in 2019, Wilson said.
“I think a club like this is so vital,” Wilson said, “and I hope that in a few years, they [the students] will be able to remember those lessons I tried to teach them and pass them on. From an outside point of view, I hope people don’t take away from this club that it’s just all about tanks and weapons and trying to glorify war. I think this club gives students an avenue to enjoy and learn more about the things they’re interested in.”
Jonathan Reese, 14, is one of Wilson’s students, and he said that he has already learned a lot in the short time he’s been a part of the WWII Scholars Club.
“To me, the club is about remembering what happened in the past,” Reese said. “It’s like a Memorial Day every Thursday. … History goes away, which is sad. But it’s nice to be able to have a small reminder of these things that happened.”
And that right there is the whole goal of the WWII Scholars Club, Wilson said.
“My whole purpose for starting this club is just to keep those stories alive,” he said. “I feel not just as an educator but as a person too, the least that we can do to honor the sacrifices from that generation is to share their stories and never let that history fade into the back of a textbook or just be reduced to one paragraph. … And I can tell you that here at Tri-Central, we have a group here that wants to hear it.”