Digital Historian Project students celebrate program’s grad

June 29, 2017   ·   0 Comments

Neil Orford (bottom centre) with students of this year’s Digital Historian Project. Students, teachers, and parents celebrated the program’s graduation at the DCMA. The project sees students working at the museum researching local veterans, and throughout the program’s time, students have visited Juno Beach Centre, Vimy Ridge, and Flanders Fields. Orford, who spearheaded the project’s creation, is retiring at the end of the school year.

By Jasen Obermeyer

Students of Upper Grand District School Board’s Digital Historian Project (DHP) celebrated their graduation from the program at Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA), seeing the culmination of a four-month program working at the museum researching local veterans.

This year’s third official class consisted of 14 students, showing their projects to parents and fellow classmates Monday afternoon (June 26). The students were from the three Dufferin secondary schools: Westside, Orangeville District and Centre Dufferin District High.

They also earn four credits in Canadian History, Interdisciplinary Studies, Data Management, and Native Studies. Not only that, but their works are published through iBooks, effectively making them published authors.

DHP, geared toward grade 11 students, is “project-based learning” and incorporates math and history into an academic program.

Neil Orford, history teacher at Centre Dufferin District High, spearheaded the project.

The program sees students visiting the museum regularly, as well as taking trips to Ottawa’s Library and Research Canada, the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy, France, along with Flanders Fields and the Vimy Ridge Memorial, where some students were able to go to the graves of the veteran they had researched.

“We met some vets who deployed on D-Day there, and it was so moving to meet someone who was actually there,” said one of the students in describing the Juno Beach Centre.

Mr. Orford recalled the first time visiting the memorial centres and battlefields, and said every Canadian needs to go, to know what the soldiers did and stood for, the experience having changed him forever. “You never feel as Canadian as you do when you stand at Vimy Ridge, or as you walk the beaches of Juno. It’s extraordinarily emotional.”

One of the students said the program helped them make a change in Dufferin County, and is unlike anything they’ve ever done. “It gives us the chance that regular history classes don’t. We get to feel like we’re actual historians.”

Another student added they now want to teach history, because it’s changed their perspective on the subject. “It shows I can do more with it.”

Julie McNevin, the museum’s education programmer, says this program is fun and unique, as “museums are not often a place where you see teenagers.” She explained it benefits the museum and students, the students giving the museum stories to put in the archives, while the students “become young adults, they become active citizens.”

Mr. Orford said the students were nervous at first, but quickly adapted and gained a sense of responsibility. “You saw them really rise to the occasion of being put in the position of driving their own learning.”

With Mr. Orford retiring at the end of the school year, Asher Kirk-Elleker, a math history teacher at ODSS, and teaching partner with Mr. Orford, will be taking over the program.

Mr. Orford said the program is “in great hands,” though Mr. Kirk-Elleker said he has “big shoes to fill.”

Asked how he was able to make DHP different every year, Mr. Orford simply said, “I try not to do much creation, I try to let it kind of unfold naturally.”

For more information on the project, visit

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